UN Reform

Philip spoke to the UN Association - Shipley about his views on the UN and how it can be reformed.

Thank you for inviting me here to speak to your group. I feel that groups like yours are important to help aid in an open debate on the international issues that affect us all.

I have been asked to say a few words and I think it is only appropriate that I begin with today's anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York City.

It is vital that we keep fighting terrorism wherever it may crop up, especially in our own country. We must not allow radicals into our land to recruit and preach their desired destruction of our free and open society. We must put pressure on other member states and continue to work with our allies to curb terrorism and the farming of terrorist in Western countries. As a civilised society we must be able to count on organisations, such as the UN to demonstrate leadership by quickly condemning all acts of terrorism and must rely on them to support our actions as a means to an end.

While we rely on the UN to support our actions and better the global community, its scope is limited, because it has no arm to enforce its policies, which is why it must stay strong in its convictions while helping to keep the door open to diplomacy at all times. We do not want a global government, but the UN does need reform to reflect the current world order. The end of the Cold War offered us a unique opportunity to change the power balance by ending an institutionalised stalemate from veto powers. This opportunity has been wasted and we cannot afford to have permanent Security Councils members such as China dictating to us, when we can and cannot use force or sanctions to protect our interests and our people…we already have the EU doing that for us.

The shift in the balance of power has created new challenges for the United Nations, mainly the building of consensus on what defines the 'security agenda.' We, The United States and our allies see the main threat as international terrorism, while many African countries identify extreme poverty and development as their greatest issue to ensure their security and other states may place global warming at the top of their agenda. This inability to form a consensus on the biggest threat to international security exemplifies the need for reform. I don't claim to have the definitive answer on how to reform the UN but I do have some ideas.

When you look at all of the concerns plaguing the member states it must be first recognised the issues are interconnected. As the global community has grown smaller and more interdependent, due to technology and globalisation, all of these concerns become our own. This interconnectedness is best demonstrated through the Millennium Development Goals
(MDGs) and it is the interconnectedness that is the greatest challenge to achieving the goals before 2015, the desired completion date.

I support the MDG's, but we must be pragmatic. Like many UN documents, including vast amounts of the Charter, they are idealistic; and in their case unrealistic, especially given the time frame in which they are to be achieved. As you may be aware, according to the UN Millennium Development Goal Progress Report of 2004 it is stated lower trade barriers would bring hundreds of billions of dollars in extra income to developing countries. The report also said that developing countries are losing more in blocked access to rich country markets than they gain from foreign aid or Official Development Assistance (ODA), in particular, agricultural subsidies granted to farmers in rich countries came to six times more than the aid money needed to meet the UN's millennium goal to curb hunger.

Is the lifting of domestic farm subsidies the answer to open trade to these countries and moving them on the road to betterment? Maybe, but it is not the magic answer as some might suggest.

Most of the developing world has fallen into a debt trap. The Bretton Woods institutions have approved a plan of debt relief for 38 heavily indebted poor countries, but does debt relief 'Make Poverty History'? Yes, but only temporarily. We must take a preventative as opposed to a symptomatic approach to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The first step is to recognise many of the goals relate to one fundamental value, empowerment of the individual and this should be the main goal, as opposed to eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, because when the individual is empowered they can achieve more than when they are given handouts. It is important that I stress I do not disagree with what we are trying to achieve, if I did I would not have supported the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Bill.
In order for the individual to flourish we must stress good governance and tackle corruption. Many of these Heavily Indebted Countries slated to receive debt relief have had a long history of corruption and while some have made real progress, such as Benin, others still lag behind only causing harm to their own people. Once this is curbed, then individuals will be allowed to begin to reach their full potential and we can start on the road to eradicate HIV/AIDS. As we all know this preventable disease has a major knock-on effect to much of the sub-Saharan Africa. Some quick numbers on battling HIV/AIDS:

Spending on developing countries, in respect to HIV/AIDS in
2002 = $1.7 billion
2003 = $4.7 billion
2005 an estimated $12 billion was needed and $20 billion in 2006 to combat the disease.

Despite how much money we throw at the problem it still comes down to grassroots: women and girls must be empowered and the standards in educating the public on the disease must be raised in order to assure individuals are able to make informed decisions to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. The UN must continue to take a lead in addressing this, and all of the Millennium Development issues.

Moving from the Millennium Development Goals, I would like to address the issue of humanitarian intervention. This is where a major case of reform is needed.

When the United Nations was formed, humanitarian intervention was not in the vocabulary of international politics. The UN Charter does not specifically allow for human security or humanitarian intervention or 'just war,' it states countries may not interfere…
'in matters which are essentially within the jurisdiction of any state.'

At the World Summit in September 2005 this was addressed and the Summit agreed upon a 'responsibility to protect.' This is progress in the reforms to the UN and may act as a deterrent and warning to world leaders saying if you do not respect your citizens and provide them with their basic human rights, then the international community is prepared to act. At first this sounds like real leaps and bounds to eliminating cruel governments and reducing the number of civil conflicts, however, the UN must be prepared to speak up, condemn and most importantly, follow-up with action.

By adopting a human security approach by accepting the ideal of a 'responsibility to protect' creates many challenges. It creates grey areas of when the global community should intervene and allows for more powerful countries to exercise their own aims and interests in the developing world. Just Wars do several things, they garner support from the public, the UN and/or coalition members and help build legitimacy; they allow for a once unheard of flexibility by allowing states to determine when to intervene without the UN because they can determine it as 'Just', furthermore, states can justify the bypassing of the UN and the building of coalitions of the willing, which undermines the UN and its purpose.

If the UN is to be effective in a human security approach it must make clear guidelines as to when intervention is required and, furthermore, it must not turn a blind eye to the support of government who are involved in genocide.

In May 2004, the United States ambassador to the Economic and Social Council, Sichan Siv, walked out of the commission following the uncontested election of Sudan, calling it an “absurdity”, pointing out Sudan's problems with ethnic cleansing in the Darfur region. It was left to the Security Council to pass a resolutionin July 2004 threatening Sudan with sanctions if the situation in Darfur did not improve within 30 days.

The pressure group 'Human Rights Watch' was just one of many groups to criticise the election of Sudan to the Chair of the Commission. They stated that “A government that engages in wholesale abuses of its citizens should not be eligible for a seat at the table, especially a country just criticized by the commission”. I fully agree with this statement and have to admit that I was disappointed that the World Summit did not produce an agreement on how to improve this area of UN activity.

So briefly to close, the UN still has a place in international affairs and the Millennium Development Goals are something all countries should strive to achieve, must we must not be too idealistic. We must address the world's problems with a realistic approach which results in the empowering of individuals across the map. The United Nations must talk the talk and walk the walk and hold governments to account for their people and must not turn its back on member states who decide to take action when UN resolutions are not adhered to. As a world leader, we must set an example by not turning our backs on ethnic cleansing and extreme poverty.

Thank you once again for the opportunity to address your group, it is important that we continue to promote an open forum for debate on these issues and I am pleased to see such a group in the Shipley constituency.