Press Releases

    DSG/SM/196
    13 May 2003

    Is International Community Equipped for Challenges of 21st Century? Asks Deputy Secretary-General in Warsaw Address

    NEW YORK, 12 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette at the Diplomatic Academy in Warsaw, Poland, on 12 May:

    I greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet this group of people who have chosen a diplomatic career. I'll admit to bias on this point, since it was also my own choice, more than 30 years ago now, and I have never regretted it for one minute. The work of promoting your own country's interests through dialogue, persuasion and international cooperation is often exhausting, but almost always rewarding. It is also more than ever necessary in today's world, in which the interests of peoples are more than ever closely intertwined, and the need for international understanding has never been greater. It is a special privilege, in such a world, to serve an international organization, as I do -- and one that I hope a number of you will share.

    It's also a great pleasure to meet such a group in a country which, I suspect, must have been rather surprised to hear itself labelled recently as part of "new Europe", and which has surely been more accurately defined, by a British historian, as "the heart of Europe". What is true, and highly regrettable, is that for several decades after 1939 Poland was brutally prevented from playing its proper role in European affairs. But Poland is a country with a long and glorious history, and in the last quarter of the twentieth century you certainly made up for lost time.

    You gave the world Pope John Paul II, and the wonderful example of Solidarnoszcz, which showed us all that democratic change can be brought about by brave men and women using non-violent methods. And since 1989, you have also shown how a working democracy and a successful market economy can be built in a land recovering from a long spell of totalitarian rule. Your experience should be of great interest and value to other peoples, such as the Iraqi people, who are now attempting a similar journey, albeit in very different and even more challenging conditions.

    Such a process inevitably has its frustrating and disappointing moments. The negotiation of European Union membership, I know, has not been a uniformly uplifting process -- either for you or for the Union. But you have carried it through successfully, and next month the Polish people is called on to make a historic choice, one that only 20 years ago still seemed like a dream.

    You must decide freely where your national interest lies. What I think can hardly be doubted is that you have a great contribution to make in the next phase of European history, and that without Poland the enlarged Union would feel sadly incomplete. As diplomats, you will all at some point be looking beyond Europe to advance your country's interests in world more broadly.

    That is why I would like to share a few thoughts with you on a question that many, if not all of you, as diplomats, will find yourselves grappling with sooner or later: Are we, as an international community, equipped either conceptually or institutionally for the challenges we face in this century?

    How well, for instance, are we responding to terrorism -- a threat which took on a new dimension on 11 September 2001? The attack on that day revealed how vulnerable even the most powerful country in the world can be, not to aggression by another powerful State, but to attack by a small, mysterious and intensely motivated group.

    We have a dozen international conventions outlawing specific forms of terrorism, and the Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee -- created in the immediate aftermath of "9/11" -- has done a great deal to promote international cooperation, as well as action by Member States at the national level. Yet I fear that our capacity to enforce the conventions is still too weak. And it should also be a source of shame and concern to all of us that we still have no comprehensive convention on the issue, because we have still not found a definition of terrorism that all States can agree on.

    No less important, we have not yet worked out how far a free society can go in taking precautions against terrorism without sacrificing the very freedom it is trying to protect. We need to search much more intensively, and more rigorously, for a consensus on the right balance between freedom and security.

    At the same time, we are all well aware how much more damage terrorists could do if they were to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

    Of course, the fear of such weapons is far from new. But who could deny that proliferation gives this danger a new face and a new urgency? If the competition of nuclear-armed super-Powers was terrifying, so -- in a different way -- is the thought of such weapons in the hands of terrorists, or of a paranoid dictator at odds with the international community, who believes he has nothing left to lose.

    Here too, we have a number of international instruments, which have undoubtedly played an important part in restraining the spread of such weapons. Particularly important is the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is the most widely subscribed disarmament treaty, with no fewer than 188 States parties.

    The vast majority of States appear to value the Treaty, and to respect its provisions. But this acceptance is gradually being undermined, as non-nuclear-weapon States hear nuclear-weapon States propounding doctrines of first use; as they see new nuclear weapons being developed; and as reduction of existing weapons stocks proceeds more slowly than had been hoped.

    Meanwhile, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty has still not entered into force, six years after it was opened for signature. States parties to the Biological Weapons Convention have failed to conclude a verification protocol. And a number of key States, particularly in the Middle East, remain non-members of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

    A third challenge, which I fear we have scarcely begun to confront, is the rapid internationalization of organized crime. This thrives especially on illicit trade: in drugs, in weapons, in natural resources exploited to finance conflict, and -- most odious of all -- in human beings. Almost invariably it involves violence. It is a real and growing threat to the security of far too many people. But as yet there is an almost total lack of good international instruments to deal with it.

    Nor have we yet come fully to grips with the threat of genocide and other massive violations of human rights. Once again, this is far from being a new phenomenon. But in the last decade or so, we have become much more acutely aware that they constitute an unacceptable affront to our common values and that the effects of such atrocities are seldom, if ever, confined to the country where they happen.

    The international community's failure to deal effectively with the tragedies of Bosnia and Rwanda has left deep scars, and since then much of the debate in the Security Council has been aimed at preventing similar events from occurring elsewhere. The Council nowadays concerns itself much more closely with internal conflicts. There have been some significant achievements, for instance, in East Timor and Sierra Leone -- even if, in both those cases, successful intervention came only after severe setbacks and considerable loss of life.

    Yet we still do not have a generally accepted concept of collective responsibility for dealing with such terrible events when they occur. You will recall that in 1999 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) took action to halt "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo, without seeking authority from the Security Council, because it was assumed that any authorizing resolution would be vetoed.

    Later that year, the Secretary-General himself, addressing the General Assembly, warned the Council that it risked being sidelined if it was not able to live up to its responsibilities in such cases. That statement sparked off a vigorous debate, which led, in turn, to the excellent report entitled "The Responsibility to Protect", produced by an international blue-ribbon panel convened by the Canadian Government. This report stresses the responsibility of States to protect their citizens, and presents the role of the international community as a responsibility, rather than a right, to intervene in extreme cases where a State is failing or has failed.

    I think that is a constructive approach, which could, in time, come to form the basis of a genuine consensus. But we should not delude ourselves into imagining that consensus has already been reached, or that the Security Council will necessarily perform better next time it is confronted with a crisis of this kind.

    Another major challenge that we face is that of migration -- a particularly sensitive political issue in Europe today, but of great importance to other parts of the world, too. Once again, there is nothing new about people moving from one country to another, whether fleeing war and persecution or simply in search of a better life. But nothing in recent history has prepared us for the scale of population movements we are witnessing today -- not only from south to north, but also within the south.

    We have a regime to deal with refugees -- the 1951 Convention and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner. But the number of refugees in the world today -- strictly defined as those who are outside their own country and unable to return for fear of persecution -- is only about 16 million. This figure is dwarfed by the 159 million people who are deemed international migrants -- people who live outside their country of birth, not out of fear but because, in a world economy increasingly driven by market forces, they have responded to market incentives, moving to places where their skills and their labour can earn a higher reward -- or sometimes any reward at all.

    There is, at present, no international system for managing the flows of such migrants -- and this is what has really put the international refugee regime under strain. In many of the more prosperous countries, claiming refugee status has become almost the only way for immigrants to regularize their situation. In response, asylum policies are more and more designed, not to ensure that genuine refugees are fairly treated, but to ensure that "bogus" ones -- that is, economic migrants seeking to evade immigration controls -- are excluded. Others, who seek to evade these controls by adopting clandestine routes across seas and frontiers, often fall into the hands of traffickers, or become the victims of horrific disasters -- suffocated in containers or drowned in unseaworthy boats.

    In short, the international system is lagging far behind economic realities. We badly need new policies, and perhaps better institutional support, for handling this problem.

    Yet another challenge is the sheer scale of human misery caused by extreme poverty in the world today. While one part of the world, thanks to the rapid development of technology and the expansion of the world economy during the second half of the twentieth century, is enjoying unprecedented prosperity, a much larger part is still struggling in conditions of great hardship, and well over a billion people have almost literally nothing -- no safe drinking water, no education, medical treatment or other basic services, not enough to eat, and an income of less than one euro per day.

    Globalization is not the cause of this problem. Indeed, it offers us probably the best chance of eradicating extreme poverty that the human race has ever had. But it would be very naive to suppose that this will happen all by itself, by the spontaneous action of market forces, without any attempt by States to ensure that the poor can benefit from market opportunities.

    Many of the necessary measures need to be taken at the national level, of course -- and, indeed, in many countries they are being taken. But this will not be enough, unless poor countries are given a real chance to compete in world markets on equitable terms. They must be allowed to offer the goods and services that they can produce most economically to the consumers who are best placed to pay for them -- those of the more prosperous countries -- and they should not have to compete in world markets with heavily subsidized products (I refer especially, of course, to agricultural products) from those richer countries.

    To give them that chance is one of the main objectives of the "development round" of trade negotiations, which all countries agreed to hold at the Doha ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization 18 months ago. But, I'm sorry to say that the negotiations have not so far lived up to the promise of Doha. At the moment the prospects for the next ministerial meeting, to be held in Cancun in September, do not look promising.

    It is vital that the international system improve its performance in this area, because trade is by far the most effective way of increasing wealth and enabling poor people to better themselves. The more export opportunities poor countries have, the easier they will find it to attract foreign investment. But, of course, they do also need the capacity to exploit those opportunities, and many of the poorer countries will not achieve this without significant official development assistance.

    I'm glad to say that last year was the first for some time in which there was a net global increase in such assistance from rich countries to poor ones, but there is still a long way to go before we achieve the extra $50 billion per year that has been calculated as the minimum needed if there is to be any realistic hope of reaching the eight "millennium development goals" fixed by the United Nations Millennium Summit in the year 2000. (These goals, to be reached by 2015, include such targets as halving the proportions of the world's people who suffer from hunger and live on less than one dollar a day, achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality by two thirds and maternal mortality by three quarters, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, and beginning to reduce the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.)

    We have also seen that even countries that have made significant progress in raising living standards, such as some of those in South-East Asia and Latin America, can suffer very severe setbacks as a result of sudden movements in the capital markets.

    Others find themselves obliged to devote the bulk of their export earnings to repaying and servicing debt, often at the expense of health, education and other basic services. Laudable schemes such as the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative have so far only been able to alleviate this problem, rather than solve it, for a small number of countries.

    In all these areas of the world economy -- migration, trade, financial flows, debt -- there seems to be a governance deficit at the global level. Decision-making institutions are either lacking or do not reflect adequately the new realities of a globalized world.

    Indeed, one could argue that all the problems I have been discussing -- and I could have added a few more, such as epidemic disease and climate change -- are related, in one way or other, to globalization. Terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, criminal gangs, people fleeing war or genocide, economic migrants, infectious diseases, carbon emissions, financial flows, trade itself -- all, for better or worse, move around the world almost regardless of oceans and frontiers, and have become much harder for nation States, acting on their own, to control or even to regulate.

    On balance, I still believe that globalization offers more opportunities than dangers. But what is clear is that it presents us with a massive agenda of challenges, and that our response to most of them has so far fallen well short of what is needed.

    The fundamental choice that faces us, as I see it, is whether we address these challenges together, as a world community, taking collective decisions in common institutions, or whether countries attempt to tackle them each in its own way, as separate nation States -- or, in some cases, as regional groups, like the European Union.

    You will not be surprised to hear that I favour the former approach. I do so, firstly, out of a fundamental concern for equity, since it is evident that some countries, and some entire regions of the world, are much less well equipped to handle these challenges than others.

    But I do so for another, more pragmatic reason, as well, which is that the multilateral system has proved its value over the last half century. That half century has certainly been far from perfect. But equally certainly it was a great improvement on the period immediately before it. And that was, in part at least, thanks to the network of rules and institutions created, in the middle of the last century, by statesmen who were determined not to repeat the disaster of two world wars. That network did not solve all problems or prevent all conflicts. But it did succeed in limiting conflict, and it did make possible spectacular technical progress and economic growth, accompanied or followed by the spread of political freedom.

    But if, as I hope, we are going to preserve that multilateralist legacy, we must make sure that multilateralism actually delivers. We must recognize that, if some States do seem impatient with it today or inclined to go their own way, that is because too often it is not responding adequately to the challenges I have outlined for you this afternoon.

    The answer lies in confronting honestly the challenges of multilateralism, but just as importantly in recognizing -- and speaking about -- the many ways in which it has made the world a safer and better place for States and peoples alike. We need to advance the understanding of the many instances today in which the global interest is the national interest; how the individual interests of States are often more effectively pursued in concert with others; and how a rule-based international order will provide each member with greater security and greater prosperity.

    I know that in this talk I have asked more questions than I have answered. But, at times of change and flux, such as those we are living in now, we cannot hope to find the right answers unless we are willing to ask tough questions first. And I am confident that this audience, in this country, is one we can look to for the intellectual and moral leadership we need, if effective answers are to be found.

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