Press Releases

    DSG/SM/185
    16 December 2002

    DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL UNDERSCORES IMPORTANCE
    OF MULTILATERALISM IN ADDRESS TO HARVARD MODEL
    UNITED NATIONS 2002

    NEW YORK, 13 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the speech by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the Harvard Model United Nations 2002 in Boston on 12 December:

    I am delighted to be here. The annual conference of the Harvard Model United Nations rightly enjoys an outstanding reputation for its substantive excellence and for the dedication, energy and talent of its participants.

    Seeing so many young people coming together in support of our Organization is truly heartening.

    First, because the United Nations is your United Nations. It was created more than 50 years ago for the peoples of the world, whose future you represent.

    Second, because it is deeply encouraging to see that so many of you, the leaders of tomorrow, are taking an active interest in our work. By coming together and assuming the positions of different Member States, by walking in their shoes, so to speak, you will gain new insights and come to understand a diversity of points of view.

    As recent events have shown us, such an understanding is indispensable. The United Nations is currently going through one of those periods in its history where it is in the spotlight on a daily, or even hourly, basis.

    The return of United Nations arms inspectors to Iraq, and the Security Council resolution leading up to it, show what a central role the United Nations can –- and must –- play in the quest for a world free from the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

    The resolution sets out in clear terms Iraq’s obligation to cooperate with the United Nations in ensuring the full disclosure and dismantling of its weapons of mass destruction. It leaves no doubt as to what these obligations are, nor as to how they must be fulfilled. Iraq now has a new –- and final -- opportunity to comply with all the relevant resolutions of the Security Council.

    This is a time of trial -– for Iraq, for the United Nations and for the world. The goal is to ensure the effective and peaceful disarmament of Iraq in compliance with Security Council resolutions and a better, more secure future for its people. How this crisis is resolved will affect greatly the course of peace and security in the coming years in the region, and the world.

    The process so far has shown us that the governments of the world –- including the United States Government –- want to work through the United Nations in questions of peace and security.

    It also showed us that the peoples of the world want to make use of the uniquely universal institution which the United Nations represents.

    In the run-up to the resolution on Iraq, people around the globe, in the press and in the streets, called on their Governments to work with each other, within the framework of the United Nations.

    We can say that the resolution shows the United Nations acting as its founders intended: as an instrument of cooperation on a matter of grave consequence for global order and peace. The resolution was a collective effort, based on international law, the bedrock of relations among States.

    When such dramatic questions are posed, the need for the United Nations, and the necessity of a multilateral approach, are understood by most of the world’s people.

    I think the overall aims and ideals embodied in the United Nations are familiar to many people: promoting universal values such as equality and tolerance; justice and progress; democracy and peace; harmony among peoples and nations.

    Most people also know a fair amount about our humanitarian work and peace operations: our blue-helmeted peacekeepers; our programmes of disaster relief, refugee protection and electoral monitoring; our immunization of children against deadly diseases.

    What may be less recognized is the need for, and the existence of, multilateral cooperation in all of our lives on a daily basis.

    Today, in the complex era of globalization, with all its opportunities and challenges, the number of areas where multilateral action is needed are growing exponentially. In the globalized world we live in today, problems can cross frontiers more freely than people. They need no passports to travel around the globe.

    To address them, we need solutions that cut across frontiers, too. We need nations big and small to work together. In other words, we need multilateral solutions.

    Only by multilateral action can we ensure that open markets offer benefits and opportunities to all.

    Only by multilateral action can we give people in the least developed countries the chance to escape the ugly misery of poverty, ignorance and disease -– by dismantling trade barriers, boosting technology transfer, promoting investment, and providing debt relief and aid.

    Only by multilateral action can we protect ourselves from acid rain, or global warming; from the spread of HIV/AIDS, the illicit trade in drugs, or the growing problem of the odious trafficking in human beings.

    That applies even more to the prevention of terrorism. Individual States may defend themselves, by striking back at terrorist groups and the countries that harbour or support them. But only concerted vigilance and cooperation among all States, with constant, systematic exchange of information, offers any real hope of denying terrorists their opportunities.

    The United Nations has an indispensable role to play in providing the necessary legal and organizational framework within which the international campaign against terrorism can unfold. The Counter-Terrorism Committee established by the Security Council, for instance, has become an important vehicle for the international cooperation on counter-terrorism, calling for the effective implementation of the 12 international anti-terrorism conventions.

    Through its work, the Counter-Terrorism Committee is helping to strengthen global capacity in this field, by means of a coordinated programme of needs-assessment and technical assistance. The Secretary-General has also asked United Nations agencies and programmes to assist in any way they can in the task of countering terrorism and conditions that allow it to thrive.

    Multilateralism works for us in more down-to-earth matters too -- that make our lives easier without our even noticing.

    Every time you board an airplane, for example, you depend on the International Civil Aviation Organization for global standards for airplane and airport safety, aviation communications; and performance of pilots, flight crews, air traffic controllers and ground and maintenance crews.

    And you depend on the World Meteorological Organization and its World Meteorological Vigil system, which enables planes to pick safe routes through stormy skies.

    Every time you see a movie, you are benefiting from the work of the World Intellectual Property Organization, which helps protect copyrights for films.

    Every time you make a long-distance telephone call, you are relying on the International Telecommunication Union, which sets the rules and international arrangements that make it possible for countries to connect through global networks; and which manages the allocation of radio frequencies and satellite orbital positions.

    Indeed, ever since countries started connecting with one another in an organized way, they recognized the need to use a multilateral approach to impose a little order in their dealings with one another: for example, by creating the forerunner to the ITU -- the International Telegraph Union -- in 1856, and the Universal Postal Union, in 1874.

    Plan to enjoy some Boston clam chowder for dinner? The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates that coastal states have sovereign rights over natural resources and certain other economic activities in a 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, meaning that the waters of Massachusetts are protected from fishing armadas from other countries.

    These are just some of the ways that multilateral cooperation works for all of us, every day of the year.

    The arguments for a small country to follow a genuine and consistent multilateral path are obvious. Its interests will be better protected if it forms part of a large community with a common design.

    For bigger countries, the reasons may seem less obvious at first glance. They may have the power and the capability to go it alone. But is it really in their interest in the long run? I would argue that it is not. By accepting the rules of multilateralism they can ensure that other countries follow them as well.

    It may not always be easy. As you yourselves will see in the coming simulations, where you will take on the roles of Member States, negotiations can be tedious, difficult and complex. It may be tempting, as a small country, to throw the towel in, or as a powerful country, to bully others to get the results you want. But what is important is to be able to see the bigger picture, to realize that something emerging out of consensus or negotiations may in the end have the greater value for all countries, big and small.

    When countries work together in multilateral institutions –- developing, respecting, and when necessary enforcing international law -– they develop mutual trust, and achieve more effective cooperation, to everyone’s benefit.

    The more a country makes use of multilateral institutions -– thereby respecting shared values, and accepting the obligations and restraints inherent in those values –- the more others will trust and respect that country, and the stronger its chance to exercise true leadership.

    But for any one State –- large or small – choosing to follow or reject the multilateral path must not be a simple question of political convenience. It should not be a matter of picking and choosing what suits them for the moment -– an "à la carte" approach. Such use of multilateral mechanisms and obligations can create a sense of selectivity and double standards. It tends to discredit multilateralism and, above all, the international legitimacy which goes with it.

    Among multilateral institutions, the United Nations has a special place. It is the only one that is truly universal. Our Charter spells out the equal rights of "nations large and small".

    The United Nation's 191 Member States do indeed include the largest and the smallest. From China, with a population of more than one billion, to Tuvalu with less than 10,000.

    The United Nations is not a world government, and has never been intended to be one. It is a forum of sovereign nations, such as the United States, coming together in recognition that they have common cause and shared interests and that it is only through concerted action among nations that the major challenges affecting the world can be tackled.

    This was the case immediately after World War II, when the founders of the United Nations held firm convictions that coming together under a legally binding framework, with the goal of working together for peace and security, as well as improving living conditions of all peoples, was the only hope countries had of "saving future generations from the scourge of war". This remains as true today as it was then. The United Nations is a tool; it exists to help nations navigate the ever-changing landscapes of international life, and to find solutions for old as well as new problems.

    But even if the United Nations is made up of States, its work is really about people. And to carry out its mission well, the United Nations needs the support of people everywhere.

    That is why conferences such as yours are so important. The fact that at this conference, you are celebrating not only 50 years of Harvard Model United Nations, but also 75 years of high school diplomacy simulations, shows that in this country, multilateralism has been embraced by generation after generation of young people like you.

    In that spirit, please accept my best wishes for a very stimulating few days, and my sincere thanks for your commitment. I add the hope that many more will follow your example.

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