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Comments by Gareth Evans to the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) Seminar on the Security Council and the G8, Berlin, 30 June 2000

Address by Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group, to Crimes Against Humanity Initiative, Hague Intersessional Experts Meeting Dinner, The Hague, 11 June 2009.

I. When it comes to the maintenance of international peace and security generally, and peace enforcement in particular, the United Nations has unrivalled legitimacy. That follows from its effectively universal membership, complete armoury of formal powers, and overriding constitutional commitment to peace. If the Security Council does exercise responsibility - and does it responsibly - that is the optimal outcome.

Although not winning universal applause, the global system was operating at its best in the military response to Iraq's cross-border aggression against Kuwait, when the anti-Saddam coalition saw UN support as essential; in the Cambodian peace plan, where without the central role planned for the UN in both peace keeping and peace building China would not have abandoned its support for the Khmer Rouge; and in East Timor, where the Indonesians would not have allowed Australia or anyone else to intervene militarily without UN cover.

Peace operations conducted by regional organisations otherwise than under a UN umbrella are very much second-best; and those conducted unilaterally by individual countries third-best or worse . But that said, it is worst of all to have no intervention at all in circumstances where there are credible threats of major violations of human rights - and in particular the right of people to live.

II. There are nonetheless real difficulties about the UN Security Council seeking to occupy centre stage in peace and security matters.

The first is the problem of legitimacy. So long as Germany and Japan are excluded from permanent membership, along with Brazil (or Argentina or Mexico) and India (or Indonesia) and Nigeria (or Egypt or South Africa), the Security Council can hardly claim to be representative of the power balances of the modern era. And with the fading of legitimacy over time comes a diminished capacity to exert moral authority.

The second is the problem of commitment. National interest considerations keep on intruding - as with China's veto (for the utterly unrelated reason that Macedonia had supported Taiwan) of the continued deployment of the UN preventive deployment contingent in that republic. The US abandonment of Rwanda because of its anxiety about how the Somalia experience might be playing in domestic politics, was indeed, as David Malone put it, a craven flight from responsibility.

Thirdly there is the problem of delivery. The experience of recent years has seen some appalling gaps opening up between theory and practice, not all of them able to be filled by the UN simply contracting out its responsibilities. Mandates have been poorly conceived; gaps have opened up between the mandates and the resources needed to implement them; military command skills have sometimes been lacking; and UN civil administration has by and large been lamentable, in particular the mobilization in broken societies of police forces and other necessary elements of functioning law and justice systems.

III. The many weaknesses of the UN system mean that there is no choice but to bring multiple other players into the international peace and security game. The Security Council may retain primary responsibility, but it does not have sole responsibility for building, maintaining, restoring or even enforcing peace.

In the first place, there are players other than the Security Council itself in the UN system, including the economic support agencies, the development assistance agencies and international judicial tribunals. Secondly, there are the regional bodies, varying enormously in both capacity and willingness to play a peace role, including the OSCE, EU and NATO; OAU, SADC and ECOWAS; the OAS; and ASEAN Regional Forum.

Thirdly, there are individual countries - and not only the heavyweights in the P5 and G8: middle and smaller powers like Australia have from time to time played a significant niche role (for example in the Cambodian peace process, and in the conclusion of the Chemical Weapons Treaty).

Fourthly, there are NGOs, many of which play a useful role as think tanks; in hands-on analysis, policy prescription and advocacy (like my own International Crisis Group); or in more operational roles in mediation, confidence and capacity building, and in general peace making and peace building.

And, not least, there is also the research community: generating information, recording lessons from the past and stimulating new ways of thinking about both old and new security problems.

In the ever more complex, globalised and interdependent world of the 21st century, maintaining peace and security will depend, more than ever before, on cooperation. At the end of the day, security cannot be left to the Security Council or any other single entity: it is everyone's business.