|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
WORLD SUMMIT OUTCOME ‘REAL STEP FORWARD’ FOR UN, DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL
TELLS AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
Following is the address delivered today in Sydney by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the Australian Institute for International Affairs:
I must say it is wonderful to be here. In the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to absorb the views of many Australians on regional and global issues. And I have enjoyed it immensely.
The United Nations is one of those institutions that, to coin a phrase, has a way of getting caught “in a savage cross-fire between uncritical lovers and unloving critics”. But the Australians I have spoken to have generally been both friendly and frank in expressing their views, and I have been encouraged by what I have heard.
It is clear to me that Australians are strong believers in the United Nations. Even the critics I have spoken with are critics because they believe in the UN, not because they don’t. I was glad to learn that, in the most comprehensive public opinion poll on international issues ever conducted in Australia -- the Lowy Institute poll earlier this year -- over two thirds of those surveyed expressed positive attitudes towards the United Nations.
Australians know the UN can’t build utopia, or solve all the world’s problems, and they aren’t afraid to point out the Organization’s shortcomings. But they want the UN to work effectively because they believe in strengthening international law, they value international cooperation, and they support the Organization’s work on the ground in countries hit by war, poverty or natural disasters, such as last December’s devastating tsunami, on which former President Clinton is now leading UN reconstruction efforts.
Are they right to do so? I think they are. Because the forces at work in today’s world mean that, for good or ill, we are all dependent on each other. Pick almost any issue confronting our world today: terrorism, nuclear proliferation, AIDS, bird flu, disaster response, global warming, poverty, trade. These issues affect us all, and we can’t address any of them without agreeing on norms, forging common strategies, and sharing burdens.
One of the main reasons the United Nations is under the spotlight today is precisely because, in our interdependent world, people have high expectations of it. They value the UN as a forum for dialogue, but they are not content with it being only a talk-shop. They want results, and rightly so.
Yet, just as people in many parts of the world have come to understand why collective solutions are so vital, the United Nations has taken a battering. Deep divisions among Member States over issues like Iraq have combined with serious shortcomings revealed in the “oil-for-food” programme and in United Nations peacekeeping missions, resulting in a crisis of confidence in the Organization’s effectiveness, accountability and integrity. There is no escaping the fact that real, substantive reform is needed -- of norms, policies and structures.
It was with this goal in mind that, seven months ago, Secretary-General Kofi Annan put before the Member States an agenda for bold change, and called for decisions at last month’s World Summit in New York. You may have read that the World Summit was a failure. It was not. True, it did not achieve the kind of across-the-board transformation that the Secretary-General wanted. But it did achieve quite a bit. Let me explain how.
The Secretary-General’s proposals covered a broad canvas, because he is convinced that development, security and human rights are not only vital ends in themselves, but also depend on each other. We can’t hope to ensure security while billions wallow in poverty, or to reduce poverty if terrorism and conflict are allowed to prevail, or to fight terrorism or poverty on any foundation other than that of respect for human rights. We must advance on all these fronts together.
The Secretary-General also recognised that States have different priorities, and are more likely to overcome their reservations on some issues if they see serious attention being given to others to which they assign a higher priority. So nations like Australia, which place a high premium on issues like promoting human rights, combating terrorism and management reform, had the best chance of achieving major progress on such issues if -- but only if -- they showed sensitivity to the views of those many Governments for whom development is the overriding priority -- and vice versa.
In this way, the Secretary-General set the bar very high. In the lead up to the Summit, some were predicting that the agenda would collapse under its own weight, amidst acrimony and division among the membership. That was always a risk. In the negotiations, important items could not garner consensus -- the most high-profile being reform of the Security Council, but there were several others, too.
Yet in the end, Member States agreed to a document which marks a real step forward for the United Nations, in terms of how the Organization is managed, and what it can do as a forum and as a vehicle for development, security and human rights. Your Ambassador in New York, John Dauth, played an important role in helping to secure that outcome.
The Secretary-General has been pushing management reform at the UN for nearly nine years. I am the first ever Deputy Secretary-General, and one of the reasons my job was created was to help him achieve reform. A lot more has been done in those nine years than many people realize -- particularly in drawing the various parts of the UN system together into coherent policymaking and implementation streams, in making the UN more effective on the ground, and in opening it up to civil society and the private sector.
But much remains to be done. The UN Secretariat was set up largely to service intergovernmental bodies, not to deal with today’s demands. There has been an explosion of new mandates in the last 15 years. But there has been almost no growth in the basic budget, and the Secretary-General has little flexibility to move resources to new priorities. On the contrary, over the years, more and more layers of bureaucratic requirements have been added, often by the Member States, which impede effective management and performance. Nor have the Member States ever systematically gone through and rationalized all the mandates they have given the Secretary-General -- meaning that new tasks are continually given to him without old ones being phased out.
The findings of the Volcker inquiry into the oil-for-food programme have simply driven home the need for major reform. To quote Mr. Volcker himself: “the problems are symptomatic of deep-seated systemic issues. Those issues arise in an Organization designed 60 years ago for a simpler time, an Organization then without large and complex operational challenges alongside its political and diplomatic responsibilities... [I]n an unsettled world the United Nations will again be called upon -- it is being called upon today -- to deal with complex operational problems crossing national and disciplinary boundaries. The administrative ability and the technical capacity of the Secretariat and the agencies will be tested again and again.”
When those tests arise, we must not be found wanting, as we sometimes have been. That is one reason why, in his reform proposals, the Secretary-General asked Member States to agree to end the era of micromanagement and lack of clear lines of responsibility, and replace it with an era of management responsibility and genuine accountability. Member States did not quite agree to go that far -- yet. But they did three important things.
First, they supported a number of steps the Secretary-General is already taking to strengthen ethics, protect whistleblowers, improve procurement, and increase transparency.
Second, they gave the Secretary-General a green light to move ahead with a host of new reform initiatives, including a review of all rules on the management of budgetary, financial and human resources; a review of all mandates more than five years old; a framework for a one-time buyout of staff; an independent external evaluation of the entire oversight system; and proposals for a new independent oversight advisory committee.
Third, they requested the Secretary-General to come back to the General Assembly with proposals on the conditions and measures necessary for him to carry out his managerial responsibilities effectively.
The challenge in the year ahead -- and it is a joint challenge for the Secretary-General and the Member States, who will have the final say -- is to turn these important reform procedures into real outcomes. If that is done, it will not mean that all the UN’s management problems are solved. There would still be plenty of other mountains to climb. But we would have made a major step towards a UN in which the Secretary-General has the freedom to manage the Organization within his budget, and within a clear political mandate given to him by Member States, and the Member States are able to hold him meaningfully responsible and accountable for results. That must remain the goal, and we will be looking to Member States like Australia to help us achieve it.
Of course, management reform is a means to an end. The UN’s substantive agenda must not, and cannot, stand still while we reform the institution. On the contrary, revitalizing that agenda -- on human rights, security and development issues -- is part of genuine reform.
Twenty years ago, the world was divided into camps representing different ideologies. But today, the UN’s Member States formally accept democracy as a desirable and universal value, even if some of them don’t yet practise it. Much of our work is designed to help Member States along the difficult path of democratization. The UN system assists one out of every three parliaments in developing countries; we support an election every two weeks somewhere around the world; and in the past 12 years, we’ve supported democratic elections in half the world’s nations.
The Summit process has given new impetus to this work. Earlier this year, a Democracy Fund was established at the UN to finance projects to support democratization -- a fund which was welcomed at the Summit, and attracted pledges of financial support, including $10 million from Australia.
Important steps were made on human rights, too. World leaders agreed to strengthen the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and to double its budget. They also agreed to establish a Human Rights Council, as the Secretary-General had proposed, to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission. They could not, unfortunately, agree on all the details for the new Council, which means that nations which care about human rights must now be fully engaged in negotiations to see this through.
Perhaps the biggest reform achieved at the Summit was that, for the first time, the entire UN membership, at the highest level, accepted clearly that it has a collective responsibility to protect populations from the gravest human rights violations of all -- genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The Secretary-General has been advocating such a change for many years. It has taken the engagement of many nations, including my own country, Canada -- and the leadership of many individuals, including one of your own, Gareth Evans -- to formulate the concept of “the responsibility to protect”, and secure its acceptance.
This is a major breakthrough in international norm-setting, which can help us to respond more rapidly, and more effectively, to the Bosnias and Rwandas, and indeed the Darfurs, of the future. Of course, it’s a decision in principle. An enormous political effort will still be needed to ensure that we act on this principle in specific situations. But no one can argue any longer that such horrific crimes are internal affairs, which concern only the people and Government of the nation in which they happen. In that respect, at least, we have entered a new and better era.
People who view the world through the prism of crises like Iraq tend to think that the UN is irrelevant to the big issues of international peace and security -- either because the UN could not stop a war they thought was wrong, or did not support a war they thought was right. Either way, they see the Organization as being of marginal utility. This view is mistaken.
Take Iraq itself. UN involvement in the transition in Iraq may not be large. But, like yeast in bread, its role in supporting the constitution-making process and other aspects of Iraq’s difficult transition is critical to the whole mix.
In Afghanistan, the entire transition has taken place within a UN framework. The UN-mediated Bonn Process put together the interim Government. The UN-convened Loya Jirga set the basis for an Afghan Constitution. And in UN-run elections late last year, Afghans freely elected their President for the very first time.
If we look at Lebanon, a united Security Council has helped secure Syrian withdrawal. The killing of former President Hariri is being investigated, and the transition to a truly independent and stable nation is being supported.
The United Nations is also an important player in the pursuit of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, working with the United States, the European Union and Russia through the Quartet. I am glad to say that, as we continue our vital work to assist the Palestinians, we have also built better relations with Israel.
The most visible contribution of the UN to international peace and security is in the field of peacekeeping and peacebuilding, where Member State support is vital for success. Australia provided such support -- indeed, leadership -- in Timor-Leste and in Bougainville, and Australia’s continuing engagement in both places is of high importance. In the Solomon Islands, Australia is leading a regional assistance mission within the framework of the Pacific Islands Forum and welcomed by the Security Council. Its success is vital for the people of the Solomons and the region. The challenges Australia is grappling with in the region can be found globally. The UN has about 70,000 peacekeepers deployed in 16 peacekeeping missions on four continents, and we do it at a fraction of the cost of most national or regional operations.
So, what difference did the Summit make? Quite a lot, actually. First, Member States agreed to establish a standing UN civilian police capacity, so that we can move early, at least on the civilian side, when crisis strikes. They also agreed to create a Peacebuilding Commission. This will be a strategy-setting, policy-coordinating, and burden-sharing body -- a forum that States and institutions involved in the complex business of post-conflict recovery can utilize to maximize impact and minimize duplication. Nations like Australia will have an important contribution to make, and I hope will also find that the Commission helps them in their own peacebuilding efforts. I thank Australia for pledging to contribute to the Commission’s Standing Fund.
The Summit also made progress on international terrorism, which is a threat to all nations, and has tragically claimed the lives of many Australians, including twice now in Bali. The UN’s Member States still do not have, as the Secretary-General had hoped, universal agreement on a definition of terrorism. But the Summit did produce -- and this is a first in the UN’s history -- a clear, unqualified condemnation, by all Member States, of terrorism “in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes”. This has given a new push to the effort to achieve a comprehensive convention on terrorism, which all Member States have now committed themselves to conclude within the coming year. The Summit also agreed that a global counter-terror strategy is sorely needed, building on the elements outlined by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Madrid conference on terrorism and democracy in March.
The biggest failure at the Summit was on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Some States were not prepared to allow certain issues to be discussed. They could not agree to affirm existing commitments, nor could they find a way forward even at the level of principles. As a result, we are in danger of allowing the “deal” underlying the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to be frayed -- a deal designed to allow nations to develop civil nuclear power in a way that gives other nations confidence that they are not developing nuclear weapons; and that gives States without nuclear weapons confidence that nuclear States are serious about moving towards nuclear disarmament.
The NPT is one of the most important bargains ever struck by the international community, and all States will rue the day that we allow it to fall apart -- particularly given the heightened terrorist threat. The well-deserved award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and its Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, has highlighted the need for urgent action on this front. I am glad that Australia, in partnership with a group of other nations, is looking to chart a way forward for the international community.
Finally, let me turn to development -- the task of saving lives from eminently preventable poverty and disease, and making them less vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. Through the UN, broad agreement has been achieved on what both rich and poor countries need to do to grow economies, alleviate poverty, and protect the environment, in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. That is a far cry from where we stood 15 years ago, when nations were deeply divided on basic points. Today, we are clear about what we must do, when we must do it by, and what resources are needed. The challenge is, simply, to do it.
The Summit gave this agenda new momentum. Every developing nation pledged to have in place, by next year, a comprehensive national development strategy bold enough to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, based on good governance and sound economic policy. And developed countries pledged to support them, by boosting development aid and broader and deeper debt relief. Indeed, one of the lasting achievements of 2005 has been to secure an ambitious commitment to add tens of billions of dollars a year to the fight for development, within five years, with more countries providing plans to meet the target of providing 0.7 per cent of gross national income in development assistance, new agreements on debt relief, and any lingering doubts about support for the MDGs being erased.
We were grateful that, in New York, Prime Minister Howard announced a doubling of Australia’s aid budget in the coming years. He also stressed the importance of progress on trade, which is the other vital element in poverty reduction. When talks in the World Trade Organization move to Hong Kong in December, Australia must -- and I know will -- be on the side of opening the markets of the rich to the poorest of the world, and eliminating the unfair subsidies against which developing countries have to compete. I urge Australia to work with its partners to secure a development-oriented outcome to the Doha trade negotiations in the year ahead.
There are plenty of other issues I could have spoken about today. But I hope I have said enough to drive home three simple points. First, the UN is heavily engaged in delivering outcomes for its Member States and their peoples throughout the world, and reports of its imminent demise are greatly exaggerated. Second, after the Summit, we have a basis for the UN to become far more effective and efficient in that role. Reports of the failure of the Summit are greatly exaggerated, too.
But let me particularly stress the third point: the promise of the Summit outcome will be measured by performance and results.
There is a tremendous amount of work to be done to get countries on board to push through the detailed decisions. So, if you want to know where the UN is going, don’t forget that the answer lies as much in your hands as it does in mine. Armchair criticism will not improve the United Nations. On the contrary, the key to success lies in nations like Australia working with, and broadening, the coalition of nations who are committed to change, and who are prepared to put real muscle behind the effort to make it happen.
Australia is well positioned not only to participate in coalitions of this kind, but to help build, lead and sustain them. A good international citizen, a thriving democracy, a close partner of the United States, a nation deeply engaged in the Asia-Pacific region -- this combination gives Australia the opportunity to lead at the United Nations. I can only hope that Australia uses that opportunity to work for a strong and effective United Nations that can carry the torch for peace, development and human rights throughout the world. Or, as Australians might say, an Organization that can help ensure a fair go for all.
* *** *For information media • not an official record