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Reforming the 60 Year Old

Address by Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group, former Australian Foreign Minister and Member of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, to the UN Association of Sweden Dag Hammarskjold Centenary Conference, UN and Global Security, Stockholm, 8 February 2005

Sixty year olds – as I can personally testify, being precisely that disconcerting age myself – are notoriously unreformable. The task ahead of anyone who would seek to transform the United Nations into a fully effective, efficient and equitable institution is formidable indeed – even for someone with the legendary skills of Dag Hammarskjold, in the unlikely event that such a person could ever be found again.

But this year is as good a chance as we will probably ever have to wrench the UN system into the shape it needs to be to confront the twin challenges of security and development that the world and its peoples will face for decades ahead:

We know very well where the weak points and stresses are in the international system: there is no shortage of analysis as to what is going wrong.

We know what we need to do get things right: there is no shortage of major reports laying out prescriptions and agendas for the necessary change.

We know we have, as a global community if not always individually, the available resources and capacity to do what we need to do, if those resources are properly directed.

We have the occasion this year for a major change effort, with the 60th Anniversary of the UN and all the high-level meetings and summits associated with it.

And we may even have the final crucial ingredient - the spark, the catalyst, the political will to make it all happen – triggered by the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami, demonstrating as perhaps nothing else could that we are indeed one human family, exposed to ever increasing common risks and sharing the responsibility to tackle them.

The agenda for change has been set primarily by two big reports released in the last three months, one of them (on which I will concentrate here) focusing strictly on security issues – although these were deliberately broadly defined – and the other on the whole development agenda. The Secretary-General’s intention is to bring the major themes of both together in a report which he will submit next month to heads of government: who will hopefully be moved to endorse his recommendations when they meet at the Millennium Review Summit in September.

The first report is that of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, of which I was a member, along with a number of considerably more experienced and distinguished colleagues like Gro Harlem Brundtland, Sadako Ogata, Yevgeny Primakov, Amre Moussa, Salim Salim, Lord David Hannay and Brent Scowcroft. Our report, A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, presented to the Secretary-General in December, was above all an attempt to recover credibility for collective security and traction for cooperative internationalism, rather than unilateralism and all that implies.

The High Level Panel report identified six major categories of 21st century security concern – threats to human security as well as state security, and from non-state actors as well as states – going far beyond the issue of states waging aggressive war which had almost wholly preoccupied the UN’s founders in 1945. Those threats were, in addition to war between states:

war and deadly violence within states;

proliferation and use of nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological weapons; terrorism;

transnational organized crime; and

poverty, disease and environmental degradation.

In a tightly written document of, miraculously, just over 90 pages it came up with 101 specific recommendations – ‘101 salvations’ as someone dubbed them, in homage to Walt Disney - for both policy and institutional change to address these threats.

The other big report setting the global governance agenda for 2005 and beyond is that of the Millennium Project, a team of some 250 researchers headed by Columbia University’s Professor Jeffrey Sachs. Published last month, Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, sets a human security agenda on a breathtaking scale. In 13 volumes totaling over 2,700 pages – mercifully summarized in an overview document of just 74 pages – strategies are outlined which, if successful, are claimed would result in, by 2015:

more than 500 million people being lifted out of extreme poverty;

more than 300 million no longer suffering from hunger;

30 million children being saved who would otherwise die before their fifth birthday, and 2 million mothers’ lives being saved; and

350 million fewer people living without safe drinking water, and 650 million fewer people living without basic sanitation.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Governance Initiative report, released in Davos two weeks ago, makes the point that not just in relation to the Milennium Development Goals, but in every area of governance evaluated – from peace and security, to poverty and hunger, to health, to education, to environment, to human rights – the world was earning failing grades, doing less than half of what was needed to achieve the basically agreed goals. The Davos report emphasizes, as does the Sachs Report, that 2005 really is a make or break year to get the development agenda right : for those development goals with a deadline of 2015, a much greater effort is going to be required from now on if they are to have any chance of being met.

But this year is also an absolutely critical one for getting back on track the more traditional security agenda, and the multilateral institutions on which we depend to deliver it. The last few years have been desolate ones, everywhere from Central Africa to Sudan to Israel-Palestine to Iraq to Afghanistan to North Korea, and in quite a few other places between and beyond: my own International Crisis Group monitors and reports upon and argues for effective policy in relation to actual and potential conflict around the world, and we presently have over 70 countries or situations on our watchlist!

More important even than any particular country situation, however, has been the fundamental challenges we have seen in recent years to the whole ordered, rule-based, UN-Charter determined multilateral security system on which global and regional security ultimately depends. There has been a resurgence of unilateralism, a diminishing commitment to international treaty regimes, an increased willingness to bypass the Security Council, and a willingness to assert a right to a much more wide-ranging preventive use of the self-defence power than has ever previously been acknowledge.

All this has put the UN and indeed the whole multilateral system under huge strain. Kofi Annan put it to the General Assembly in 2003 that the world was at a ‘fork in the road’ in terms of the future of collective security, and his appointment of the High Level Panel was his attempt to find a principled but acceptable way forward. How well did we do in meeting that objective? Our recommendations fell into three broad categories – preventive policies; rules and principles governing the use of force when prevention fails; and institutional reform, on the last of which I will say most today.


In terms of volume, the bulk of our report’s recommendations are, as I hope you would expect and approve, on preventive strategies. Just to give you a flavour, some of those we propose, for example, are:

on preventing deadly conflict, to have better and more effective regulatory frameworks and legal and judicial regimes (including the International Criminal Court – not music to Washington’s ears); better information and analysis available to the UN; and more effective professional mediation through better-trained and generally better-chosen special representatives and envoys;

on the world’s most dangerous weapons, with real concern about a ‘cascade of proliferation’ in the years ahead, to have four-layered response, with attention not only familiar supply-side issues (curbing the availability of fissile material and technology), but the demand side (issues that motivate states to acquire nuclear and other weapons – everything from real security threats to perceived double standards in arms control regimes), better strategies to enforce compliance, and better public health defences; and

on terrorism, to have a new definition of terrorism (violent action against civilians or other non-combatants for essentially political motives), a major contribution, given the years of stalemate on the negotiation of new international norms; and a comprehensive policy approach, extending not just to policing, intelligence and military action, but addressing underlying root causes, in particular acute political grievances.

Use of Force.

In many ways the heart of the High-Level Panel report is its recommendations on the rules and principles governing the use of military force – perhaps inevitably given the historical context in which it was written, with Iraq 1991 and Iraq 2003 as the bookends, and Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo on the shelf in between. The report addresses squarely every one of the issues that have divided the international community in recent years, arguing that any use of force must satisfy tough criteria of both legality and legitimacy, and making a strong case for the absolutely central role of the Security Council.

On legality, we make clear that the scope of permissible unilateral self-defence is quite limited. Article 51 of the UN Charter says a state can act in self-defence without going to the Security Council in the case of actual armed attack, and 200 years of international law practice extends that to imminently apprehended attack. But that’s where legality runs out: ‘pre-emptive’ self-defence in cases of imminent threat may be justified, but ‘preventive’ self-defence in relation to a threat distant in time, however real, is not. If someone, somewhere, is building a nuclear reactor which you think is going to make bombs directed at you, there might be the scope, and even necessity, for military action to be taken against that threat. But that is a matter for the Security Council. For any one country to be able to interpret the right of self-defence so broadly is to open the gates for everyone to do the same, and that way lies anarchy.

On the other hand, the report makes clear that Chapter VII of the UN Charter fully empowers the Security Council to authorise the use of force in any situation whatever : preventively, reactively, in relation to external threats, or - in relation to internal threats - in the exercise of the concept of the international community’s responsibility to protect its most vulnerable peoples: so-called ‘humanitarian intervention’. It is squarely acknowledged – in what might be a better tune for Washington ears - that it may be necessary in some circumstances for the Security Council to authorize military action preventively, against a threat which is real but not in any way imminent – eg. the nuclear reactor case just mentioned.

But legality is only ever part of the story. There is also always a question about legitimacy: the common sense and the morality of legal action. And here the contribution the Panel has made is, I think, a very important one, identifying five criteria of legitimacy that should be satisfied before any decision is ever made to go to war, in short seriousness of the threat, proper purpose, last resort, proportionality and balance of consequences.

We say these criteria should be adopted as guidelines by the Security Council in a formal declaratory resolution, and adopted indeed by the General Assembly. The point about them, and we say this in so many words, is not that they will produce, with push-button inevitability, clear cut agreement in every case. The argument is simply that over time, and with the pressure that the criteria will create for states to publicly explain and defend their positions, there will be more likelihood of consensus being achieved both as to what are the proper cases to go to war, and what are the proper cases not to go to war - and less likelihood that states will want to bypass the Security Council entirely and put at risk the whole collective security system.

It has to be acknowledged that there can be no guarantee that the Security Council - however constructed, on which more in a moment – will always act as it should, including not endorsing war when there is a compelling case to do so. Conscience shocking cases may arise when a veto is applied threatened but states feel they simply have to take military action, and are seen by most of the world as being right to do so: many, including me, have argued that Kosovo in 1999 was such a case. It’s very bad news for any institution when its authority is bypassed in this way. But the trouble is there is no better institution, as a source of authority, that anyone can now invent. The bottom line remains this: the task is not to try to find alternatives to the Security Council, but to make it work better – and that’s what the procedural reforms proposed by the High Level Panel here are all about.


Security Council. What we say here, in a nutshell, is that you can’t go on having a situation where the Security Council of 2005 and beyond is that created on the basis of the world as it was in 1945. Not to have an India, a Japan, a Brazil, any major African country, guaranteed a regular presence on the world’s pre-eminent body for deciding great issues of war and peace, is to have a Security Council that is not remotely representative of the balances of credible power, authority, and contribution, in the world as it is today. The report comes up with two clear, self-contained alternative models for achieving that representativeness, and there seems a fair chance that, after twenty years of frustratingly inconclusive debate in New York, one choice or other will be made this year. There are a number of points in common between the two models:

Both would increase the numbers of SC members from 15 to 24, with each of the world’s four major geographical regions having 6 seats each – the Americas (North and South), Europe (East and West), Africa, and Asia & Pacific.

Neither would extend the veto to any new members. Nor, recognising the constraints of the real world, would it seek – at least at this stage - to remove the veto from the existing P5 members: though the Panel recommends that it be used only where vital national interests are genuinely at stake; not used at all in cases of genocide or large-scale human rights abuse; and that an ‘indicative voting’ procedure be introduced to make it possible for a country to make clear its outright opposition to a resolution without nonetheless having to veto it.

Both would require other changes to Security Council procedures to ensure greater accountability and transparency, and the greater availability of relevant and useful advice, particularly on military options.

Both, moreover, are premised on the basis that Article 23 of the Charter should be taken seriously to the extent that only those who contribute significantly to the United Nations – financially, militarily and/or diplomatically – should become members of the Security Council.

And both would require a full review of the system no later than 2020 – to ensure we don’t go another two generations without the representativeness issue being addressed.

The difference between the models comes down to the way in which the major countries would be represented. Model A provides for six new permanent seats - with the new ascendants to heaven coming 2 from Asia (not identified, but presumably Japan and India), 2 from Africa (contested between Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt), 1 from the Americas (presumably Brazil) and 1 from Europe (presumably Germany).

Model B, by contrast, provides for no new permanent seats, but creates a new category of renewable four-year terms, with 2 such seats for each of the four major geographical regions: thus allowing for some degree of negotiated rotation, with a possible place in the sun for next-tier countries like Mexico or Pakistan or Italy/Spain, and the chance for some accountability to be applied to the major occupants.

I don’t need to describe to this audience the lustiness of the politics now being waged in capitals and New York corridors around this issue at the moment. Panel members were not unaware of its capacity to distract attention from the other substantive matters in our report: we just hope that distraction will not be total, and reasonably swiftly resolved. There is a fair chance that will be the case, because states do seem to have a dawning sense (through admittedly the sun has yet to come up for quite a few countries!) of just what a watershed year this is, and how important it is that a full range of issues be addressed.

ECOSOC. The reform of the Security Council was by no means the most intractable issue with which we grappled. Pre-eminent among a group of almost wholly dysfunctional organs within the UN system (and for all its faults the Security Council could never be called that) is the Economic and Social Council, or ECOSOC, whose activities have become routinised and marginalised, debating chambers where the great debates of the day are no longer held. We considered the proposal of the Carlsson-Ramphal Commission and others to create an Economic Security Council, but had to conclude that - with so many macro-economic policy making functions now being exercised elsewhere, in the IMF, World Bank, WTO and G8/G20 in particular, it was no longer possible, if it ever was, to create such a power exercising body within the UN system.

But we thought it by no means impossible to recreate ECOSOC as a real development cooperation forum for the world, regularly discussing, with a highly focused and prioritised agenda, such issues as the interlinkages between development, trade, finance, the environment and social issues; and what is necessary, year in and year out, to achieve the Milennium Development Goals – a forum whose debates would be attended on great occasions by not only ministers but heads of state: a far cry from the second and third secretaries who occupy its seats at the moment.

Peacebuilding Commission. One of the most important institutional changes that we recommend is the creation of a brand-new institution, a Peacebuilding Commission, to address very specifically the generic problem, underlying so many others in the contemporary world, of failed, failing, and fragile states under stress. The idea is to create a new structure as a subsidiary organ of the Security Council which would bring together the relevant UN organs and agencies, the relevant major donors, including the Bank, the Fund, relevant regional organisations, and relevant bilateral donors, to address – particularly, but not only, in the context of post-conflict peace-building – in a systematic, coherent, focused, sustained way the full range of policy responses to state fragility and failure with which we are now so familiar.

Commission on Human Rights. We similarly tried to identify ways of realising the potential of the Human Rights Commission as the pre-eminent standard setting and monitoring body – making it a more expert and respected and less crudely political forum than it is at the moment. In what is likely to prove one of our more controversial recommendations, we did not go down the path of recommending tough criteria for the membership of the commission - taking the view that that would only lead to even more distracting political battles - but rather universal membership, with reform efforts being focused on changing its internal structure and processes, with much more emphasis on expert advice and careful agenda setting, to ensure more constructive focus on the most important human rights issues of the day.

UN Secretariat. We also say quite a lot more than a lot of people expected about reform of the Secretariat itself, starting with the need for much more support, right across the peace and security spectrum, for the Secretary-General, including the creation of a new position of Deputy Secretary-General for Peace and Security to help manage the enormous workload associated with peace diplomacy, peace operations, peacekeeping, the operation of the Peacebuilding Commission, and all the many things that we are recommending about information and analysis and training capability within the organisation.

There are many ways in which multilateralist, those of us who believe that cooperative internationalism really is the only way to solve most of the world’s problems, can make their arguments a little more euphonious for hostile or indifferent ears – and there will be many of those in high places this year. Not every security problem has a UN solution; not every conflict needs to be prevented or resolved by resort to UN mediators, or peacekeepers or resolutions, and it does no harm to acknowledge that more often. But the most useful message of all is a clear and frank acknowledgement that the UN’s Secretariat, along with many of the UN system’s organs and agencies are ripe for fundamental and far-reaching reform – in organisational structure, personnel practices, budgetary management, priority setting, operational delivery, and effective accountability. Multilateralists do absolutely no service to the cause by loving intergovernmental structures but leaving them hopelessly ineffective and inefficient.

So the Panel argued for a competent and professional Secretariat, with – among many other things - much greater management flexibility on the part of the Secretary-General, who must be the most micro-managed chief executive in any international or any commercial organisation anywhere in the world, in the sense that the board of directors – the General Assembly committee – determines just about the allocation of every item of expenditure and which body goes where. The Secretary-General should have the capacity, to put people where they’re needed – and then be fully accountable, fully transparent in those decisions, subject to a full auditing exercise thereafter.

One of the most lasting achievements of the High Level Panel may have been to have stimulated the creation of the splendidly named ‘Low Level Panel’ a group of bright and dedicated youngsters within the UN system who – with the full support their more enlightened superiors – have got together to work on a comprehensive program of bottom-up reform of the management of UN institutions.

Last Words.

Sixty year olds are not always the first to appreciate signs of their own decay. Those presently enjoying all the power and authority that goes with the veto don’t relish being told that theirs is a diminishing asset – that it is only a matter of time before an unreformed Security Council enjoys so little credibility in most of the world that its dictates will no longer mean anything: that even if the moment of truth is ten, fifteen, twenty or more years away, it is inexorably coming.

There are plenty who are justifiably sceptical that the multilateral system, the UN organisation itself, and the major states who actually of course determine so much of what happens would ever be capable, separately or together, of even beginning to respond to the challenges the High Level Panel reports have identified.

But my very last word is this. We have no alternative. The truth of the matter is that we have run out choices. As the world learned, very much to its cost, when the League of Nations fell apart in the 1930s, if we did not have an effective global collective security institution, we would simply have to reinvent one all over again. So let’s start with what we’ve got, and let’s make the system work. The big reports published in the last two months have shown the way forward: its now up to political leaders, and those who influence them to deliver, and – having missed the party ten years ago - this 60th birthday year may be the last big anniversary occasion to do so before irretrievable senility sets in.