JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I’m Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs. On behalf of the Carnegie Council, I’d like to thank you all for joining us on this rainy morning.
Today we are honored to have with us Ambassador Jan Eliasson, who will be discussing United Nations reform.
Does the United Nations need reform? I think almost everyone would agree that, in consideration of the major global threats and challenges we are facing today, it does indeed. Yet how to go about reforming this august organization, and to what end, is the salient question. The answer, however, is one which very few can reach agreement on.
However, one day there was one issue where all 191 member nations were of one mind, and that was in their selection of the person who would become the president of the Sixtieth Session of the General Assembly. Although there was no written job description for this position, instinctively, the member states knew that the presidency this time around required someone with enormous talent and skill to bring about any changes that were on the agenda. So when Ambassador Eliasson was unanimously chosen to spearhead the reform process at the United Nations, it easily could be said that the member states knew what they were doing.
Since last September, he has been hard at work gathering a consensus from the member states in order to follow up and implement the decisions of the 2005 World Summit. This task was daunting. Yet, for anyone who knows him and to anyone you ask, the choice of this extremely capable Swedish diplomat to lead the world’s delegates at this propitious moment in time came as no surprise.
It has been close to nine months now since the adoption of the 2005 World Summit outcome document on UN reform, and it is possible to point to some progress made during this time. For example, in March, a new human rights consul came into being, signaling a new beginning for the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. In the same month, a central emergency response fund was established to ensure a more predictable and timely UN response to humanitarian emergencies. At the end of this month, a new peacebuilding commission will come into being, which will be better equipped to support countries emerging from conflict in their transition to peace.
In the area of Secretariat management reform, an ethics office will soon be established to deal both with the protection for those reporting misconduct and with new policies on financial disclosures.
In addition to serving as the president of the Sixtieth Session of the General Assembly, since April, our speaker has simultaneously been serving as his country’s foreign minister. A veteran in the fields of diplomacy and foreign relations, Ambassador Eliasson’s long and illustrious career has been one of exemplary public service. Most recently, he was Sweden’s ambassador to Washington. Highlights of his years at the United Nations include representing his country in the General Assembly, serving as the secretary-general’s personal representative on Iran and Iraq, and being chairman of the UN Trust Fund for South Africa. He also held the post of the first undersecretary for humanitarian affairs.
There is no question but that his chosen career has provided an ideal terrain for him to bring his cerebral personality into contact with day-to-day reality. Now, even with the difficulties he has encountered over the past several months, from all accounts, Ambassador Eliasson has performed many of the more arduous tasks with seriousness, a deep sense of responsibility, and a feeling for the gravity of the issues involved. This demeanor has earned him enormous respect and admiration from those he has worked alongside of.
Ambassador Eliasson, knowing that you are not uncritical of the United Nations, but are imbued with a strong sense of idealism and a demand for a well-functioning multilateral system, we look forward to hearing your assessment about not only what has been accomplished to date, but what remains to be done. We thank you for taking the time out from your extremely busy schedule to meet with us and share with your views.
According, it is at this time that we the people of the Carnegie Council welcome you to our breakfast program this morning.
JAN ELIASSON: Thank you very much, Joanne. That was far too generous. When you listed all those achievements, it was mainly a reminder of my age. My friend here and I walked into the foreign ministry the same day, on the 20th of September 1965. It was, of course, a serious case of child labor, you understand. (Laughter)
Anyway, it’s wonderful to see you. I am very impressed by the turnout here this morning—a rainy day in New York, 8:00, going through town, to discuss the progress of UN reform. I think it’s a very hopeful sign — namely, that you care about the United Nations, that you care about international cooperation. That, I think, is very, very important.
Also I want to commend a phenomenon which is very special for the United States that I particularly remember in my wonderful five years in Washington—life on the think-tank circuit. Our embassy was close to Massachusetts Avenue, and we had there the Corning Endowment, the Brookings sites, the Aspen Institute, the U.S. Institute of Peace. They were all there. Every day of the week, you could go to one of the most inspiring discussions, take off your official hat, and think and talk informally. I see some friends here from that period. You could then, really, look at the issues in a more relaxed manner.
I remember one of the best sessions that I had in preparation for the high-level summit meeting in September last year was when I said, “Please, take off your hats. Take off your national hats. Now you are just individuals. Sit in this room and think, what is the best idea of getting out of this mess?”
I thought back on my period in Washington, with this think-tank community. I said to myself, we need, really, more informal gatherings. We who are there, with instructions from government—and the interpreters also—know that we have our limitations. To get out of that environment and meet in a more informal context is extremely important.
So you do a very important job. I commend the Carnegie Council for your work. I particularly like that emphasis on ethics. We need the voice of ethics in this world, don’t we?
Before I start talking in a more pedestrian manner about the different issues, I would just like to say a few words about what I think is at stake. I have said this from the beginning, but it’s growing on me. I think, historically, the next few years will decide what quality of cooperation we will have in this world, whether we will choose the road of finding encompassing, comprehensive global solutions or whether we will be feeling more comfortable, more effective by going together with only likeminded countries and dealing with the issues with them only. Of course, then, it turns out that you will do that against another group.
I don’t talk crudely about unilateralists, but I talk about the method of working with a group in which you find your values very easily and quickly— it’s very comfortable — but where you run the risk of losing that global perspective. There are very strong tendencies to go in that direction. I am basically against it.
First of all, I completely subscribe to the importance of regional cooperation. In fact, it’s part of the UN charter—Regional Cooperation, Chapter VIII. So it’s completely acceptable. But I think one should put that regional cooperation in the global perspective and work hard to bring about multilateral solutions.
The atmosphere in today’s world is pretty troubled. It is, I think, evident to all of us that the suspicions are high. The problems in the Middle East are felt in the corridors of the United Nations. Israel-Palestine, of course, has been there all the time. It’s becoming a bit more complicated in recent times. Hopeful signs are there, but still it’s there. The Iraq situation is, of course, a very infective situation, with ramifications also in the United Nations. And Iran—we see hopeful signs in today’s press. I hope they turn out positive.
Then you see the new elements of religion playing a deeper role than before. When the cartoon crisis exploded in our face, that was a sign that we have a long way to go, in this day and age of globalization when we think we know each other so well, and information spreads through society. It’s not the fact. When you scratch the surface, you realize that in Denmark and Sweden, probably 80 percent of the Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian people didn’t know that you couldn’t depict the Prophet. And how many people in the streets of Damascus burning the embassies realized that we in the Nordic countries would never be able to intervene with a free newspaper.
So here is just a sign that, yes, globalization goes very quickly, but there are very strong tendencies in this world today of looking inward or—and this is even more dangerous—of looking at the outside world as a threat—that’s where the diseases come from, that’s where jobs disappear to, that’s where you have the organized crime coming in, and so forth.
If that is the situation in this day and age of globalization, when we really need multilateral cooperation—that there is a growing political school of thought that, yes, the outside world is a threat, and the inward-looking tendencies will dominate—then we are in for a troubled period. That will, of course, feed isolationism, it will feed protectionism, and we are all in trouble.
So we really have to now, I think, make a strong effort for international openness. The free movement of people, ideas—and merchandise, of course—is important and has contributed enormously to the positive change in the recent decade. But if that outside world also, to many, is seen as a threat, the political forces are fishing in murky waters and looking at migration and crime and so forth coming from that dangerous outside, then we are in trouble.
That’s why I think UN reform is so important, because this organization, the United Nations, is the symbol of international cooperation; it’s the symbol of solidarity; it’s the symbol of the ethical principles that should guide the build-up of our societies. We have to deal with this. This is our United Nations. For far too long a time, we have accepted that we speak about the United Nations as “they,” “the people at the UN,” “we and they at the UN.” It’s us. It is our organization, and we have an obligation, in my view, to reform it and to make it relevant to today’s threats, today’s challenges.
With this background, you should look at what we are trying to do in the United Nations.
Joanne was kind enough to mention a few things that we have done. I think we—or, rather, you, because I see so many of my great colleagues here, who are also, some of them, laboring as co-chairs in my different groups. All of you have made enormous contributions. I think, in spite of this turmoil that I described, that we have achieved much. We have calmed down the atmosphere. In the end, we have come to solutions. When it has been looking very gloomy, we, in the end, have succeeded. So I think my 191 colleagues have taken this responsibility. I hope they will continue to do so in the months to come.
Last year we created the Peacebuilding Commission, which is a qualitative step forward. In the past, we left the conflict areas, and what happened? Look at Afghanistan. Look at Somalia. Decay and chaos and then an eruption of action which turned into a huge international project. What we need to do is, of course, after a conflict ends, stay there and do reconstruction, development, setting up institutions, reconciliation processes, so that the conflicts do not erupt again. In half of the conflicts that have finished in the last twenty years, they have erupted again, because we simply don’t stay there.
So this, I think, is a wonderful qualitative step forward. On the 23rd of June we have our first meeting, to then organize ourselves also in the field, which is where it really counts. I really think that is the most important thing, that it works out there in the field.
Joanne also mentioned the central emergency fund. It’s also a qualitative step forward. Do you know that in the past, when these disasters occurred, whether it was a tsunami or the horrible earthquake in South Asia, you would go hat in hand and ask for the money, while people were dying? Once upon a timeI had the job that Jan Egeland has now. I remember how humiliating I found it. Here we were finding out whether we had money for it while people were dying out there in those mountains. In national disasters, most people die in the first sixty-four hours. I don’t think we should ask ourselves at any time whether we have the money in the pocket for doing that.
So now we have a fund, which already has $250 million—I hope it’s going to be $500 million by the end of the year—which means that we will send in everything that is needed when it happens again. That is, again, I think, a qualitative step forward and a sign of practical solidarity, a sign of acceptance of certain ethics. The voice of ethics has been heard.
The Human Rights Council was, of course, I think—I shouldn’t say that, but I think it was a great achievement. I think it was wonderful. I can tell you, I was very worried that we wouldn’t make it. If we hadn’t made it in March, I think we would be negotiating now; I think we would negotiate a month from now; I think we might be negotiating next year. Can you imagine having the Human Rights Council negotiations going on with the management discussions that we have now, the ECOSOC (UN Economic and Social Council) and development resolution, the work on terrorism? It’s a true nightmare. I see some tired smiles from some of my colleagues here. I think it’s right.
But what I thought would have been worse was that we would have shown the world that we couldn’t agree on the universal principles of human rights. At that time, we had the battle on the cartoon crisis. One of the most difficult parts of the negotiations was for the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference). I felt the pain among some of you who were under enormous pressures from back home to strengthen the language with respect to religion. I was fearing—I will speak openly with you now—that we would turn away from looking at human rights as a universally accepted set of principles and look at it as something that was going to be imposed by the North and the West on Islamic countries, in this case. If that had happened, we would have taken a huge step backwards, and we would have lost the human rights dimension for the United Nations.
Three pillars: security, development, human rights. No security without development. No development without security. None of the above without human rights. Correct? This is the soul of the United Nations—human rights, the individual. That’s the whole idea—“we the people”—to put the human being in the center.
So when we got that resolution through, it was quite a relief—although, of course, I would have preferred not to have a vote. Voting is not that popular.
By the way, I should not brag about my election. When the president is endorsed by a regional group, normally it’s unanimous.Normally, we try, of course, to get the decision taken with a consensus.
There was a discussion with the United States, well-known. In the end, the U.S. administration sent, under the circumstances, positive signals to us, to me, indicating that the United States would cooperate with the new council, that the United States would fund it, and that the United States would in all likelihood be a candidate next year, not this year.
So now we have the Human Rights Council. On the 19th of June, we will start. I think it’s at a qualitatively higher level that we start the work. Now it’s up to the member states to live up to this resolution that we all signed onto, with the commitments and pledges made to human rights, with the realization that every country that is in the council should have its human rights record reviewed, with, for the first time in history, a prevention clause, and with, for the first time in history, a suspension clause. If serious and grave violations take place, you can be suspended from the membership of the Human Rights Council. This was achieved mainly through the fact that we moved from two-thirds majority present and voting to an absolute majority.
By the way, Senator Sarbanes in the U.S. Congress had in his hearing questions about this and came to the conclusion, rightly so, that only two countries got less than the two-thirds vote. So the two-thirds vote and the absolute majority would have made very little difference.
I speak far too much about this, because I was so intensely engaged, together with some of you, on this matter. But I think we should be proud of that. Under these circumstances, particularly that international environment that I described earlier, I think it was quite good, quite an achievement.
We face a difficult period right now. If we look relaxed, it’s because we keep a straight face. It’s a tough situation right now. We still haven’t finished the work on the development and the ECOSOC resolution, which I think we should. I wrote a letter to the membership last week and asked that by Friday we would finish the work. We will see whether that deadline works.
This is important not only for the resolution itself and the fact that ECOSOC can start working in Geneva in an effective manner, on the 3rd of July, but it’s also sending the message to the developing countries, particularly the G77, that, yes, development is important, and we can unite around the work on development. We should have finished this a long time ago.
So I dealt with that separately in a letter to the membership. We should deal with it separately. I’m practically allergic to what we call linkage, that progress in one area is tied to another one. It creates an impossible negotiation situation. That letter went off on its own, completely separate, last week.
This week I’m probably going to formulate something to the membership on what remains to be done. I think we should accept to work hard in June. Normally, we work hard in June anyway, but this month we have all the reasons to work very hard. We have particular work to do on the management issues, the mandate review, and oversight and accountability. These are complicated issues. They are dealt with in the Fifth Committee, but they are also dealt with by co-chairs. Allan Rock is here. He’s one of my great co-chairs, in this case, on the mandate committee. He and the committee members have gone through difficult times and a couple of difficult meetings now. But I know they are tenacious and will struggle on. I think we have some ideas on how to achieve results—although perhaps some ambitions have to be scaled down somewhat.
What I think we need to do is to produce as much result as possible through hard work and more trust of each other. We need much more trust in the building. Then, if we can’t reach the results on some of the complicated issues that might require more time, we can at least formulate a credible process, so that you know that something will be done in an orderly fashion. If we do that, I hope we will not have other problems exploding in our face later in the month. I will even avoid saying what I mean, but my colleagues know exactly what I mean. It has something to do with the smooth transition of budget affairs at the United Nations.
So that’s it. Then I hope we can, some of us, go to Geneva in July and some of us even take a vacation in August, in contrast to last year, when we were preparing ourselves for the summit meeting, down in those basement rooms without oxygen. I will use that method if it’s necessary—a basement room without oxygen—as a way of friendly persuasion. But I hope that we will do as much work as possible during the month of June, because, as I said, ECOSOC this year takes place in Geneva, and that means that around fifty ambassadors will leave town.
I have also a few duties in Sweden that my prime minister reminds me of. I have never been more interested in the progress of science in the area of cloning as I am now. I think I will certainly be needed in two places in the next few months. But during this month, I will, of course, give great priority to the work of the United Nations—although I have to be at the European Union summit next week, which is, of course, the most important event for the European Union.
Just a last word on what I think we should look for in the future: a strengthened United Nations, a reformed United Nations. I am a friend of the United Nations, but I’m not an uncritical friend of the United Nations. We need to reform this organization. It’s our organization. The reform agenda must not be seen as the agenda of one particular country or one group of countries. It’s everybody’s agenda. This goes also for management, I think.
Then we have to, I think, look to the United Nations, not as the universal medicine or the panacea or the universal cure, but setting the norms, being that central organ for global cooperation and global solidarity, with all its organs and agencies.
But then I think the hugeness of the tasks, the enormity of the tasks now, with all these problems that are not anymore only international—have you thought about this? Look back thirty or forty years. You could divide the issues into domestic policy/international policy, international/national. That’s not possible today. Practically all the agenda we have is both international and national. I just mentioned migration issues. How can you draw a difference between national and international migration? Communicable diseases, AIDS and avian flu; organized crime; environment—where is the borderline? There is no borderline anymore. They are all intertwined.
The problems of globalization are enormous, and the issues of globalization are enormous. So rather than thinking of some type of organization up there in the clouds that should solve all our problems, we should think more in terms of that organization being the symbol of universality, the symbol of international global cooperation. But then a lot of others have to do the work. I mentioned the regional organizations, but I should also mention the nongovernmental organizations, the parliaments in civil society, the private sector. Everybody has to chip in.
We should, I think, for the future, think in terms of what a good international division of labor is, where no one escapes responsibility. We all have a part in this. We should see this as a system where we all are part of dealing with these issues that are both international and national.
So those would be my reflections. I hope that there are some questions and comments that I could respond to.
Joanne, thank you.
JOANNE MYERS: I would like to open the floor to questions.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: I want to raise another topic, and that is UN self-promotion. I heard Mr. Mark Mallach Brown yesterday speak sadly about the fact that one country in particular, while it makes great use of all of the offices of the United Nations, also, in its public pronouncements for its own political reasons, does much less than support the institution. Mr. Mallach Brown seemed to suggest that what we needed was for the United States to be more supportive in public of the United Nations. But I couldn’t help thinking that he must not be as sensitive to the domestic political costs of that, as perceived by at least part of our body politic, as some of the members of the Republican Party really are.
So then the question arose, if the United States cannot be trusted to publicly support the United Nations, for whatever reasons, perhaps the United Nations itself could be doing a better job of promoting itself, its successes, the number of humanitarian missions that it has going, the work of UNICEF. I don’t need to go down the list here. Everybody knows it very well. But we don’t hear much from the United Nations itself for the purpose of countering the ill effects of the image problems that seem to be being created for political purposes within the United States, in ways that do not really reflect the work that the United Nations does.
JAN ELIASSON: Thank you very much. Like the American delegation quoted by (journalist) Warren Hoge, I haven’t read Mark Malloch Brown's speech. So I will not comment on that.
To the basic question, I think we could do better; we could do more. Some of you have heard me tell this story. When I was endorsed as president of the General Assembly, I was in Chicago—or I might have been in Minnesota. It was a pretty conservative group, a middle-of-the-road group, a couple of hundred people. I was giving a speech, ended up with the United Nations. All the questions were on the United Nations—very interesting—about Sweden, Europe, the United Nations, but the questions were on the United Nations. But they were mostly very critical. At that time, it was oil for food, of course. I responded to four questions, I think, on oil for food.
Then in the end—I rarely lose my temper, but I sort of raised my voice—I said, “Okay. I don’t think I can give any variations to this question anymore. Yes, it is very bad. We need to have better accountability and so forth,” and I gave all the critical comments on the oil-for-food situation and how it was dealt with in the United Nations. Then I said, “Let’s see another United Nations.” Then I enumerated things that I myself have experienced, the peacekeeping operations all over the world. Sweden had 80,000 troops out there. We have lost some. I mentioned Afghanistan, which at that time looked very good. It looks a little bit worse today. But I said there was complete unity around the action in Afghanistan, as compared to Iraq—a different thing. I mentioned Liberia, the elections coming up. There turned out to be well-conducted negotiations, and Africa got its first democratically elected woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I mentioned Lebanon at the time, where the Syrian troops had left as a result of the great cooperation between France and the United States, which turned out to be a surprise to most people in that room.
Then I said, “Look at the daily realities. Every thirty seconds, a child dies of malaria, and UNICEF and the World Health Organization are there.” I shouldn’t do this. I have done it far too often. Then I raised the glass and said, “This is clean water. This is a luxury for 1.2 billion people in the world. The alternative is for a woman to trek for miles to get polluted water. That means an enormous difference for life and death for children and mothers, and communicable diseases.”
Believe it or not—I should say this; it seems like I’m promoting myself—they stood up and applauded. I said to myself, “What a different image.” I sort of felt that I appealed to the Bill of Rights spirit and the ethics spirit of Americans.
I think with the right signals and promotion of what we do right in the United Nations, you can change things.
One of the things that I think has not been recognized is something that was really sensational. I have received personal thanks from a lot of people in the Jewish community, but it has not been so much reported to the outside world. We all, by consensus—no vote—accepted to make the Holocaust remembrance a UN day—the UN Remembrance of the Holocaust Day, the 27th of January. Not one word against going to that decision, a consensus.
The Israeli parliament had a discussion about it and noted it, but here it was not noted.
So we need to get the positive side out, not least on peacekeeping right now. That could change attitudes. To put it very simply, we need the United States. The United Nations needs the United States, but I also claim very strongly that the United States needs the United Nations.
So whatever we can do better I think we should. All of us should be aware of this.
We had a great event last week, which got a lot of attention. I was worried that this could have not ended in the success that it in the end became, because the start was a bit stumbling. The first draft of the text was not received well, and there was some unrest in the corridors. That was the big AIDS conference, with 800 organizations.
I think I refuted those who told me at the beginning that the work in the General Assembly is so boring, as some of the journalists said. But last week, with these 800 NGOs, activists all over there in the corridors, we really brought life to the United Nations. In the end, the New York Times article, Saturday— I’m not flattering you too much— that was a very good article, very factual and very positive, showing what we had achieved in the United Nations.
So we have to just keep working and be active and be out there, be willing to speak openly and open up the doors as much as possible, and stand up for the organization.
You are right. There is another image that could be projected. If that image is projected right, I think it could change attitudes in the United States, and that is absolutely crucial for us. It’s not only crucial for the organization, it’s crucial to what I spoke about in the beginning, whether we will go this global road or the smaller groups facing others. Therefore, so much is at stake.
I’ll try to give shorter answers from now on.
QUESTION: Mr. Eliasson, I would like to introduce something that I hope you could take care of in the future. When the United Nations was created, there were about forty countries. We have 192 now, if I’m correct. In 1950, we had 2 billion people in the world. Now we have more than 6 million. I think that 50 percent of the world population is under twenty-five. Two billion people live in cities.
I think that we still look at the world without a psychological or sociological way. I would like to ask you, for the future—and being the foreign minister, in the future, of Sweden—to really take into consideration what happens to a single human being who has been in a village of 100 and now it’s 1,000, a village that had something to eat and now doesn’t. Young people are moving to cities, and because of the information society, they know what we have and they don’t. We saw it in the anger about the cartoon that you mentioned.
So the question to you is, how do we put into the formula for our discussion this population explosion, not only from the population point of view—the restrictions we have to do and the education we have to do—but asking you, how do we put a new formula, a new discussion, a new vision into the United Nations to understand the multitude of people and for them to know human rights, so there is a support system and we have new society development? For this, we really seek your help.
I ask all of you, whatever you do, and especially you, to really feel—you spoke so well about human rights. It is an overarching issue. Let’s do something for the people to know them.
JAN ELIASSON: I’ll just say, hear, hear! I am extremely upset about the situation for young children in the world generally now. If you just look at some of the most outrageous phenomena, this modern form of slavery that we have, the sale of human beings—1.2 million people are sold like merchandise, and many of them are children and women, many children in this sex industry that exists. I read some of the most shocking accounts of that.
If I were to ask for a couple of concrete things that we should do, I might talk about the Millennium Development Goals. To concretize that, I would say two things: clean water, with an enormous multiplication effect; and the second one, education of girls. You can’t imagine how many girls do not go to schools, in Africa particularly, for the most incredible reasons—for instance, there is no toilet for girls in a school. They, out of shame, don’t go to school. They always give priority to the boys. But if you educate a girl, it’s a 90 percent probability that she educates her own children. Can you imagine the multiplication effect of educating girls, and the waste that we are seeing with girls?
Malaria hits, of course, the weakest. I told you that every thirty seconds a child dies of malaria in the world. TBC, similar figures. They are the most vulnerable. In conflicts, they are recruited as child soldiers, raped by other soldiers. It’s an incredible waste of human beings. And, as you said, they know now, in the Middle East and other places, what has happened. They see how other people live.
So we have a new situation, and we should definitely think about the future, think of our children. UNICEF is doing a great job, but I think it, again, has to infiltrate all our organizations, all levels.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you for speaking with us today. I was just curious to get an update on the protection of civilians, since the General Assembly special session passed the groundbreaking wording. I’m just curious. Have there been any practical effects of it yet, or is there a follow-up that is happening?
JAN ELIASSON: You are right; this was quite an achievement in the September declaration—namely, The Responsibility To Protect. It is, I think, a wonderful notion. It is a different way of looking at the issue of populations that are succumbing to ethnic cleansing and mass killing and genocide. Instead of talking, as one did in the late 1980s, about the need for humanitarian intervention from the outside, we turn it all around and say, “Okay, we respect the sovereignty, but if you have sovereignty, you have to protect your population.” So that is a way of enlarging the respect for sovereignty and putting the burden, the responsibility, on the governments to protect their population from ethnic cleansing, mass killing, and genocide.
I would like to point to this text, enlarge it, frame it, so that we have that in front of us.
Of course, what is underlying your question is probably Darfur. I admit, it is, to me, an enormous factor that risks undermining the moral authority of the United Nations, that we haven’t been able to do more about that.
I said it in my speech on the 13th of June last year, in fact, that that was one of the reasons why, even in my country, there were hesitation and doubts about the United Nations.
But that’s a shared responsibility. It’s not only a General Assembly issue. It’s a Security Council issue. It’s extremely difficult, extremely complicated. I hope now that we will be able to move to a more forceful action, a more substantial action in the field.
Also I commend Jan Egeland, my successor, for his way of working to make sure that you have international eyes and ears, the humanitarian workers. Eight to nine thousand are there. In this huge country, you need witnesses; you need eyes and ears. Maybe that has a dampening effect on the violence.
But we should all be reminded of that very important achievement of the high-level meeting.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, I am an unabashed admirer of yours, as you well know. As a strong supporter of the United Nations, I personally want to thank you so much for your efforts and your successes this year, and the reforms that you have achieved.
There is an area, I think, that really needs some work, and that is the process of selection of the secretary-general. I see a big smile on your face.
JAN ELIASSON: I see a big smile on my colleagues’ faces, some of them.
QUESTIONER: I feel free to speak about this, because I have spoken with a number of your colleagues, and a number of them have expressed the same feelings that I have.
It seems that now all of the regions have had an opportunity to be secretary-general. It seems to me that we have reached the point now where, instead of looking to—excuse me for saying this—Asia or America or Europe, we should really look for the best person. I feel this so strongly.
JAN ELIASSON: There were two questions I did not touch upon. I don’t know whether it was subconsciously or consciously. One was the issue of Security Council reform, which should have been mentioned. I think Security Council reform is an important reform that we need to face and work with—although it’s extremely difficult.
When I came to New York last July, I remember a very sensitive and very difficult discussion on that subject. But it is on the minds of so many. It’s absolutely crucial. It relates to basic interests for countries that are aspiring to membership, but also countries that are opposed to those solutions that have been proposed.
That issue is always there and has to be dealt with in some way, sometime. I just want to put it on record, that I consider it an important reform.
There is also a group of five countries, two or three of which are represented here today, that are suggesting ideas about the methods of work at the United Nations Security Council, which is also important to consider.
Now to your question—that was the second one I avoided. As you know, the charter, Article 97, states it’s the General Assembly that appoints the secretary-general, upon the recommendation of the Security Council. According to this resolution from 1946, the Security Council presents one candidate to the General Assembly.
There was another resolution in 1997 which opened up to a more active role for the General Assembly—having not only a more active role, but the possibility to consider several candidates and having a process of discussing the different candidates.
This discussion is going on right now. It’s a very important discussion. The Security Council presidents have been forthcoming in coming to me and informing me, since three months back—February, March, and April—about their deliberations on this issue. I passed on this information to the membership in a letter just a few days ago, through a group that works with General Assembly revitalization, led by the ambassadors of Yemen and Latvia, where a discussion is taking place today, I think, among other things, on this subject.
The basic issue, I think, is that the proponents of having a stronger role for the General Assembly want very strongly the new secretary-general to be embraced by as much legitimacy as possible, to be the secretary-general of the membership. Therefore, some type of dialogue with the General Assembly is welcome. As president of the General Assembly, I am very, of course, aware of the standing of the General Assembly. I welcome this discussion.
On the other hand, of course, it is important that this is done in such a way that we don’t have a big confrontation at the organization that could hurt the organization. But I think it’s very healthy that we have this dialogue between the General Assembly and the Security Council.
As to the issue of regional circulation, the majority in the Security Council have come to the conclusion that regional circulation should take place. That, I think, is the basis for the dialogue as it stands now. I think that is also the view of large groups of membership, including the Non-Aligned Movement, who came to this conclusion at their important meeting in Malaysia recently.
But the dialogue goes on. I think it’s healthy. But I hope it leads to a situation where the standing of the General Assembly is strengthened and respected, but also a situation which doesn’t lead to a very damaging battle between the main organs of the United Nations.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you what role, if any, Kofi Annan has played in these reform efforts. Has he come on strongly about any particular area?
JAN ELIASSON: You give me a guilty conscience. I should have mentioned him much more prominently, of course. I took over from his preparatory work. First of all, there was the expert group, the high-level panel, that came out with proposals in December 2004. Then, of course, he provided us, the membership, with a very, very good basis for the work, which is called “In Larger Freedom.” So my presentation really started from us taking it over from him. I want to give him full credit. He and his staff gave a wonderful basis.
What was interesting was the maintained degree of ambition. The high-level panel had a pretty high degree of ambition. Then normally, when you deal with something inside a system, you water it down and it becomes weaker. What comes out in the end is often a weak product. But, in fact, Kofi Annan even strengthened some of the proposals and was very brave and courageous, which, of course, then gives me work.
Also my predecessor, Jean Ping. I want to commend for his courage in keeping that high level of ambition. I, of course, commend both Kofi Annan and Jean Ping for keeping such a degree of ambition in the work—although, I must admit, it gives us more work, because the expectations are so high. It’s difficult to achieve everything in one year, during the session.
But without the high-level panel—where, by the way, an American, Brent Scowcroft, played an important role—and without Jean Ping’s keeping that level of ambition, we would not be where we are today.
QUESTION: The first questioner made a comment regarding political opposition to the United Nations domestically. I would just like to remind him that several years ago, the former ambassador to the United Nations, a Democrat, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, wrote a book called A Dangerous Place, about the United Nations. Also, Arnold Forster of the Anti-Defamation League presented a very relevant case, I think, in his book about the United Nations.
So it’s not only contemporary conservative Republicans who have had concerns about the United Nations. It really goes to the Democratic Party, and a lot of other reasons why.
Getting back to your comments about two main roles of the United Nations—one peacekeeping and the other human rights—in the peacekeeping operations, we find that in most places the troops that are sent represent Third World nations, and they are very poorly trained and not really given much of a mandate. I think that has been reflected in the culture of the day, in movies, where, in places like Hotel Rwanda or No Man’s Land, those peacekeeping operations have been shown to be quite ineffective. I think they reflect the reality.
The other thing is that the difficulty of defining, let’s say, human rights is also based on cultural and religious and political definitions. What passes for human rights in the old Stalinist Russia or Pol Pot’s Cambodia really has little relevance to Sweden, Canada, and places today. Similarly with Zimbabwe and the like.
So how do you really expect to do two things—one, get effective peacekeeping operations in the United Nations? Two, how can you really, given the cultural mix and political mix, get any kind of real definition on human rights?
JAN ELIASSON: I partly part company with you on the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations. There are certainly failures, and there are also abuses that are shocking in the behavior, for instance, of some peacekeepers in the area of sexual harassment and so forth, which are well known now in the press. But I have been seeing so many peacekeeping operations out there in the field.
First of all, they are strikingly inexpensive. If you compare UN peacekeeping operations to any country’s national operation, the relationship is 20 percent to 100, I think, for the costs. So it’s very cost-effective.
Secondly, without the peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and Liberia, in the Middle East, of course, in Afghanistan, we would have a horrible situation. I think they are performing a very, very important task. I think it’s actually one of the areas of which we can be most proud.
When that phenomenon was introduced by Dag Hammarskjöld, Lester Pearson, and Brian Urquhart in the late 1950s, it wasn’t even in the charter. They called it “Chapter Six-and-a-Half,” between Chapters Six and Seven. I think it is a success story.
It can always be improved, but for instance, in Liberia, those 15,000 troops stopped this country from sliding into an absolute horror, and I think they created the conditions for democratic elections. I think they are working enormously hard. I have great admiration for Jean-Marie Guéhenno, with so few people, doing this enormous piece of work. It’s almost incredible. I think we should commend them.
But, as I said, they can be improved. But I think we need to reflect more on the successes—for instance, in Liberia, and also, if you just compare Afghanistan with Iraq. Sweden has soldiers there. We have a UN mandate for the operation. We employ 8,000 people in the schools and health clinics in Afghanistan. We just lost two soldiers in a horrible accident. No one in the parliament raises the question of whether we should be there or not, because there is a UN mandate behind it.
So I think that actually has the best potential. But, of course, everything needs improvement.
On human rights, that reflects a little bit of the debate we had after the election, when the forty-seven members were elected. Still, the Council was criticized because of its membership, the different level of respect for human rights. But they were elected by the member states. The United Nations is a mirror or reflection of the world, to some degree, whether we like it or not. If we part company and say that these rights are at such a high degree of ambition that they do not fit certain countries, I think we enter very dangerous territory.
That’s why I fought so hard and my colleagues fought so hard for getting this Human Rights Council through, because we still believe that those basic rights written down there in 1948, in the Universal Declaration, should be applied to everybody, whether it is Eleanor Roosevelt or the representatives of South Africa. It has to be something universal. It might look like the distance is too far, but if you don’t have that ethical, moral goal and driving force, then I think we are out on a slippery slope and we make those divisions wider and the polarization that I fear so much could be even more dangerous.
JOANNE MYERS: Ambassador Eliasson, we, too, believe in cloning, and if we were successful, you could stay here in New York and go back to Sweden as well.
Thank you for being with us this morning.