UN Building, New York


JOANNE MYERS: I am Joanne Myers, Director of Merrill House Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I would like to welcome our members, guests, and CNN, Voice of America to our Worldview Breakfast program this morning.

Today we are honored to have with us Sir Kieran Prendergast, Under Secretary General for Political Affairs at the United Nations. He will be discussing the challenges to the UN.

In the pre-September 11th era, in most of the world the UN, with its values of international cooperation and shared global visions, seemed to enjoy a much wider degree of respect than it does today. However, as the U.S. prepared for war in Iraq, the cooperation needed for a multilateral action sanctioned by the UN underscored once again the complexity of the organization's role in meeting global problems in a world that now contains a single superpower.

Many will argue, just as our guest this morning so often and so eloquently has done, that "in an era of increasing globalization and proliferating transnational problems, the relevance and utility of the United Nations can only grow." This credo, as Sir Kieran has said, is not a boast but an acknowledgment that often there is no alternative. In fact, this point was poignantly illustrated just recently as the United States returned to the United Nations seeking its help in transferring sovereignty back to the Iraqis. If anything, this act alone should serve to remind us all of the organization's absolute indispensability even to a country that sees itself as one that is able to go it alone.

In a world that at any moment could bear witness to unknown and non-conventional threats, the challenges of the future will be unfamiliar and accompanied by uncharted obstacles as well. Therefore, for the purpose of this morning's discussion, I would like to ask Sir Kieran to discuss some of the major problems that he sees looming in the not-too-distant future.

As an international civil servant and by the strength of his personal conviction, Sir Kieran takes a view that many of us share. It is one that extols the virtues and benefits of multilateralism and collective actions. He sees the United Nations as having a definite role to play in this regard.

For over two decades, our speaker has been immersed in diplomacy, shuttling back and forth between various diplomatic posts for the British Government. He has served as Great Britain's Ambassador to Turkey and has worked in the NATO Department of the Foreign Office. He was posted as High Commissioner to Zimbabwe and Kenya and also served as head of his country's consulate to Israel. At one time he was even part of the UK Mission to the UN.

In March 1997, Kofi Annan appointed him to be the Under Secretary General for Political Affairs. His mandate is to provide advice and support on all political matters to the Secretary General in the UN's quest for the maintenance and restoration of peace and security around the world.

His role as a UN peacemaker and troubleshooter is one he himself has described as equivalent to that of a fireman running from one blaze to another, from Guatemala and Haiti in the Western Hemisphere, to such trouble spots as East Timor, Kosovo, the Congo, and Afghanistan. He has further worked to facilitate talks between Cypriot Greeks and Turks whose unification appears to be at least within reach. He has also been to Afghanistan to engage the Taliban authorities in a discussion of their human rights abuses.

The UN community and the world at large have benefited from his talent, his skill, and his profound commitment to the ideals of the United Nations. Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to a very busy guest who has so graciously agreed to be with us this morning. Thank you, Sir Kieran.


KIERAN PRENDERGAST: Thank you, Joanne, for that extremely flattering introduction.

I would like to talk to take as my basic text the Secretary General's high-level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change. We deliberately used two words in presenting that Panel. The first was "collective" rather than "multilateral," and the second was "change" rather than "reform."

Why "collective"? The desire was to avoid debilitating debate of an ideological nature about multilateral versus non-multilateral, whereas "collective" somehow seems less charged with those overtones. It is also a term and an approach which is very firmly grounded in the United Nations Charter.

Why "change" rather than "reform"? The membership is a bit bored with reform, a bit skeptical about reform after seeing a lot of it over the years, whereas what we need is change, however it is termed.

You remember the Secretary General's speech of the 23rd of September in which he announced his intention to appoint this Panel. He emphasized the importance of understanding the challenges we face, of asking tough questions about the adequacy of the tools that we have and of making the changes needed to ensure effective collective action.

Why was it established? It was set up to address two interrelated sets of issues. First, the debate that was ignited by 9/11 and how to respond, and also by the war in Iraq, which highlighted a number of issues: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, counter-terrorism, the justifications for the preemptive or preventative use of war, the role of the Security Council. These came on top of other very lively debates, for example on humanitarian intervention and human security, that were perhaps triggered most recently by Kosovo.

The Secretary General thought there was a pressing need to take a step back, look underneath the rhetoric, and to understand more clearly the actual challenges facing both individual states and the individual community. He thought we needed some clarity of direction out of a fairly confused, and sometimes contradictory, policy debate.

Secondly, there is a set of issues surrounding the question of the relevance of the UN and its institutions in a changing world. This has been an issue ever since 1945, when the Charter was drafted. It has been debated in many reform processes, but is as urgent today as ever, if not more so.

The end of the Cold War, the emergence of a single superpower; the new phenomenon of the globalization of terror; the privatization of proliferation, which again is a fairly recent phenomenon; and the increasing trend to take enforcement action without the specific authorization of the Security Council represent the most major shifts in the international system since the Second World War. The tasks assigned to the UN system have changed and expanded enormously in the last fifteen years. So the Secretary General thought that we needed to evaluate our existing capacities and identify the changes to ensure effective collective action.

The Panel has been assigned three tasks: 1) to provide a shared assessment of the threats we face in the area of peace and security; 2) to evaluate our existing policies, tools, and mechanisms; and 3) to recommend changes needed at the UN.

I saw the report as being like a book open with two pages. On the left-hand page you had the question of the threats broadly defined, the analysis; and the right-hand page set out the existing institutions and examined how adequate they would be.

We are conscious in the Secretariat of a perception among many of the membership that the Security Council has expanded way beyond what it was intended originally to do and into areas that may be better dealt with by other parts of the system. This causes quite a lot of unease among the membership, particularly given the failure to reform the Security Council.

I sense also a widespread feeling that the General Assembly has lost direction, that it has become less relevant. That does not mean that its debates do not continue, but much less attention is paid to the decisions and the conclusions that are reached there and they have less relevance than in the past.

We have the Economic and Social Council, set up originally and envisaged in the Charter as an economic and social equivalent of the Security Council, but it has never been able to fulfill that role. Yet, at the same time, there is a feeling that many issues that are on the agenda of the Security Council may be more effectively dealt with by ECOSOC, if only it could somehow organize itself to be more operational, that there are issues which have causes and sources which are far more economic and social in origin than peace and security.

ECOSOC has started to look at these issues, and people like Dumisani Kumalo have led missions to places like Guinea Bissau. The Economic and Social Council has also taken an interest in Burundi. Several years ago they tried to engage in Haiti, and would that they had been successful, but they dropped it again.

There is a consciousness of the need to reevaluate international instruments like the IAEA to see whether that is up to the challenges of the new era in which we live.

We have international bodies dealing with nuclear weapons and chemical weapons, but there is no corresponding body for biological weapons or missiles. The idea of an effective international instrument to deal with counter-terrorism is in its infancy.

All of that, plus our beloved Trusteeship Council, would form the meat of the right-hand side of the page.

The Panel's scope is to focus on threats to peace and security, but also to consider other challenges to the extent that they relate to peace and security.

Some of the members want the Panel to focus on a new compact, comparable to that reached in 1945 and represented in the Charter for dealing with these new threats and responses. One of the leading members, for example, wants an extended discussion on the doctrine of humanitarian intervention and is rather impatient with the suggestion that a broad definition of peace and security needs to encompass poverty, HIV, and malaria. Other members of the Panel have equally ardently advocated a wider remit and have argued that the Panel should also be examining with equal attention problems such as extreme poverty and underdevelopment.

There are two reasons why the Panel should not range too wide and should stick to the idea of peace and security broadly interpreted. The first is that we could easily end up with an unwieldy process which would be neither fish nor fowl, which would produce a result that was neither here nor there. Secondly, the UN is already working on these issues through other processes—for example, the Millennium Declaration provides a framework for international cooperation on development—but we have no comparable policy framework for issues like counter-terrorism, the response to genocide, or effective post-conflict peace-building, something that we have not addressed institutionally.

The nature and level of the Panel's recommendations will flow from their assessment of threats and their evaluation of existing approaches and mechanisms. They may focus on policies or institutions.

The Secretary General has said that he would welcome radical ideas, but the starting point has to be the threats themselves and not a process of institutional review. And if I know anything about high-level panels, they are much more likely to focus on the left-hand side of the page than on the right-hand. They will not ignore the right-hand side of the page, but they are not bureaucrats and do not have the same degree of interest in looking at mechanisms.

How are they working? They first met in early December for two days. They met again last weekend in Geneva. They will meet roughly every two months from now until their report is completed.

They are being supported by a small staff, including a research team headed by Professor Steve Stedman of Stanford University. The panel has also created a resource network of thirty or so scholars around the world, which is working closely with the research team. Literally dozens of research papers have been commissioned, primarily through the UN Foundation, on issues ranging from biological weapons to global trade and insecurity.

One conclusion that they will reach is that although aid is extremely important and must be increased, trade makes a far greater difference to whether developing nations can pull themselves out of the trough of poverty.

Individual panel members and the research staff will attend a number of workshops and conferences in the coming months. These include a few which have been tailor-made for the panel as well as a series of regional consultations with scholars and government officials in different regions.

The panel will need to undertake a variety of outreach activities, especially later on in the process, to build as broad and strong a constituency as possible for the recommendations that they end up making. Related to this, [International Peace Academy], and the Permanent Representatives of the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia, Singapore, and Mexico have organized a consultative process on the Panel.

Where are they now in the process? They are closely following their terms of reference. Last weekend, they primarily discussed their assessment of contemporary threats. A series of papers have been prepared by the research team, which the Panel found extremely good. They will also be having a preliminary discussion of their evaluation of existing capacities, the right-hand side of the page.

There is a strong feeling that they should not get down to putting their conclusions on paper too soon. We did consult people who had been involved in similar high-level exercises elsewhere, and the advice was to leave the drafting as late as possible because once you start, you limit the scope and the nature of the discussion at an undesirably early stage.

Where is it all likely to go? The Panel can make two contributions: the first-class analysis, and a set of proposals for real change that might actually be implemented. The Panel can make a very important intellectual contribution. It could provide for the first time a rigorous and shared analysis of threats to peace and security. That is the relatively easy part of their work, relatively easy for people from different perspectives to agree on analysis. It is the recommendations that may be more difficult.

Ten years after an Agenda for Peace, the report could help us to conceptualize our challenges in a new and updated way. From this, and from an honest evaluation of our existing capacity, the Panel can structure a different and more productive debate on collective action.

Secondly, the Panel can propose a set of bold and creative recommendations on, for example, counter-terrorism, post-conflict state-building, responding to failed states, proliferation, and the various other issues that I raised earlier, which, with the right preparation and political backingbecause they will not get anywhere unless the Member States buy into this processmight actually be implemented.

The packaging both of the assessment and of the recommendations will be critical. The ambassadors and Member States have the capacity to kill something before it has even emerged from the womb, so we have warned them that the outreach process is absolutely vital to ensure that the recommendations have the best possible chance of being considered on their merits and not stifled at birth.

Much will depend on the Panel itself and the quality of the report which is written. A lot will also depend on the follow-on process and what emerges from the outreach efforts that the Panel is beginning to engage in over the spring and summer.

I would be very happy to take questions.

JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much. We will open the floor to questions.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: You said that you will have to be uncharacteristically discreet on Iraq. We understand that in terms of the UN involvement, the maximum possibility—i.e., like Kosovo, East Timor—UN administration is not a possibility. At the same time, neither is the minimum involvement of zero involvement in Iraq a possibility. UN involvement has to be somewhere in the middle range, yet in this range we don't have a single model; we have a basket of possibilities—Cyprus, Afghanistan, Cambodia. In this basket, which are the possibilities, without committing yourself in any way to any one of them?

KIERAN PRENDERGAST: It will be an Iraqi model, would be the short answer, and if I had more sense I would just stop there. But you are right that we are not going to administer the country; that is plainly not possible. Iraqis have a great deal of administrative capacity; they don't need or want to be administered by somebody else. That's one of the reasons why we have been encouraging as early as possible transfer of effective sovereignty back into the hands of Iraqis. But they are emerging from a long period of dictatorship, they have a dearth of legitimate institutions, and they do need help and encouragement.

We are engaged already, and it is very important that everybody understands that we are engaged already. We have never disengaged. We have large numbers of national staff who have been carrying out what activities have been possible, even in the most difficult of times.

We have a role to play, if the Iraqis want us to, in the political transition, especially in the constitutional process and in the preparation for elections. It is extremely important that elections be held in optimal conditions and that they be such that the Iraqis as a whole can have confidence in the result.

The constitution is exceedingly important in a very complex country, complex in all sorts of ways. The wisdom is that the wider the consultations, the longer and more thorough and inclusive the process, the better will be the result. Getting the constitution right is something that will affect the future, the stability, and the development of Iraq as a modern democratic society for decades to come.

We are already involved in the humanitarian field. We are helping with the return of refugees. When conditions permit, we will also want to be heavily involved in the recovery and reconstruction of Iraq. We will be involved across a broad range of activities.

But the key phrase is "as conditions permit." After what has happened to our friends and colleagues from the UN family in Iraq, we cannot afford to be reckless with the security of our staff, whether they be international or national. We will have to be sure that security conditions are enabling for a return.

I would expect there to be a progressive return. The best hope of restoring adequate security in Iraq is indeed to have the right policies that allow as broad a spectrum of Iraqi society as possible to buy into the process and to feel a sense of ownership of the process. There is a saying in the Middle East that if you want to get rid mosquitoes you have to dry the swamp. You want to have an environment which is as discouraging for the insurgents as possible in terms of popular support. You probably will not eradicate them altogether, but you can create a much more positive atmosphere in Iraq by adopting the right set of policies.

QUESTION: I very much hope that the Panel will be able to get a substantial set of entries on the right-hand page, that some specific recommendations about change at the UN can emerge from the Panel, because there is a real need for a strong signal of change to emerge, not just another analytical exercise, however clever, on what the state of the world is and how the UN relates to it.

There is a sense globally of disillusion with the United Nations, which undermines the legitimacy and effectiveness of the organization. I hope that there can be a set of specific recommendations that can be carried forward next year.

What are the prospects of such a set of recommendations forming the basis for a large intergovernmental event next year? Is there is a prospect, for example, that we can convene another San Francisco-style conference to not just reform the UN processes but to reinvent the UN, to send a strong signal of dramatically updating the UN to restore the day-to-day faith in it?

When I talk about such a prospect, many colleagues invite me to look out the window and see the pigs flying around, so I accept immediately that this will not be easy. But it a very strong and dramatic signal of change is necessary if we are to restore the faith of people who come to the General Assembly and go away disgusted.

KIERAN PRENDERGAST: If I was wise, I would again give a two-word answer, "it depends." But I am not, so let me say that it does depend. It depends on exactly what the Panel comes up with. Do they come up with a set of recommendations which are highest common factor or lowest common denominator, or do they come up with a set of recommendations that are bold but are nevertheless achievable? Do they come up with something that lays the basis for a new Compact, which has been something that we have discussed in-house?

It depends also, equally importantly, on the mood among the Member States. We have to see whether the Member States are in the mood to look at those recommendations and see that it is in the interest of everybody that we should have adjustments to the system of collective security that we have enjoyed since 1945 that do accommodate the changed circumstances.

For example, effective collective action to deal with threats that have been identified in the last several years will require agreement by the Member States to a more intrusive role by the Security Council at an earlier stage. The question is: does the political will exist? Would you prefer to have unilateral action or action by ad hoc coalitions, or would you prefer to have collective action? If you have collective action, then self-evidently people will wait until the storm breaks; they will want to seek to take action at an earlier stage.

The French phrase goes that sometimes the choice is between the plague and cholera. Cholera is preferable to the plague and the cholera does consist of a more interventionist, more effective Security Council, and it probably also consists of much more vigorous and intrusive action by Member States in dealing with issues before they get to the level where they require action by the Council.

It is not all on one side of the ledger, because if you look at the figures for what happens to peace agreements after there has been a conflict, you find compelling statistics that about 50 percent of agreements break down in the first five years. First, because the root causes of those conflicts have not been dealt with adequately; and second, because the international community is not willing to invest the needed resources for assistance once the subject vanishes off the front pages.

I call it the "antibiotic factor." If you go to the doctor with a throat infection, he may give you a dose of a fortnight's antibiotics. One thing he will tell you if he is a good doctor is "keep taking the antibiotics until the end of the course, even if you start feeling better, because otherwise the infection is likely to recur and it may be stronger because it may have developed resistance."

Habitually the international community, and particularly the Security Council, does not prescribe the full fortnight's treatment. You are lucky if you get five days. There will be obligations on both sides of the ledger.

What matters is what this high-level Panel and all the expert academic advice and other advice that they are receiving come up with, what wisdom can be distilled from their efforts. And can their recommendations be agreed by all members of the Panel, if they are united can they produce a set of hard-edged, practical, achievable recommendations that stretch the boundaries of what is possible but do not break those boundaries?

QUESTION: We've got the discussion process, then we decide on collective action, now we go to the implementation stage. How do you get to that stage, not on humanitarian action but on actual security matters, when you start saying, "Okay, we are going to intervene somewhere," and you have to make the decision to put troops on the ground, and troops who will really be involved and not just passive? How do you take that action, and who will make that decision?

KIERAN PRENDERGAST: You are dealing with a happy situation where the Panel has made radical but achievable recommendations, which have been endorsed by the Member States. Then we get to the question of implementation. Those are two quite big hurdles that we have not begun to approach yet.

But there is always a question of political will and resources. The past few years have been bedeviled by the issue of sovereignty and the reluctance of most Member States to endorse any action which infringes the sovereignty of other Members. That comes at a big cost.

There is also the question of political will among the Member States, and particularly those who represent the international community on the Security Council. They must summon the political will to take the necessary decisions to send their troops if it is an enforcement action or a vigorous peacekeeping operation and put them in harm's way. It is very good when the members of the Security Council themselves are willing to deploy troops to operations that are at the riskier end of the spectrum. That is beginning to happen and it needs to happen more.

The third element is the question of financial resources. The Member States have to be willing to pay for better security.

QUESTION: When the Secretary General was in Europe, he raised another question which he saw as a major challenge for the future, that of international migration, and quite rightly pointed out that many of our developed countries, not just in Europe, are in what one might call demographic decline that will inevitably lead to much more migration. We have all seen that badly managed migration is a threat to security.

Faced with that background, will the Panel deal with that question too, or will it be left to the separate exercise of the Global Commission on Migration?

KIERAN PRENDERGAST: I suspect the latter, but I don't know. This is an immensely important issue and it is very important that the international community gets it right. I do not know whether they will regard that as within their compass, and if there is a separate commission dealing with it, they may be content to defer to them.

QUESTION: There seems to be a dilemma on the role of the UN. On the one hand, there is talk about activism, a bold role for the UN. On the other hand, there is the need to preserve impartiality and nonpartisanship. How far can you move towards an activist role and yet preserve impartiality, because you inevitably have to take very strong positions which engender a great deal of controversy within the international community? How do you see the Panel working? One would then want to see the limits of the UN role in international affairs in terms of quiet, less visible action but continuous, rather than dramatic and flamboyant action.

KIERAN PRENDERGAST: If I can take your point at the end first, we should not obsess on what you call the flamboyant end of things, the range of activities, because that is usually what happens when other policies have failed. We need to rethink intervention and define it more broadly and less threateningly, as well as reserving the right, if things go badly wrong, to take collective action to put them right. But if you have earlier intervention, you have earlier prevention, then the idea is that with luck in almost all cases, you should not have to get to the point where radical action is contemplated and authorized by the Security Council.

At an IPA seminar, I rather shocked some of the participants by saying that it reminded me of colonoscopy, which is regarded by most people as a rather unpleasant procedure. If you are wise you accept it is necessary, but a lot of people put it off until it is too late. If I can end with the question of impartiality, many people confuse impartiality with neutrality. Impartiality is not neutrality. Neutrality has disagreeable overtones in this context for the UN of equidistance. The UN cannot be equidistant.

The other point to remember is that we are a mandate-based organization, that the Secretary General operates on the basis of mandates given to him by the Member States. And if he is given a mandate, he can object to it beforehand if he thinks it is unrealistic or wrong, but if the Security Council nevertheless gives him a mandate, he is obliged to do his best to implement it.

The impartiality of the UN is an enormous advantage, and this is coming out now in Iraq. We require impartiality and integrity. The United Nations does have those qualities. I can think of many issues where we have been able to act as facilitator or in good offices or in mediation precisely because we have been very careful to maintain our impartiality. But it is most definitely not neutrality.

Where there were a whole welter of Security Council resolutions regarding the disarmament of Iraq and the imposition of sanctions, the United Nations had a mandate to implement and enforce those resolutions.

QUESTION: Vis-à-vis the United Nations, how long will it take to ease the resentment created by Bush's unilateral actions?

KIERAN PRENDERGAST: I am not sure that is a question I can answer.

QUESTION: The creation of the Panel and the discussion of the threats have presented us with two challenges. One is how the threats are interpreted and how the threats are experienced, and this is not uniform around the globe. Those of us from the developing world would argue that we have an old and permanent threat of poverty and underdevelopment. But really the challenge for the Panel is that the threats that they will have to deal with are the threats that American citizens feel.

How will the Panel be able to come up with a solution to these threats that will not only appeal to us in the nongovernmental process but in fact will be experienced by ordinary people who sit in the U.S. and watch CNN and others amplifying these threats more than they do in Zululand where I come from? How can the Panel come up with something that ordinary people will look at and say, "Finally the UN is addressing the threats that I experience as an ordinary citizen"?

KIERAN PRENDERGAST: That is a good and difficult question.

When I went to Kenya in 1992, the first time I visited the north, I found that in the little sub-villages where extended families live you could buy an AK-47 and 200 rounds of ammunition for two goats. For people who live in that area, with Somalia to the north, with Ethiopia, which then was not that long out of the rule of Mengistu, to the northwest, with Sudan to the west, the threats to them most immediately were banditry and lack of order, as well as the usual threats of threats of drought, famine and over-grazing . The Panel will listen to the concerns of people who live in those circumstances, for whom aircraft, let alone nuclear explosions, are impossibly remote as concepts.

They will do so by drawing up their analysis in a series of chapters. One of those chapters will deal with issues like poverty and environmental degradation, and they will also look at the threats from the major infectious diseases and those which target the developing world predominantly, such as HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, which has made a terrible recovery in the last few years, thanks to HIV.

In terms of the person on the street, the outreach program will probably not penetrate to them directly, but we have to have as broad an outreach program as possible. And then what will be critically important is the way in which the Panel's recommendations are presented to the world as a whole, so that people should understand that there has been a serious effort made to address their concerns.

Realistically one must accept that the recommendations of the Panel will be addressed to Member States, to governments, because let's never forget that we are actually an organization of Member States, and our legislature, unlike a national legislature, is not made up of parliamentarians, but of officials, of government representatives.

QUESTION: Isn't the Panel confronted with an either/or dilemma, this central issue of intervention? It will surely happen either through the UN or some other way. Will the Panel have the guts to face up to that? We have this terrible worship of national sovereignty, the curse of our times. How do we get over that?

KIERAN PRENDERGAST: In future there will be interventions, particularly if we do not have policies that nip problems like proliferation in the bud and enable us to deal effectively with the problem of failed states, because we have seen most dramatically in Afghanistan that failed states are incubators of terrorist organizations. We need an adequate policy to deal with that.

I was alluding to this issue when I talked about the possibility of a new Compact. People are looking for are rules of the game that are accepted and understood by everybody. You will remember that in 1945, in return for things like permanent membership or a veto, the principal powers did accept a system of collective security that was drafted by Americans. America was not just present at the creation; America was responsible for the creation.

What people are looking for, but it is only part of the mix that goes into the Panel's work, is whether it is possible to have a new Compact that deals with these threats that were not envisaged in 1945. Who had ever heard of e-mail, of instant electronic transfer of funds around the world, these things which have made communication between terrorists, for example, so incredibly rapid, easy and effective and have also made it possible to transfer funds around the world in a way which is pretty undetectable?

You see the newest techniques and the oldest techniques, because funds are also transferred by the huala [phonetic] banking system, which is something that long preceded the Internet and which is an extremely effective instrument for transferring funds from point A to point B, usually right to the recipient rather than to the recipient's bank account. One of the things that the Panel or whatever body is set up to follow up on that will need to do is to look at how do you deal with the huala system, which is a brilliant system, but which, like everything else, is susceptible to misuse and abuse.

JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much.

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