Middle East Situation Driven by Human Insecurity: Poverty, Dashed Hopes, Democracy Deficit, Lack of Good Governance, Secretary-General Tells Security Conference

7 February 2011

Middle East Situation Driven by Human Insecurity: Poverty, Dashed Hopes, Democracy Deficit, Lack of Good Governance, Secretary-General Tells Security Conference

7 February 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Middle East Situation Driven by Human Insecurity: Poverty, Dashed Hopes, Democracy

Deficit, Lack of Good Governance, Secretary-General Tells Security Conference


Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, as prepared for delivery to the Munich Security Conference, in Germany, on 5 February:

It is a pleasure to be with you today.

Your participation in this Munich Security Conference is a measure of its enduring importance.  And this year, I think you will agree:  your gathering could hardly be better timed.

Together in partnership, we are the world’s vanguard for collective security — security in all its aspects:  military; political; economic; social; environmental.

We at the United Nations play a central role — in some cases, taking on tasks that Member States cannot or prefer not to undertake themselves; in others, bringing States together through our unique convening power and legitimacy.

Peace and security is our core mission.  Where there is security — broad-based security — there is peace and development.  Where it is absent, there is often chaos and uncertainty.  We see this across a diverse geography of troubled places, most recently in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries of the Middle East.

We do not know how these events will end.  But this much we do know:  they are driven, at bottom, by human insecurity: poverty, diminished or disappointed expectations, lack of good governance — corruption, ineffective public institutions, a deficit of democracy.  Insecurity grows with injustice where human rights and human dignity are not fully respected, and where there are sharp and growing inequalities of wealth.

For the last decade, the United Nations has been warning of the need for change, documented in a succession of human development reports on Arab countries.  Yet it is important to remember:  the problems and grievances causing unrest in the Arab world represent a microcosm, in too many ways, of the broader world.

Despite progress in many spheres, in many places, insecurity is everywhere on the rise.  We continue to absorb the toll of transnational ills such as organized crime, terrorism and the illegal trafficking of drugs, all empowered by new technologies and the fragility of States.  In the months and years ahead, these varied threats and phenomena will test us in ways we may not imagine.

This Conference began, 47 years ago, as a forum for global security.  The best guarantee of global security is conflict prevention.  When you deploy 10,000 soldiers, it costs billions of dollars.  If you can prevent conflict, you save resources at a fraction of that cost; more importantly, you save lives.

Article 34 of the Charter authorizes the Security Council to investigate any situation that might lead to a dispute or threat to international peace and security.  But fact-finding and mediation should not wait for conflicts to erupt.  Until recently, preventive diplomacy tended to be neglected amid the emphasis on developing other peace and security tools.  Not any more.  I have been pressing this agenda and I am delighted to see Member States putting more resources into the effort.

Last year alone, we supported 34 different mediation, facilitation and dialogue efforts.  In Guinea, United Nations envoys helped smooth the way to the first free elections since the country’s independence.  An inquiry into horrendous crimes and violations of human rights sent a clear message against impunity.  And a situation that looked like a disaster-in-the-making has ended with the country on a much more promising path.

In Kyrgyzstan, United Nations and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) envoys worked in tandem, quickly and flexibly, to help ease the crisis.

And in Sudan, United Nations envoys worked day and night with the leaders of both North and South, in close cooperation with the African Union.  The result was a smooth and fair vote, defying far more pessimistic predictions and generating momentum for addressing crucial post-referendum issues.

Sometimes, a well-run election is the best prevention, especially in societies divided by conflict or undergoing critical transitions.  There will be at least 20 elections in Africa this year.  In Côte d’Ivoire, we see how much is at stake.  At the recent African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, we took an unequivocal stand, again in concert with the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), against any effort to thwart the democratic process.

Our message is clear and direct:  the will of the people is paramount.  Meaningful participation in decision-making is among the foundations for social stability and security.  Repression and disregard for fundamental rights and freedoms breed crisis and insecurity.

We recognize the limits of diplomacy.  When we cannot prevent conflict, we must turn to peacekeeping.  United Nations operations currently deploy some 120,000 military, police and civilian personnel from 116 countries in 15 theatres worldwide.  Your Governments are asking us to do more, and in more places, than ever before.  Increasingly, the sheer range and scope of these responsibilities has stretched our capacity.

We no longer simply separate combatants; increasingly, we must be proactive.  We need to patrol, protect, robustly defend our mandates.  A peacekeeping force that cannot react effectively and swiftly cannot adequately perform its mission.

My peacekeeping colleagues and I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to secure critical assets such as helicopters, which are essential for protection mandates or simple transport in countries with poor roads and remote areas in need of policing.  And yet, my repeated requests to leaders often go unfulfilled.  Consider the message that sends — to authoritarian leaders entrenching their positions, or non-State actors bent on plunder — a message saying the international community cares enough to adopt a resolution promising action, but not enough to follow through.

We must fill the troubling gap between demand and supply, especially if the gap widens further still with new instability and unrest.  We have reached a point where the old ways of deploying and equipping United Nations peacekeepers no longer suffice.

We have responded with the New Horizons initiative, the Global Field Support Strategy and the Civilian Capacity Review.  We need better “interoperability” of United Nations peacekeeping with regional partners.  And we need more countries to contribute personnel and equipment.

Above all, we must recognize that security efforts need to be underwritten by a political track.  We have seen that in Iraq, where the United Nations has helped craft a new Constitution and assist the country’s often-divided parties to form a national Government.  We see it, as well, in Afghanistan, where we reiterate our firm belief that there can be no purely military solution — and where we will continue to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan Government to assume ever-greater responsibility for the country’s future.

In stabilizing post-conflict societies, early and visible “peace dividends” can help avoid a relapse into violence.  The emphasis on early progress — seizing the unique moment when conflict has ended, hopes are high and the potential for transformation is greatest — is part of the essence of peacebuilding.

Fixing shattered societies is deeply complex work for which there is no single formula.  But we are focusing as never before on building national capacity and State institutions, especially in the areas of public administration, rule of law and human rights.

Sceptics of our efforts in Sierra Leone once predicted that it would become the “graveyard of UN peacekeeping”.  Yet when I visited last year, I found a success story.  This is a testament to the determination of the people of Sierra Leone to put war behind them.  But it also shows what can happen when political, human rights, development and humanitarian programmes are integrated under a single strategy, and well-coordinated with the Government.

The country’s police and security forces were rebuilt, with former combatants demobilized and integrated into society.  Instead of paying more soldiers, Sierra Leone can now pay teachers, nurses, police officers, agricultural workers; and the United Nations can plan an exit strategy for 2012.

We cannot talk about security without addressing one of the gravest threats:  stockpiles of tens of thousands of weapons and the spectre of their proliferation and nuclear terrorism.

During the past year, we made important strides, including the successful NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) Review Conference and the signing by the Russian Federation and the United States of a new START (Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms) treaty.

That it should enter into force here in Munich today marks a milestone on the road to our ultimate goal of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.  I applaud President [Barack] Obama of the United States and President [Dmitry] Medvedev of the Russian Federation for their leadership.

In Geneva last month, I pressed the Conference on Disarmament to agree on a programme of work without further delay, including immediate negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty.  The credibility of the Conference on Disarmament itself is at stake.

Milestone events lie ahead.  The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul offers an important opportunity.  A conference on the establishment of a zone in the Middle East free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction can also make a significant contribution.

As the depository of the Nuclear Terrorism Convention, I reiterate the proposal I made last year at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington to consider convening a conference to advance that agreement’s important goals.

The unanswered questions about the nuclear programmes of Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remain sources of serious concern.

On the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I am particularly concerned by the recent revelation of a uranium-enrichment facility, and I renew my call on the country to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions towards the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

On Iran, the recent meeting of the concerned parties and Iran was not encouraging.  I have consistently urged Iran to comply with Security Council resolutions and to cooperate fully with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).  I renew that call today.

As we scan the map of the world’s hotspots, we see common themes: conflict growing from the dashed expectations of ordinary people; from a lack of economic opportunity and growing social inequalities; from a lack of meaningful participation in political life; repression that robs people of their dignity and rights.  Such tensions are compounded by demographics, by natural disasters and climate change, by competition over increasingly scarce resources.

There are no easy answers, but development is key to all.  And security is key to development.

Just as all of you in this room are consumed with these issues and the links among them, so are we at the United Nations.  I look forward to working with you to find a peaceful, secure way forward.

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*     Reissued for technical reasons.

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.