First of all, let me thank you for this invitation, thank you for being here, and for holding this meeting in this place, at this time.
Last year we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations. Today we celebrate the UN’s sixtieth birthday as a working Organization.
In this very hall, on 10 January 1946, the General Assembly met for the first time. On 17 January, in Church House, just across the road, the Security Council came into being. On 1 February, Trygve Lie of Norway was elected, and on the following day formally installed, as the first Secretary-General.
Aha! You had forgotten that bit. Don’t worry. We Secretaries-General are used to being overlooked. Sixty years ago, when the American ambassador rose in this hall to recommend the candidate chosen by the Security Council, he had to get Brian Urquhart to point Trygve Lie out to him -- and then proceeded to mispronounce his name.
(The best thing about that story, of course, is that Brian is still very much part of the UN family, and still helping to point us in the right direction.)
But what, you ask, was Brian doing there, and how had the Assembly and the Council managed to organize themselves without a Secretary-General to tell them where to sit, and how to vote?
The answer is that Brian was working for the Acting Secretary-General, who was a famous British diplomat, Gladwyn Jebb. Right from the start, you see, the Brits had quietly put themselves in charge.
And so it has been ever since. You may have noticed that one of your compatriots has even infiltrated himself as my Chef de Cabinet.
In the United Nations, as one of Jack Straw’s predecessors said, you punch above your weight.
One such skilful pugilist is Lord Hannay. He was kind enough to serve on my High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, and made an enormously valuable contribution.
David, I’m delighted that you have taken on the chairmanship of UNA-UK. You and Sam Daws will make a dream team. I am very grateful to Sam, to Richard Jolly, and to the Association as a whole, for all they have done to publicise my Larger Freedom report and organize public consultations about it -- just as I am grateful to Jack and his colleagues, including notably the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, for the wonderful support they have given.
Thanks to your work, many people in this country have grasped the message of my report, which drew on the High-Level Panel report and also on the Millennium Project report, Investing in Development.
Put simply, that message is twofold. First, we are all in the same boat. More than ever before, the human race faces global problems -- from poverty and inequality to nuclear proliferation, from climate change to bird flu, from terrorism to HIV/AIDS, from ethnic cleansing and genocide to trafficking in the lives and bodies of human beings. So it obviously makes sense to come together and work out global solutions.
And secondly, the three freedoms which all human beings crave -- freedom from want, freedom from war or large-scale violence, and freedom from arbitrary or degrading treatment -- are closely interconnected. There is no long-term security without development. There is no development without security. And no society can long remain secure, or prosperous, without respect for human rights and the rule of law.
That is the premise on which the Larger Freedom agenda is based -- and since you have taken such a keen interest in it, I owe you a progress report.
It was, as you know, an agenda for the World Summit last September. So, let me start by mentioning the areas where the Summit took important steps forward. Obviously, I didn’t get everything I had hoped for, but they did take some important steps forward.
First, it helped stimulate major new commitments of aid and debt relief -- amounting to a doubling of aid for Africa -- and won a strong and unanimous reaffirmation of the Millennium Development Goals. There especially I must salute the UK’s leadership, both in the Group of Eight and in the European Union.
The developing countries, too, gave very important commitments -- starting with an undertaking to produce, by the end of this year, national strategies for reaching the MDGs by 2015.
In the area of humanitarian relief, the Summit has given us a much improved emergency fund, which should enable us to respond promptly whenever disaster strikes.
In the area of peace and security, Member States agreed to “strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes”. And they instructed the General Assembly, “without delay”, to develop, adopt and implement a comprehensive global counterterrorism strategy, built on the elements that I set out in Madrid last March.
But, their most concrete decision in this area was the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission. This body will fill a real institutional gap -- and ensure that attention and resources are devoted to countries emerging from violence, long after peacekeepers have left.
In the area of human rights, we have got a strengthened office, with significant new resources, for the High Commissioner. We got a warm endorsement for the new Democracy Fund. And I hope, in the next week or two, we may see agreement on a new Human Rights Council, to replace the discredited Commission.
Most precious of all to me, is the Summit’s acceptance that States, both individually and collectively, have a responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This is a major breakthrough, which I had been advocating for years.
Finally, the Summit opened the door to big changes in the way the United Nations is managed. Some of these I have already been able to move ahead with, such as creating an ethics office and guaranteeing stronger protection for whistle-blowers. But, the main ones are still ahead.
Indeed, many of the Summit’s decisions are only commitments in principle. The hard struggle now is to get them implemented, in detail and in practice.
Take, for instance, the commitments for development, from both donor and developing countries. Pushing these through each country’s political system, against powerful vested interests, will require a sustained political effort. And, a similar effort will be needed to achieve the breakthrough on trade, giving developing countries a real chance to compete in the global market.
On peace and security, Member States have yet to respond to the need, which the Summit stressed, “to make every effort” to reach agreement on a comprehensive convention on terrorism, within the present session of the General Assembly. It is vital that they do so, as well as developing a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy with the urgency the Summit called for. You in this city know all too well that terrorism is a global scourge, and how important it is that all nations work together to defeat it.
Much the same applies to the commitments for human rights. Negotiations on the new Human Rights Council need to be completed by mid-February, before the old Commission on Human Rights begins another annual session. And those negotiations are by no means guaranteed to succeed. Now is the time when all who really care about human rights must make the maximum effort, to ensure that we do get an authoritative Human Rights Council, able to command respect and to stand up for the rights of the oppressed throughout the world.
And that applies, also, to the splendid declaration of willingness to take action “in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council” to protect populations whose own Governments fail to do so. This will only be meaningful if the Security Council is prepared to act on it. And the Council faces a clear test right now, since the African Union has signalled its wish to see its mission in Darfur transformed into a UN peace operation.
That gives the Council an inescapable responsibility to act, swiftly and decisively, to halt the killing, rape and ethnic cleansing to which people in Darfur are still being subjected.
It remains to be seen, too, whether we shall get the thorough overhaul of all our rules governing personnel and resources, to which the Summit opened the door, and which we badly need, if we are to have a management system that is up to handling the operational responsibilities given to us by Member States over the last 15 years. For this, it is vital that Member States agree to act on the proposals I shall submit next month.
At the same time, the General Assembly is going to undertake a review of all the mandates still in force, which were given to the Organization by Member States between 1946 and 2001. You can imagine the challenge. This should make it possible to avoid much duplication and waste, and ensure that our work reflects the current priorities of Member States, rather than those of yesteryear.
None of these reforms are easy for Member States to agree on, because of the profound suspicions between developing and donor countries, between small States and big, and often between the single remaining super-Power and everyone else.
Those suspicions affected the Summit, too. There are areas where world leaders failed to reach any agreement at all.
The biggest disappointment, for me, was their failure to chart a way forward on disarmament and non-proliferation.
Can there be any threat more alarming, in today’s world, than that of a nuclear or biological weapon falling into the hands of terrorists, or being used by a State, as a result of some terrible misunderstanding or miscalculation? The more States have such weapons, the greater the risk. And, the more those States that already have them increase their arsenals, or insist that such weapons are essential to their national security, the more other States feel that they too must have them, for their security.
For 35 years the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has been remarkably successful in protecting mankind from this danger. But now, it faces a very serious challenge.
Today’s headlines concern Iran -- rightly so, for basic treaty obligations and commitments are at stake. For signatories of the NPT, the right to develop nuclear energy is conditional, on the solemn obligation not to build or acquire nuclear weapons, and to comply with standards set and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
But, when we step back from the headlines, it should be clear that we cannot continue to lurch from crisis to crisis, until the regime is buried beneath a cascade of nuclear proliferation.
Twice last year, Governments had the chance to strengthen the foundations of the NPT regime, by agreeing on more robust IAEA inspections; incentives and guarantees for countries to forgo the enrichment and reprocessing of fissile materials; and energetic steps to meet disarmament commitments.
Both times, they failed. We cannot afford any more such squandered chances.
Foreign Secretary, I greatly appreciated the efforts to rebuild the non-proliferation consensus that you made last year, working with six other foreign ministers. This is one of the few serious multilateral efforts that have been made recently to strengthen a key pillar of collective security. I urge you to continue it.
The Summit’s other great failure, of course, was that it did not agree on enlargement of the Security Council.
Although the UK supported enlargement, I suspect that in London, as in other capitals of existing permanent members, not many tears are shed over this failure.
But do not underestimate the slow erosion of the UN’s authority and legitimacy that stems from the perception that it has a very narrow power-base, with just five countries calling the shots. I have in the past described this as a democracy deficit.
It is this feeling of frustration and exclusion that prompts many States to exercise the only power they do have: the power to block other reforms, such as better management -- since some see even this as an attempt by the big boys to grab yet more power for themselves.
So the base must be broadened. Sooner or later, the Security Council will have to be enlarged. But, meanwhile, there are other ways to give more States more of a say in UN decisions.
The permanent members could pay more attention to the elected members -- and the General Assembly could take more care to elect members who are up to the responsibility.
And the Council as a whole should be more willing to share power with other organs of the United Nations, including the new Human Rights Council and Peacebuilding Commission, a reformed Economic and Social Council, and the General Assembly itself. If these institutions win more respect and greater powers, there will be opportunities for more Member States to exercise those powers -- which in turn will give them a renewed feeling of commitment to the Organization, and a stronger interest in making it work.
Britain has the experience and prestige to play a leading role in reforming the governance of the United Nations. It has in fact already increased its prestige, by showing readiness not to put all its eggs in the permanent membership basket.
What looks like giving away power can increase British influence -- because, if the UN is a ring in which you punch above your weight, it’s in your interest to ensure that it’s a ring the rest of the world really respects and cares about. In fact, the Gladwyn Jebbs of today or tomorrow could play as big a role in recasting the UN edifice, as their forebears did in the great institution-building exercise of sixty years ago.
If we are to have a UN capable of coping with today’s crises and tomorrow’s -- from Doha to Darfur, from global terrorism to global warming -- a real effort of statesmanship and confidence-rebuilding is required. And Britain has a major role to play. Yours is a unique position, given your ties of language and friendship with the United States, your link to many developing countries through the Commonwealth, and your role as a leading member of the European Union.
I fervently hope that, at the end of this year, I shall be able to hand on to my successor, an Organization better equipped to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, and to serve the peoples in whose name it was founded. And I count on Britain to play, not a supporting, but a leading role in making that come about.