Fact Sheet 5
What the United Nations Can Do
“We've learned to move rapidly to establish a secure environment, to pull antagonists into a common goal and deliver 'quick wins'”.
Article by Mr. Shashi Tharoor, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, published by Newsweek International on 19 May 2003
“When Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, stepped out of his car in Baghdad at the end of a grueling 900-kilometer journey from Amman, he saw at first hand the task that awaited him and his team. The United Nations' longtime headquarters, the Canal Hotel, had been looted and practically stripped bare in the chaotic aftermath of the city's fall two weeks earlier. The task of rebuilding would literally begin at home.
“Not that the rebuilding of Iraq is Lopes da Silva's priority, strictly speaking. He and his colleagues have a more urgent challenge-working with the United Nations' Iraqi staff, who stayed on through the war, to restore essential supplies and services to forestall a humanitarian emergency. Anything beyond such aid would require a new mandate from the Security Council. But as the U.N. flag flies again in Baghdad, many have begun asking what else the United Nations can do.
“The United Nations isn't yearning to "nation-build" in Iraq. It isn't a multinational corporation whose survival depends on increasing market share. The Coalition has won the war; the world must now ensure that the Iraqi people win the peace. If the United Nations can help, it is ready to-provided the Security Council agrees on its role.
“The United Nations' first major effort in nation-building came in Cambodia, following the 1991 peace accords. Setbacks and successes there and, later, in Kosovo and East Timor have taught valuable lessons. In Cambodia the United Nations was asked, in effect, to reinvent a country.
We did many things right: ran five key government ministries, brought home hundreds of thousands of refugees and organized free elections that created a new internationally recognized government. But we got things wrong, too. Some of our peacekeeping troops proved inept. Critics felt we placed more emphasis on elections than on institution-building. Many thought we left too soon. The United Nations learned from this experience, and did better next time.
“In Mozambique, we ended a brutal civil war, disarmed the rebels, held free elections and left in place a government that is one of the success stories of Africa. In Afghanistan, the United Nations midwifed a political process that gave birth to an interim Afghan government, whose ministers began their work with desks, stationery and telephones provided by the United Nations. We work with a "light footprint"-treading softly as a sovereign government finds its own feet.
“The key U.N. contribution has been the international legitimacy that comes from Security Council authorization of these administrations. Thereafter, what we can do depends on what we are asked to do. We've learned to move rapidly to establish a secure environment, to pull potential antagonists into a common goal and to deliver "quick wins"-practical measures that improve the daily lives of ordinary people. It's essential to create political institutions that locals run so that they can take charge of their own destinies. Nations are not built by militaries. But until recently we have not had the stable of civil administrators, police experts, international jurists or economists required to run countries that needed them. Today, thanks to past experience, we can mobilize a large cadre of experts from dozens of countries. Some ex-U.N. staff are already assisting U.S. forces in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
“In any nation-building exercise, the builders teeter to find balance between what is sustainable and what is politically necessary. The job takes time and demands a talent for adaptability. As we've learned in Kosovo, big-picture issues like the rule of law (meaning democratic legislation, a professional police to apply it and an independent judiciary to uphold it) jostle with more mundane activities like traffic tickets, business regulations and building codes. Iraq is not Kosovo, but some of the challenges will be the same. What law should apply? Can pre-war administrators be reappointed? In both East Timor and Kosovo, there was almost no judicial infrastructure. Courthouses were in ruins; records destroyed or absconded. Computers, fans, heaters, pencils, paper-gone. Iraq after the looting might be no better.
“The economics of nation-building, the reintegration of ex-combatants, a fair taxation system, the exploitation of oil and gas resources-the United Nations has grappled with these issues elsewhere, and the new rulers of Iraq will have to tackle them as well. Such operations do not always go well, and never flawlessly. From Cambodia to Sierra Leone, the United Nations has taken paths that went awry and made plans that needed to be reconsidered. But with solid successes from Mozambique to East Timor, we have learned much. As the United States consolidates its position in Iraq, bureaucrats in Washington will no doubt be studying the United Nations' record. Experience is the best teacher, and the lessons the United Nations has learned are freely available for the world to apply.”
DPI/2311 (5) May 2003