Beyond the National Interest: The Future of UN Peacekeeping and Multilateralism in an Era of U.S. Primacy

January 24, 2008

Image of book cover Beyond the National Interest

Introduction

JOANNE MYERS: I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to welcome our members and guests and to thank you for joining us this afternoon.

Our speaker is Jean-Marc Coicaud, and he'll be discussing his book, Beyond the National Interest: The Future of UN Peacekeeping and Multilateralism in an Era of U.S. Primacy.

Over the years, peacekeeping missions have emerged as one of the central weapons that the United Nations has for dealing with complex post-conflict situations. UN peacekeepers have been called upon to patrol buffer zones between hostile parties, monitor cease-fires, and help defuse local clashes. They also have been called upon to support the activities of UN partners, as well as the efforts of NGOs engaged in humanitarian assistance to people affected by fighting and their aftermath.

In recent years, particularly since the end of the Cold War, the international community has witnessed major changes in the increasing number and nature of conflicts brought before the United Nations. Although UN peacekeeping operations have expanded to meet some of these demands, with the emergence of new threats to international security, including ethnic cleansing and failed states, these challenges have placed a tremendous burden on the international community. Consequently, principles and shared interests that sustained multilateral action during the Cold War have come under pressure.

Shortcomings and inadequacies have been obvious as leading participants in multilateral peacekeeping, notably the United States and other Western powers, have been slow to adapt to these changed conditions. A prime example of this is what has happened in Darfur. As the United Nations has tried to take the lead in Darfur, it has been stymied by the failure of major member states to fulfill promises to support action and by the Sudanese government itself, thereby once again calling the future of multilateral peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention into question.

Our guest today wants to know why this has happened. In Beyond the National Interest, Jean-Marc asks whether management of intra- and interstate conflicts stemming from failed states and their attendant pathologies in governance will ever again enter the realm of UN-mandated multilateral peacekeeping, or are these endeavors to be rather distant memory, never again to achieve a significant role.

In an effort to prevent future mistakes and better understand the way the world has been managed since the 1990s, our guest has embarked on an intensive study to examine the limits of international responsibility for this new type of mass violence in the immediate post-Cold War era. In so doing, Jean-Marc provides an honest and insightful look at the global world of multilateralism, the quest for international order, and the United Nations as a peacekeeping organization in the post-Cold War period. He places an emphasis on the key attitude of member states, the United States being foremost among them.

More effective peacekeeping is obviously in the world's interest, but it requires a shift in attitudes. Addressing the problems of international solidarity is a formidable challenge that Jean-Marc has met in a penetrating and scholarly manner.

Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to our speaker this afternoon, Jean-Marc Coicaud. Thank you for joining us.

Remarks

JEAN-MARC COICAUD: Good afternoon. Thank you, Joanne, for your kind invitation and kind introduction.

As its title indicates, the book is about the national interest, how it is conceived and how it unfolded since the end of the Cold War, especially in the international context, and it is about peacekeeping operations and collective security. But the book is also about something else. In my mind, the book is also an attempt to think about the reality of international democratic culture in the contemporary era.

Indeed, the book is also an attempt to assess, as Joanne mentioned, the extent to which the international community and member states take seriously issues of human rights in the international context—human rights which as we know, are a key benchmark of democratic culture, both nationally, and more and more internationally.

When I started to work on this book, I felt that peacekeeping operations could be a good entry point to make this assessment. Indeed, peacekeeping operations, at least what they have been about since at least the early 1990s, have come to deal in large part with humanitarian and human rights issues. They have come to be a projection of a sense of international solidarity and responsibility towards people and countries in trouble. As such, it seems to me that that projection of solidarity and responsibility, while of course also being about collective security, cannot be understood independently from democratic values, from their projection at the international level. So this is my starting point.

What I would like to do this evening is to center my presentation around two main points. First, I will outline some of the main ideas of the book. Secondly, I will stress, although not too much, the limitations of the book. After all, I don't want to say that the book is worth nothing, but still I will stress some of the limitations of the book and the areas in which more work could be done, should be done, to bring additional, and perhaps better, answers to the questions that I address in the book.

The book proceeds in three steps: it is descriptive, explanatory, and in the end prescriptive. In this perspective, and once again against the background of the broader issue that I mentioned a minute ago, the specific questions that I try to answer throughout the book are the following:

    • First, what are the extent and limits, and in fact first and foremost the limits, of the sense of international solidarity and responsibility as exemplified in UN peacekeeping operations since the early 1990s?
    • Second, how do we explain the limits of the sense of international solidarity and responsibility?
    • Third, how do we overcome these limits as a way to enhance, so to speak, the international rule of law?

The first question is dealt with in the first chapter of the book. Here I try to analyze UN peacekeeping operations since the early 1990s, focusing of course on the most important of them. In this context, the goal is to examine the extent to which these peacekeeping operations have been a success, a failure, or a mixture of the two.

In the process, my idea was also to evaluate the commitment of the international community to international solidarity or responsibility. In this regard, of course progress has been made since the early 1990s. One has also to recognize if one wants to be honest, that there is still a very, very, very long way to go to match words with reality.

Certainly, since the early 1990s the international community has quite significantly increased its efforts in the field of peacekeeping operations, both quantitatively and qualitatively. For instance, just to give you a few figures, at the moment there are 18 peacekeeping operations deployed around the world, with close to 150,000 men and women in the field, and with a yearly budget of nearly $7 billion. Also, the number of troop- and police-contributing countries has risen to 119 in 2007, which I think is a new record when it comes to UN peacekeeping.

At the same time, we should not be overly impressed by these figures. Let me give you other figures which really show why we shouldn't be so impressed by them.

Between the early 1990s and the early 2000s, the overall UN budget in the field of peacekeeping operations was around 20 billion U.S. dollars. Twenty billion U.S. dollars, which seems quite a bit at first sight, in fact appears to be very little when compared to the military spending of the top national spenders. Throughout the 1990s, the United States, which is the top world spender in terms of military budget, spent around 300 billion U.S. dollars each year for its national defense—$300 billion per year versus $20 billion for 10 years; Japan, which is the second top spender, spent around $45 billion a year throughout the 1990s; the United Kingdom spent a little more than $40 billion per year throughout the 1990s; and France, more or less the same. These four countries were in the 1990s, and are still today, the highest spenders in terms of military spending. So you can see that the figures in comparative terms tell us another story.

Then there is the ambiguous track record of peacekeeping operations themselves. There is no doubt that UN peacekeeping operations have helped in saving many lives, contributing to end conflict, and helping to rebuild societies since the early 1990s. As such, peacekeeping operations are to be seen as a useful and very precious resource.

At the same time, when trying to rank peacekeeping operations in terms of success, failures, and mixed results, once again, if we want to be honest, one has to admit that there are more situations of mixed results, if not of failures, than situations of success.

To a certain extent, UN missions in Macedonia, El Salvador, Mozambique, and Guatemala, just to mention these few, can be seen as successes, but the list is far longer of the cases of mixed results. In one way or another, that is the case, for instance, for UN missions in Haiti, still ongoing; Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and East Timor—and this is just a short list.

In fact, in the end, the failures are the things that we really remember, and these failures we all know. They are Somalia, Angola, Rwanda, and a few others. And, interestingly enough, Africa is the continent where UN peacekeeping operations tend to get involved the most and where success tends to be the most elusive.

So then the question is: How to explain this relatively, if not deeply, gloomy picture? In the book, I put forward a number of factors accounting for the limitations of international solidarity and responsibility.

Here, just for the sake of time, I will touch upon three of them:

    • The first has to do with the limitations of the United Nations as an international bureaucracy.

 

    • The second has to do with the role of norms in what I call the socialization of international life.

 

    • The third factor of limitation when it comes to international solidarity has to do with the ambiguous role of key member states, America to begin with, towards the United Nations and multilateralism.

 

I don't want to be too long on each of these explanations. If you want to know more about them, you will have to read the book. I am just going to make a few remarks on each of these factors.

First of all, what about the limitations of the United Nations as an international bureaucracy? Here I argue that in fact there are two main structural limitations: one is political; another one is administrative and institutional.

Regarding the political limitations, they boil down to the fact that UN leadership in the end is neither decisive nor unified. In fact, very often it is partly undecisive because it is not unified. As a way to show this, in the book I analyze, in particular, the relationship between the Secretary General and the Security Council and the relationships among the Permanent Members of the Security Council—that is to say, Russia and China on the one hand, and France, the United Kingdom, and the United States on the other hand—and also the relationships existing among the three Permanent Members. So that is for the political picture in terms of limitations.

As for the administrative limitations of the United Nations, I think that they have to do with two main problems. First of all, the United Nations in the end has few resources, especially in light of its global mandates. Yet—and this is the second problem, and it is a huge problem—while the United Nations has few resources, it never, never optimizes these resources. So that is a major problem. The fact that the United Nations, including peacekeeping operations, all too often, if not almost always, functions in an ad hoc fashion, really serves as a case in point.

A second explanation for the limitations of international solidarity has to do with the role of norms when it comes to the socialization of international life. Take for example the norms of collective security as they exist today and the role that they play internationally. I am not an international lawyer, but one can argue that there are seven major principles offering guidelines for collective security in the field of international law. They are a very simple guideline. We all know them. They are sovereign equality of states; negotiating in good faith; self-determination of peoples; nonintervention in the affairs of other states; prohibition of the threat or use of force; peaceful settlement of disputes; respect for human rights; and finally, the idea of international cooperation.

Here the interesting thing is that in these principles, which are really at the core of the international law of war and peace, we have both relations of compatibility and relations of competition.

Relations of compatibility, can be seen, for instance, between respect for human rights and self-determination—there is a link. These two principles are about the rights of people, about expressing, implementing, and defending these rights. So clearly there is a relation of compatibility.

Yet, among the major principles which guide the socialization of international life there are also relations of competition, and that's where it gets interesting. The tensions between sovereign equality of states, nonintervention in the affairs of states, on the one hand, and respect for human rights on the other, is of course the classic, perennial example of this type of competition.

At the heart of this relation of competition among international norms is of course the tension between the national interest and the international—or what I call internationalized—interest. In the end, we have seen this time and time again since the early 1990s. When member states have to choose between the national interest and the international or internationalized interest, most of the time, if not always, these member states choose the national interest, and, of course, most of the time the national interest understood in a very narrow manner.

It is a fact that international norms and how member states, especially key member states, interpret them end up being all too often a factor of limitation for international solidarity—not always, but all too often.

This brings me to my third explanation for such limitations of international solidarity, taking peacekeeping operations as the entry point, i.e., the ambiguous role of key member states. In the book in this regard, I focus on the three Western Permanent Members of the Security Council: the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

Based on a number of case studies that I take from the 1990s and the 2000s, which include the case of Iraq, when it comes down to the essence of the argument, I argue that these Permanent Members at the same time tend to be both the underwriters and the underminers of the international system, its values and institutions.

First, they are the underwriters of the international system in the sense that they had, and continue to have, a key role in ensuring its functions from the political, normative, institutional, financial, military, logistic and other points of view. So first of all, these key Member States, Western democratic Member States, are the underwriters of how the international system is being organized.

After all, it makes sense, because the United Nations is largely a U.S. invention. Without the essential and initial American commitment to multilateralism, the United Nations would not exist. So that's the good news.

However, at the same time, these countries tend to be also the underminers of the international system and multilateralism. They tend to do so—of course it's not the whole story—but they tend to do so partly because their conception and practice of multilateralism is, let's say, self-centered.

These Permanent Members of the Security Council tend to think that they have more rights than they have duties; and conversely, of course, they tend to think that other countries have more duties than rights. So here we go. And of course, needless to say, this attitude is not specific to the Western Permanent Members of the Security Council. As a matter of fact, each Member State—from developing countries to developed countries, from east to west, and so on—each Member State is self-centered and each Member State tends to be much more focused on its rights than on its duties. However, the central role of the Security Council and of its key members for the credibility and legitimacy of the international system gives more impact to the self-centeredness of Western Permanent Members.

Of course, among the Western Permanent Members, the United Kingdom and France are not that important. The actor which is most important is the United States. Because the United States is the actor which truly counts in the end as the only democratic global power standing today, I dedicate much space in the last chapter of the book to see what could be improved in American foreign policy as a way to make multilateralism and the international system more credible and more workable, and also as a way to enhance the international rule of law, or what we call the international code of law. Here I come up with five possible suggestions which perhaps could improve U.S. foreign policy:

    • U.S. foreign policy has to find a better balance between national and international or internationalized interests. That is very, very important I think.

 

    • U.S. foreign policy has to come to terms with the foreign policy implications of democratic values, including American democratic values.

 

    • The exercise of U.S. leadership, which is absolutely essential—I'm not calling for the demise of U.S. leadership; in fact, this leadership is very, very important—but the exercise of U.S. leadership has to take place within the dynamics of multilateral reciprocity of multilateral rights and duties.

 

    • The parochial characteristics—what I call sometimes the global provincialism—of U.S. foreign policy has to be overcome. I think it is very, very important, all the more considering that the United States is a global democratic power, for the sake of the world as well as for the sake of the United States.

 

  • And finally, we have to find ways to facilitate the learning ability of the U.S. foreign policy community regarding these changes.

 

I'm not saying that these suggestions will be taken up—probably it will not happen—but I think that these things would help.

So let me conclude this presentation by outlining some of the limitations of the book—the book is full of limitations—and indicating the direction in which to work to perhaps better tackle the problems that I have identified in the book concerning the international system.

Because the United Nations University for which I work is a UN think-tank headquartered in Japan, I happen to lecture quite a bit on these issues in Asia. Time and time again I am told in Japan, China, Korea, India, and other countries of Asia that my take on global issues is itself—and that's the irony—very, very provincial. In other words, I am told that my thinking on these global issues is a typical Western one, European and American included, and certainly not reflective of the values, intellectual and cultural traditions existing beyond the West on global issues.

I think that the people who tell me this are absolutely right. In fact, this point I have to say doesn't apply only to my book. It applies to most Western and Westernized scholarship on global issues. I am not alone in this boat. Not that it makes me feel better, but that is the situation.

This situation is a real intellectual and political problem which has to be addressed if we want to think about global issues in a more credible manner. So I have more work to do.

Now that it is finished, I think that a second limitation of the book is that it does not call enough upon the methodological tools of history, and even philosophy, to understand international relations and the United Nations. After all, the United Nations is at the very center, or at least is one of the centers, of present international history, very often even one of the centers of national history for a number of countries.

So why is it that people who study the United Nations, who study international organizations, including me, never treat the United Nations as an object of history, that is to say to be studied with the tools of historians? For instance, who studies UN archives in order to write about and understand the United Nations? Almost nobody.

My final point has to do with the need in the future to understand problems of international solidarity and responsibility in terms of global public policy. At the moment, humanitarian and human rights questions are mainly viewed in moral and ethical terms at the international level. It seems to me that it's quite wrong, and it's wrong because humanitarian and human rights questions are I think in the end as important and strategic as questions of security.

Humanitarian and human rights questions are important and strategic because today ultimately human rights have become the benchmark of political legitimacy domestically and internationally, and as such it seems to me that security, national and global security, cannot be truly achieved without respect for the rights of individuals. In the end, to respect the rights of individuals, to take them seriously, requires addressing them in public policy terms. It seems to me that it is only when this starts to happen at the global level that the quest for solidarity and security will be dovetailed. By living in a, let's say, better world, we will be also living in a safer world.

I think I will stop here. I thank you for your attention.

Questions and Answers

JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much. I'd like to open the floor to questions and I guess I'll ask you a question. You didn't mention Darfur, but could you use that sort of as a jumping-off point to what has really gone wrong in terms of peacekeeping?

JEAN-MARC COICAUD:
Actually the book ends with Darfur. I wanted to end with Darfur because of course it's a major problem. When I expressed this desire to end with Darfur, the publisher told me, "But don't you think that in six months when the book is out things will have improved?" I told him, "Don't worry. Chances are that is not going to be the case. So even if today I am telling you that Darfur is a problem and things are not moving, chances are that in the early spring of 2008 the book will be still relevant."

JOANNE MYERS:
But could you talk a little bit about why Darfur has been such a disaster in so many ways and why the international community can't come together in some way?

JEAN-MARC COICAUD:
Well, first of all, most of the peacekeeping operations require the willingness of host countries to have them deployed. Sudan has been unwilling to have peacekeeping operations deployed in the south of Sudan. Khartoum has been playing games, but in the end it is not eager to really have such a mission deployed.

Second of all, beyond talking, the international community hasn't been really eager to take action. That's the bottom line.

You know, each year at the United Nations we have a commemoration of the Rwanda genocide. So each year we are being told "never again," and for ten years we have been told "never again." Of course it is not really correct to say this because these things are happening again and again and nothing is being done in a decisive manner, partly for the reasons that I mention in the book.

QUESTION: We can divide peacekeeping into a couple of categories, the negotiation stage and the military presence. I think early on you indicated that there are 150,000 or so military forces stationed around the world.

One of the problems is that UN forces are not really allowed to shoot at others unless they are shot at, and that is really in self-protection. So that often they merely stand by while the opposing forces slaughter each other. We have seen documentation of this even in films such as "No Man's Land," "Hotel Rwanda." We have seen books that deal with that.

So what in fact, beyond talking, does UN peacekeeping really consist of when you're dealing with military forces, usually from third-world countries who are very poorly trained in most cases?

JEAN-MARC COICAUD: You are absolutely right. When it comes to use of force, there are two situations.

The first is use of force in situations of self-defense, and in this situation you are right. Peacekeepers are only allowed to use force in cases where their own life is at risk.

The second is use of force in a military situation, which has to do with Chapter 7. But as you said, use of force does not always mean effectiveness of action. This has to do with the fact that very often the troops are not trained, since more developed countries with well-trained troops are less and less eager to have troops being deployed under the UN flag or in the UN context.

I have with me here the list of the countries currently providing troops for peacekeeping operations. This is an interesting list. I got it this afternoon, just out of curiosity, as a way for me to know where we stand. Among the first ten contributors for UN peacekeeping operations today we have the following list: (1) Pakistan, (2) Bangladesh, (3) India, (4) Nepal, (5) Jordan, (6) Ghana, (7) Nigeria, (8) Uruguay, (9) Italy, (10) Senegal. France is the eleventh, China is the thirteenth, the United Kingdom's rank is 38, and the United States' ranking comes in forty-second position, with—what's your guess in terms of U.S. military deployed under the UN flag? What's your guess?

It's 316.

So the very nature of troop deployment in terms of military readiness, technological expertise, and so on is a problem.

But I think that perhaps more important, as I mentioned earlier, is this issue of leadership, the fact that it is neither decisive nor unified. As a way just to illustrate this point, let's go back to how resolutions are being drafted in the Security Council.

You need a resolution to outline the actions which are going to be taken and to give legitimacy to this action. Of course the resolutions which are the most difficult to get endorsed by the Security Council are the ones which have to do with use of force. In order to have these resolutions endorsed and not to trigger a veto from countries which are not comfortable with use of force—China and Russia—very often you water down the language of the resolution to bring people to the table and have them agreeing with the fact that okay, use of force is going to be a possibility.

But what is a diplomatic tool for political support becomes a major impediment for military action, because then the problem is how do you interpret this vagueness of resolution when decisiveness and united leadership has to be really called upon for use of force to be efficient. And of course, time and time again the vagueness of the wording of the resolution is a problem for decisiveness of action, because countries which at the political level were eager to show that they were willing to do something, when it comes time to take action use this vagueness to really not do anything, or very little. It happened a lot in the 1990s and it also happened a lot in the 2000s.

So the very mechanisms through which use of force is envisioned and triggered, via political and diplomatic means, very often in the UN context becomes an impediment for military action. So you have the operational dimension and then the political-diplomatic dimension.

QUESTION: The budget that you mentioned comes from voluntary contributions, I understand. The UN budget for peacekeeping/peacemaking forces comes from voluntary contributions. What about the forces themselves? There had been thought a while ago of having the individual member states contribute in principle and training in advance of whatever conflict might happen a certain amount of military force to be sent on an ad hoc basis on whatever peacekeeping mission was necessary. Has this been enacted?

JEAN-MARC COICAUD: Not that I know of, no. You mean a standing force?

QUESTIONER: A semi-standing force, yes. In other words, various countries would say, "I will contribute a certain amount of people and logistics to whatever, X-Y-Z peacekeeping operation." Has that been enacted?

JEAN-MARC COICAUD: No, I don't think so. I mean there are talks about this, but I don't think that the mechanisms exist in an institutionalized manner.

QUESTION: When you say people criticize you for having a Western perspective, what exactly do they mean, and what is the alternative perspective?

JEAN-MARC COICAUD:
Two points to answer this question. Just take the issue of solidarity. My understanding of solidarity is a very Western one, based upon the European and American normative and philosophical tradition having to do with solidarity. It is connected with human rights and the way human rights are envisioned in the legal or democratic context.

Well, they keep telling me in Japan and China—I was in Japan a few weeks ago and that's certainly something which was mentioned to me—that there is a long tradition of social solidarity within the Asian context, within the Japanese context, within the Chinese context, which is hardly reflected and taken into account at the international level. This is just an example.

The second element of my answer would be that I think that the key in the end when we think about these things is to make sure that power is put at the service of the validity of democratic values. Of course democratic values are the benchmark by which we have to live and act and think nowadays politically, but—that's what these people think about when they tell me that I am being very provincial in my thinking—very often they feel that democratic values, rather than being empowered by power, are the captive of instrumental agendas, are the captive of power.

So I think that when I hear these things the intellectual and political challenge is: How do you make sure that power is being used in such a way that it really enhances, that it empowers, democratic values and their validity, in the sense of inclusiveness, in the sense of reciprocity, in the sense of openness to others?

So what I am saying here is not about discrediting or going along with an Asian values agenda, but I think that there is some validity in this idea that sometimes democratic values are not being empowered by power, but are the captives of our agendas. That's what I'm hearing.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for sharing your insights with us.

I'd like to know what hope you think there is for the establishment of a permanent Emergency Peace Service for the United Nations. A lot of work has been done by this now. Sir Brian Urquhart is actively promoting it. From the assessment you've made of the successes and failures of current peacekeeping operations, I feel more and more persuaded that the United Nations should now reach the stage where it has a sort of ready deployment capability. I'd like your thoughts on this.

JEAN-MARC COICAUD: I know that a lot of work is being done within the UN context when it comes to trying to improve the management of human resources, especially when it comes to peacekeeping operations. But I have to admit that it's not very convincing. The level of unoccupied available positions when it comes to peacekeeping operations is close to 50 percent. It has been the case for many years, and it doesn't seem that it is improving.

So for all the talk that we are witnessing and hearing about, when it comes to trying to strengthen human resources in the UN context, and most specifically in the peacekeeping operations context, I have to admit that I don't see much change in the making.

The key, as always in the UN context, is how do you translate words into true action and true policies and true change. The gap seems to be difficult to fill.

That's why this idea of the United Nations being unable to optimize its minimal resources is a tragic problem, because when it comes to budget, for instance, how in the world are you going to be able to make the case that the United Nations needs more resources if the very few resources that you have are not being used properly and optimized? The member states have to say, "Why would we give you more money if the little that we give you is not used well or optimized?"

QUESTION: I wonder if you could say something about the evolution of the original function of peacekeeping toward a much broader approach to nation-building. How does this extend to a situation like Afghanistan, where you have multiple players, not only the United Nations but NATO and the United States, a very difficult, inherently difficult, situation which is further complicated by the possibility of coordinating the different players? It's a rather complicated set of questions for you.

JEAN-MARC COICAUD: It's a tough one.

I speak with a lot of colleagues who deal much more than I do with Afghanistan. All of them tell me that it's not working, it's falling apart. Nation-building in the post-conflict situation is a tough business. Very often you are dealing with countries where the state not only collapsed but, even before it collapsed, wasn't really viable, let alone legitimate. Of course, it is very, very difficult in a few years to really put things back on track, since most of the time they were not even on track before the conflict itself. So that's why it's probably not entirely fair to put the burden of failure and success only on the United Nations, because the United Nations is dealing with tough situations.

This being said, in a way this is what you hear. This is the subtext. Mr. Guehenno, who is the head of peacekeeping operations, tends to say that the answer—at least that's what I have heard him say—the answer to conflict situations is not only, or cannot only be, peacekeeping operations; it has to be addressed within the context of a broad development policy approach. You cannot really expect to solve problems in Africa in post-conflict situations and in conflict situations only via the peacekeeping operation tool.

QUESTION:
Along these lines here, I'd like you to comment on the difference that you perceive between NATO's role in peacekeeping versus the United Nations', especially given the expansion of member participation in NATO?

JEAN-MARC COICAUD: This is a quick answer, but you have two major differences: you have a difference in terms of operational quality of NATO compared to the United Nations; and second of all, a difference in perception.

Clearly, for instance, the United States sees NATO in a way which is very different from the way in which it sees the United Nations. The United States has no problem cooperating very closely, militarily speaking, with NATO, while the United States is quite nervous about cooperating with the United Nations in a military setting. So there is first of all a question of perception.

Developed countries, powerful countries, rich countries, Western countries as well as the United States, feel more comfortable and actually are more confident that in operational terms NATO can deliver. So that is the first element.

Second of all, this is partly due to the fact that the sense of membership is much stronger. I mean whoever wants to be a member of the United Nations—the threshold of qualification for membership at the United Nations is quite low. The one for NATO is much more specific, and therefore there is a sense of belonging when it comes to NATO membership which is much stronger. So countries which are members have a higher stake in having NATO succeeding and so on.

For instance, Kosovo. Once NATO was going to be involved in Kosovo, there was no question that the United States would allow failure in the military campaign against Serbia. That was not an option. NATO had to succeed.

The second element is of course the quality of tools which are the ones of NATO. Once again, when you think about the United Nations, it is—I don't know if you have this expression in English—it's bricolage ["do-it-yourself," make-shift], it's not serious work. You only have to read the second chapter of the book by Romeo Dallaire regarding what were the tools given to him to manage his mission in Rwanda. One has to say that it was a joke. NATO is much more institutionalized as an organization and has much more means.

You have these two differences as a way just to give a partial answer.

QUESTION: Perhaps to inject a sense of optimism, you did mention at the beginning that in your analysis there were some success stories. I'm wondering if you can draw and reflect for us, were there any common threads in the success, and how would it be instructive in moving forward? Certainly I am one who believes that you probably learn more from your mistakes, and given your comments we have a lot from which we can learn. But from the successes are there any common threads which would be instructive for the United Nations moving forward?

JEAN-MARC COICAUD: I don't want to be gloomy. I may be pessimistic, but I think it is a form of lucidity, because all too often at the United Nations the party line wins the day. Unless you recognize the problems, you are not going to be able to find the solution. So you can decide to live in dreamland, but dreamland can end up being a nightmare for a lot of people on the ground and it ends up being paid for by the blood of thousands and thousands of people. I don't want to be the prophet of gloom, but really unless you are honest about the problems you will never find the solutions.

This being said, the track record shows that in fact the operations which are not envisioning use of force tend to be more successful than the ones dealing with military operations, for the reasons that I mentioned earlier. So if you are able to really marshal the interest and the commitment of member states before a situation degenerates into a conflict, chances are that you are able to really help quite a bit before the war is unfolding.

This is one of the lessons of the peacekeeping operations of the past 15 years. If you are able to really take action before a crisis becomes a conflict, chances are that you can really do a good job. But of course very often a crisis has to become a conflict for member states to pay attention. That's a problem. So it is a catch-22.

In a way, when you think about it, success tends to exist before conflict and after conflict. When you think about Bosnia, I think it was a bit of a mess, if not a total mess, between 1992 and 1995. Once the United States said, "Okay, something has to be done and very quickly," in the spring and summer of 1995 things went okay. Since then, little by little, the Balkans have been put back on track, mainly also with the help of the European Union, which is giving a lot of money and so on.

So especially when there is a strategic interest for member states to invest in the rebuilding of society after conflict, it tends to really encounter success, and pre-conflict.

QUESTIONER: You also mentioned Mozambique. Why was that a success?

JEAN-MARC COICAUD: It seems that when compared for instance to Angola, Mozambique is viewed as a relatively successful operation for the United Nations. I mean it certainly was not the kind of failure that happened in Angola throughout the 1990s, so it is generally viewed as a success. Yet Mozambique remains one of the poorest countries of the world.

QUESTION: You mentioned that nearly every country picks national interest over internationalized interest. I'm just wondering which country didn't pick national interest. I think I can guess who it is, but I'd love to know. And also, which country picked internationalized interest?

JEAN-MARC COICAUD: Very few actually. When I was working for Boutros, he used to describe member states as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That is to say that for him all member states were more states than member states, that is to say more concerned with a narrowly understood national interest than concerned with the internationalized interest. And this is almost natural, I would say.

But of course the implications of this state of affairs are greater for the powerful countries in many ways. So I think that's the state of the world in which we are, partly because the United Nations is not a transnational organization, it's an intergovernmental organization. So it's not about transnationalizing the world. It's about addressing these global problems in an intergovernmental setting.

So the national interest, once again which could be understood in a relatively open and inclusive manner, is always understood in a narrow manner and most of the time wins the day, which in the end is self-defeating—that's what I was trying to say at the end of my presentation—for in the end security is mainly achieved by dovetailing concerns with justice and concerns with security. That's one of the very meanings of the rule of law. I mean the rule of law is about taking care of rights of people, of entities or groups, so that not only are you going to be doing the right thing from an ethical or moral point of view, but you can also achieve security for everyone.

JOANNE MYERS: At this point, we thank Jean-Marc for sharing his reflections and his research.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Read MoreRead Less