Press Releases

    DSG/SM/250
    5 April 2005

    Bold, Far-Reaching UN Reform Urgent, Necessary, Says Deputy Secretary-General in Ontario Address

    NEW YORK, 4 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette’s address to a conference at Waterloo University -- “The UN:  Adapting to the 21st Century” -- 3 April:

    Thank you, Michael [Doyle], for that very warm introduction.

    Let me also thank Howard Burton and the Perimeter Institute for their warm hospitality; Jim Balsillie, John English, Paul Heinbecker, and all of you at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) for convening such an impressive gathering to consider the challenges of adapting the UN to the twenty-first century; and the Academic Council of the United Nations System for its support.  It is truly a pleasure to be here, and to have the opportunity to deliver this public lecture.

    I joined the United Nations on a wave of reform -- indeed, the position that I occupy, that of Deputy Secretary-General, was part of Kofi Annan’s first reform package in 1997.  The reforms put in place at that time did much to restore confidence in the Organization -- confidence that had been badly eroded, above all, by the UN’s failures in Bosnia and Rwanda.  Those reforms continued throughout the 1990s, and we introduced a second wave of reforms in 2002.

    Thanks in part to these changes, the Organization emerged from a prolonged funding crisis with the United States.  I vividly remember the day when Senators Helms and Biden visited UN Headquarters with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and how that led to the implementation of the Helms-Biden Act, under which the US eventually paid off most of its arrears due to the UN in 2001.

    I also recall the palpable optimism of the moment in September 2000 when Member States adopted the Millennium Declaration -- a remarkable document which showed widespread confidence that humanity could make measurable progress towards peace, security, disarmament, human rights, democracy and good governance.  And I think all of us who serve the United Nations were proud when, a year later, the Security Council responded swiftly and decisively to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

    Today, however, it is difficult not to feel that we have, in some respects at least, slid back down the greasy pole to somewhere near the place where we started eight years ago.  The Organization has been deeply scarred by the divisions over the war in Iraq.  Many who supported the war saw the Security Council’s failure to authorize action as symptomatic of the UN’s inability to provide a muscular response to today’s threats.  Many who opposed the war were disillusioned that the United Nations appeared helpless to prevent what they saw as a premature and dangerous war, fought on uncertain grounds.  As a result --  and notwithstanding the deployment by the Security Council of a host of new peacekeeping missions to stabilize other trouble spots -- people on all sides experienced a crisis of confidence in the United Nations.  The controversies surrounding the oil-for-food programme only added fuel to the fire, as did other failings in the conduct of staff and peacekeepers.  So, today, the calls for reform are stronger than ever.

    Once again, the Secretary-General is leading the charge.  In September 2003, he warned that the international community stood at a fork in the road, and then set up the High-Level Panel to put forward a new vision of collective security that could command the confidence of all States.  It was also he who set up the Millennium Project, to give both rich and poor nations a plan of action to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

    Those two bodies produced their reports this winter, and two weeks ago, the Secretary-General published his own report, “In larger freedom”.  That report offers Member States a package of decisions which, taken together, could forge an effective multilateral response to the great challenges of our time, and make the United Nations itself an effective instrument of that response.

    For some of our harshest critics, this is a futile exercise.  They view the United Nations as a worn-out relic of a bygone era, inefficient and ineffective, corrupt and morally bankrupt -- in short, next to useless.  But if that is true, why do States entrust so many vitally important tasks to the United Nations?  Why have they turned to it to spearhead an unprecedented global response to the Asian tsunami, and to the more recent earthquake in the region?  Why did they call on the UN to help with the creation of an interim government in Iraq, and to provide technical assistance during the recent elections?  Indeed, why do Member States put more than 70,000 of their troops at the disposal of the United Nations to deploy in peacekeeping missions in four continents -- which, I feel compelled to add, the UN does on the impressively small budget of around $4 billion per year? 

    I could, in fact, spend my entire speech listing all the things that the United Nations does, day in and day out, to save lives and help stabilize societies.  But I won’t.  I could expound at length on how a United Nations framework brings legitimacy to international action and helps maximize global cooperation in pursuit of common goals.  Again, I will spare you.

    But I will take a minute to sing the praises of United Nations staff, because I cannot remain silent when I see their reputation being tarnished by the misbehaviour of a few of their colleagues, or by the shortcomings, real or imagined, of their leaders, mine included.  The vast majority of United Nations staff are very talented, highly skilled, and deeply devoted to the Organization, and many pursue that devotion at great personal cost.  Some have even paid with their lives.  Many more pay every day by accepting the disruption of their family life, and constant shuttling from war zone to war zone.  I am proud to work with them, and I do not for one minute accept the caricature of the Secretariat which nowadays masquerades as fact.

    But I fully agree that reforms -- bold and far-reaching policy and institutional reforms -- are both urgent and necessary.  The Secretary-General’s report contains recommendations on the changes that he believes must be made if the Organization is to provide an effective collective response to all the threats we face -- from deadly weapons and catastrophic terrorism to killer diseases and life-threatening poverty -- and if we are to advance development, security and human rights with equal determination.  Reform is necessary on four sets of issues -- in basic policy, in the instruments at our disposal, in intergovernmental institutions, and in the management of the Secretariat and the wider United Nations system.

    Let me take policy first.  There, reform is urgent and necessary because our Member States remain deeply divided on key issues -- divisions which paralyse collective action and cripple multilateral institutions. They have been divided on what the most important threats are to international peace and security; on how to fight terrorism effectively; on the need to save civilians from massive atrocities inside sovereign States; and on when it is right to use force in the face of non-imminent threats.

    If we are to overcome these divisions, the starting point must be a broad vision of collective security -- one which accepts that all threats that cause death on a large scale or undermine States as the basic unit of the international system are common threats, requiring a collective response from humanity as a whole.  The report offers important policy recommendations for consideration by Member States to give effect to that vision, including:

    -- A strategy for fighting terrorism that includes a place for coercive measures, but goes far beyond them.  At its centre would be a comprehensive anti-terrorism convention based on an agreed definition.  Last week’s agreement on a convention against nuclear terrorism is an important step in this direction;

    -- The adoption and application by the Security Council of principles which would guide decisions on the use of force; and

    -- Endorsement of the norm of the “responsibility to protect”, which Canada, of course, has done so much to promote, as a basis for collective action against genocide, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity, when governments themselves are either unwilling or unable to protect their citizens.

    I must stress that mere agreement on these basic policy changes is no panacea.  There would still be plenty of hard-fought negotiations, and plenty of issues on which Member States would find it difficult to agree.  But  agreement on the Secretary-General’s proposals would give us vital tools to promote consensus, and a much better chance of reaching decisions that command wide respect.

    Reform of the instruments at our disposal is urgent and necessary because some of them have not kept pace with changing times.

    The dangers of nuclear proliferation are a clear example.  While the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has prevented far more States from acquiring nuclear weapons than was ever expected, the spread of nuclear technology has exacerbated a long-standing tension arising from the fact that the technology required for civilian nuclear fuel can also be used to develop nuclear weapons.  To address this tension, the Secretary-General’s report recommends strengthening the verification authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency through universal adoption of the Model Additional Protocol.

    Tougher inspections, however, are not enough.  Unless we want to live in a far more dangerous world, we must also create viable incentives for States to voluntarily forego the development of sensitive aspects of the fuel cycle.  All of this should occur in the context of a revitalized regime in which our commitments to both non-proliferation and disarmament transcend old fault lines, and are expressed not just in word but in deed.  Swift negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty should be a top priority.  So too should be a sustained commitment to the moratorium on nuclear testing and the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty.

    Another example of an instrument that needs updating is United Nations peacekeeping.  The reforms undertaken following the Brahimi report have given us clearer doctrine and better peacekeeping capacity.  But we still lack adequate standby arrangements to enable quick deployment, with the necessary strategic reserve.  And we must develop an interlocking system of peacekeeping capacities that will enable the United Nations to work with relevant regional organizations in predictable and reliable partnerships.

    The third set of issues relates to our intergovernmental institutions.  There, reform is urgent and necessary because a number of our decision-making bodies are insufficiently representative, unfocused, or ill-suited to dealing with new challenges.

    Let me start with the Security Council.  A more broadly representative Security Council, one that better reflects the geopolitical realities of today, would be more authoritative and, therefore, more effective.  This view is widely shared among the membership.  But disagreement on the details of enlargement of the Council has stymied progress towards a resolution.  The Secretary-General believes that Member States should, for the sake of the institution, take a decision on this issue before September.  Of course, consensus on such a vital matter would be preferable.  But the best must not become the enemy of the good.

    In the last decade and a half, the role of the United Nations in peace-building has become one of its most important contributions to collective security.  Peace-building draws in many actors, both within the UN system and outside it, and needs to work to strengthen security, rule of law, human rights and development.  But there is a gaping hole in the United Nations institutional machinery -- no part of the intergovernmental system draws these strands together to effectively address the challenges of helping countries with the transition from war to lasting peace.

    That is why the Secretary-General has embraced the High-Level Panel’s recommendation to create a Peace-building Commission, which he believes would improve planning and coordination, and help sustain political will and financial support for long-term peace-building efforts.  The Commission’s membership should include a sub-set of member States of both the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, and draw in troop contributors, major donors, relevant regional actors, international financial institutions, and the country concerned.

    Equally far-reaching is the Secretary-General’s proposal to create a Human Rights Council to sit alongside the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council.  While the Commission on Human Rights does important work, States have too often sought membership not to strengthen human rights, but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others. The Commission meets for six weeks a year, pursuing an agenda that is extremely selective and politicized, using methods that are extremely adversarial.  A Human Rights Council would consecrate human rights as a central pillar of the United Nations, on a par with security and development.  The Council could sit throughout the year, and periodically review and promote, in a more systematic and objective way, respect for all human rights in all countries.  Its ultimate form and function is, of course, a matter for discussion and decision among Member States -- but I believe they must tackle this important institutional reform.

    Finally, let me turn to management of the Secretariat.  Reform is urgent and necessary because the United Nations internal management clearly lacks sufficient transparency, accountability and integrity, despite major reforms since 1997 -- including the overhaul of a number of departments, better budget and management systems, and, more recently, a complete transformation of our staff security.

    The challenges of managing a large and complex international organization are manifold.  The United Nations system is hybrid in nature -- part foreign service, part conference-servicer, part operational agency, part research institute.  It has fragmented administrative oversight, and Member States exert heavy political pressure, often seeking to co-manage the Organization alongside the Secretary-General as Chief Administrative Officer.  And the Organization is probably the most multicultural employer in the world -- which makes it an exciting place to work, but also brings its own set of management challenges.

    Some of our problems stem from these unique challenges -- but none of them can excuse systemic poor management or ethical lapses among staff.  We are gravely concerned at the failures brought to light in the oil-for-food programme, and appalled at the allegations of sexual abuse by United Nations staff and peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere.

    When problems come to light, you must act aggressively to fix them -- and this is being done.  The Secretary-General is moving swiftly on issues within his own purview -- for instance, new protections for whistleblowers, wider access to information, higher standards to avoid conflicts of interest or corruption by senior officials, and action to hold managers to account.

    In his report, the Secretary-General asks the Member States to do their part to help reform the Secretariat, including by reviewing all mandates more than five years old and all the rules governing the deployment of both budgetary and human resources, and by authorizing a one-time staff buy-out.  Without this kind of rationalization and reorientation, the Secretariat will not be able to meet the range of demands placed on it by Member States.

    Of course, agreement on reforms of any kind is useless if they simply amount to promises that are not put into practice.  There is no clearer or more urgent example of this than the development agenda, where we have plenty of consensus, but too little implementation.

    Three years ago, at Monterrey, developed and developing countries struck a bargain.  If we are to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, we must make sure that this bargain is kept.  From developing countries, we need real commitments to good governance, and comprehensive national strategies to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  From developed countries, we need the leadership to achieve a breakthrough in the Doha round of trade negotiations, and an immediate beefing up of resources for development, coupled with the establishment of timetables to meet the target of providing 0.7 per cent of gross national income in development assistance by 2015.

    With this kind of action, the Millennium Development Goals are achievable -- indeed, many countries are on track to achieve many of them.  But many others, particularly in Africa, are falling behind, and need a combination of domestic reform and international assistance.  Five years after the Millennium Development Goals were propounded, and 10 years away from the target date, 2005 is the year when all States must begin to meet their commitments to save people from destitution, starvation and killer diseases.

    As you know, the Secretary-General has asked Member States to view these proposals as a package -- not a take-it or leave-it package -- but a package which has some basic planks which need to be preserved.  The challenges our world faces cannot neatly be separated into little boxes, one reading “threats to the rich world”, and another reading “dangers for the poor”.  When threats are interlinked, responses must be too.  We will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.  All must be the subject of far-reaching decisions in September.

    I have no illusions that achieving reforms of this scale is a simple proposition.  Some big issues are on the table -- some have been around for many years, others are before Member States for the first time.  A lot of political will is required if the September summit is to bear fruit. 

    But I firmly believe that success is possible, for two reasons.  First, because the United Nations has, in fact, been able to change enormously over its 60-year history.  The founders of the Organization could hardly have imagined that there would be a High Commissioner for Human Rights, that we would be fully engaged with a broad cross-section of civil society, that we would have troops keeping the peace in over a dozen sovereign States, or, indeed, that the United Nations would have obliged one of its Members to accept weapons inspectors on its territory.  All of these developments point to the Organization’s ability to adapt itself, and to look beneath the surface of States and nations to the peoples in whose name the Charter was adopted.  The United Nations may be a leopard that doesn’t easily change its spots.  But even though it looks the same, it has, in fact, become a very different animal.

    Second, I believe that there is, at this time, widespread understanding of the implications of not acting -- coupled with a welcome effort, on the part of key Member States, to rebuild bridges of understanding that were pretty badly damaged in recent years.  There is a real sense that faith and confidence in the multilateral route will only endure if people see that the system can actually deliver.  Member States are, I believe, seized of the necessity for reform, as are we in the Secretariat.  The reform agenda has now gone beyond diplomatic cocktail party chatter in New York, and has begun to register in world capitals and among the general public.  The Secretary-General intends, among other things, to dispatch high-level envoys to capitals in the coming period to build on that momentum.

    All this is well and good -- but let me conclude with the most important point of all.  The success or failure of this effort will not depend on the Secretary-General alone, and it is not about him.  Its fate will depend, ultimately, on the decisions of Member States, and its purpose is to set the Organization on a more effective and hopeful course.  September’s summit is the chance for world leaders to take decisions that can help halve global poverty in the next 10 years, reduce the threat of war, terrorism and deadly weapons, advance human dignity in every land, and reform the United Nations with a speed and boldness not seen in its 60-year history.  They must use it, or lose it.

    I am confident that leaders will use this opportunity, and that people everywhere will reap the benefits.  Member States now have before them a set of practical proposals for pragmatic decisions.  From such beginnings could emerge a visionary change of direction for our world.

    * *** *