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SIPRI's 40th anniversary

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The Institutional Framework for Tackling Global Challenges

by Marrak Goulding

Very happy to be here. Enjoyable and instructive ten years on the Governing Board of SIPRI. Many SIPRI stars here today.

But I have been given a challenging start – 15 minutes on “The Institutional Framework for Tackling Global Challenges”. So the seminar and this initial contribution are not just about the prevention, management and resolution of conflict. That is a major challenge but it’s not the only challenge the world faces; very few of the global institutions today concern themselves only with conflict.

Since the end of the Cold War we have come to understand better the causes of conflict. That was most clearly demonstrated by the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change which Kofi Annan appointed in 2003 and which submitted its report, “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility”, in December 2004. The report included important and encouraging ideas and it led many to conclude -and hope -that an effective model for change had been identified. But it was not well received by the Member States; it was brushed aside a few months later by Annan’s own report entitled “In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All”; and very few of its recommendations featured in the dreaded “Summit Outcome Document (SOD)” that was adopted by the General Assembly in September 2005.

As a result, the High Level Panel’s report was put on the back burner. But it is an excellent report and it should be kept alive and not filed and forgotten like so many UN documents. It is very relevant to our topic this morning. Its dominant theme is “human security”.

The Panel addressed head-on a fundamental weakness in the UN’s existing Charter. The weakness is that the authors of the Charter thought only of States; for them it was only the behaviour of States that gave rise to security issues; they did not mention insurgency within States or terrorism or international crime or poverty or uncontrolled migration as threats to the security of States and their peoples. This observation does not imply criticism of the founders of the United Nations. Economics and society were very different sixty years ago and the Charter was written for a very different world, emerging from an appalling war and trying to find ways to prevent a recurrence of that horror. It did not occur to the founding fathers that during the coming decades the sovereignty of States might be eroded and their power might decline.

But that is what has happened. The policies of States no longer constitute the primary threats to citizens’ safety, well-being and prosperity in the way that they did in the first half of the 20th century. This is the dominant theme of the High-level Panel’s Report. To remind you, let me quote the first paragraph on its first page. It says:

“Sixty years [since 1945], we know all too well that the biggest security threats we face now, and in the decades ahead, go far beyond States waging aggressive war. They extend to poverty, infectious disease and environmental degradation; war and violence within States; the spread and possible use of nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons; terrorism; and transnational organized crime. The threats are from non-State actors as well as States, and to human security as well as State security.” [emphasis added]

In my view this is the basis on which we should try to build – or re-build – an institutional framework for tackling global challenges.

The basis is there in the Charter of the UN. The third of its four Purposes is:

“To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.

Over the years that Purpose has led to the creation of an alphabet soup of UN Agencies, Programmes, Funds and Offices, plus non-governmental organizations. To some extent, it can be said that those bodies collectively constitute an institutional framework.

But the framework is a fragile one, be it in New York or in the field. Efforts are made constantly to make it more robust, more secure and more efficient. Measures taken for that purpose range from the Secretary-General’s regular meetings with the heads of the agencies, programmes, funds and offices in New York to the responsibilities entrusted to the Resident Coordinator in some distant and impoverished country.

But those efforts are not producing the desired results – or certainly they weren’t doing so during my spell in the Secretariat. My own conclusion at that time was that if an effective institutional framework was to be constructed there would have to be a fundamental change in the relationship between the UN Organization and the agencies, programmes, funds and offices created by it. But that change will be extremely difficult to achieve as long as each of the agencies, programmes, funds and offices has its own inter-governmental policy-making body, its own budget, its own staff and its own perception that it is an autonomous institution and makes its own policy. And as long that is the case, there will continue to be jealousy and duplication and resulting inefficiency.

Even within small peacekeeping missions, internal deficiencies of this kind can have a poisonous effect; the commonest one in my experience was war between the military and the civilians about who controlled the mission’s transport. And when NGOs are working alongside the UN mission and seeking to serve the same purpose this too can give rise to jealousy and inefficiency.

So, how can we bring about a fundamental reform on the lines I am proposing? What association or country or individual could assume the leadership of a revolutionary change of this kind? It could not be the regional organizations; they have too many jealousies within their own ranks. A small group of self-appointed States is a tempting option but it has not worked in the past. Could one individual do it? Yes, but he or she would have to be an exceptional person with the skill and courage needed to persuade the Member States of the United Nations Organization to accept fundamental change, curbing insistence on their sovereignty and their national objectives and recognizing the value of the common efforts envisaged in the United Nations Charter.

There are only two possibilities: an idealist statesman with international recognition and reputation, such as Woodrow Wilson, or a Secretary-General of the United Nations, sufficiently respected by the Member States and as courageous as Dag Hammarskjöld. Will our new Secretary-General, Ban Kimoon, be capable of rebuilding the United Nations so that it can serve the Purposes and respect and promote the Principles set out so clearly in its Charter?