Reforms of the UN

A discussion paper on ‘Report of the UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change 

A talk given at Tower Hamlets CND, London - 3 February 2005  - Vijay Mehta



The purpose of this report is to suggest how nations can work together to meet the challenges to peace and security in the 21st century. The report, called ‘A more secure world: Our shared responsibility’, contains recommendations on changes that could be made within the UN system so that it can better address today’s threats and security challenges.


The 60th anniversary of the UN, in 2005, is a fitting occasion to take stock of achievements and failures of the world body. The history of the UN have included some remarkable successes - decolonisation and the ending of apartheid in South Africa, poverty alleviation, protection of rights of children, promotion of democracy, protection of environmental, gender and human rights issues are no small achievements. It has brought humanitarian relief to 20 millions refugees, and a further 110 million are fed per year through World Food Program. It has helped people rebuild countries from ruins of war. UN has maintained peace and order in such diverse places as Cambodia, Mozambique, Cyprus and Kashmir, over 30 years in difficult circumstances. The joint UN programme on HIV/AIDS remains a focal point for global efforts to defeat the spread of AIDS epidemic, while the WHO coordinated the global response to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

At the same token, failures of UN from time to time have been quite stark. The UN has acted unwisely at times and failed to act all together at other times. One need only to think of peacekeeping disasters of Somalia in 1993, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and the "safe areas" in Bosnia in 1994-95. Also UN has passed resolutions ie on Israel – Palestine conflict, Iraq etc. which it had no intention to keep. But the UN at its best is only mirror of the world. It reflects divisions and disagreements as well hopes and convictions. Some times it only muddles through. As Dag Hammerskjold, the UN's second Secretary General, put it, "the UN was not created to take humanity to heaven but save it from hell".

In more recent times, the UN was marginalised when the United States (and its ‘coalition of the willing’) unilaterally attacked Iraq. This prompted Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General, to appoint a 16 member panel of eminent persons to report on threats to international peace and security in the coming century and recommendations on how to deal with them.


Threats to peace and international security- 6 main areas


The report is a comprehensive assessment of the threats faced by all nations and offers recommendations on how the United Nations system should be reformed to meet those threats. It contains 101 recommendations for dealing with the six areas identified by the Panel as being the greatest challenges to worldwide security in the future. The areas are: continued poverty and environmental degradation, terrorism, civil war, conflict between states, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and organized crime.


The report is perhaps the most far-reaching official review of the UN’s role, in particular in the fields of peace and security, since 1945 and the signing the UN Charter. It is a report which is policy driven and member-states need to act urgently if the UN is continue to remain an important player in world affairs. Unlike other UN reports, including the 1992 Agenda for Peace by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, member-states took little action to implement its recommendations.


The report took into account that we live in an interdependent world where the threat agenda cannot be categorised into previous modes of thinking- namely, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ threats. The problems of international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction cannot be adequately solved without dealing with the phenomena of the failure of states often leading to major regional instability and conflicts, and a whole range of issues which have not traditionally been considered as part of the peace and security nexus at all – poverty, environmental degradation, pandemic diseases and the spread of organised crime – to mention the most prominent.


Every one of these threats requires a universal response if it is to be effectively dealt. Only a broad, common agenda provides any hope of mustering such a universal response. As the problems are interrelated, the report reaffirms that a multilateral approach is a key ingredient to solving these global challenges.


The interventions in Kosovo and Iraq highlight the legitimacy of the use of force where no mandate was authorised by the Security Council for going to war. The report concludes that Article 51 of the UN Charter, which recognises the use of force for self-defence, should be ‘neither rewritten nor interpreted.’ It does, however, endorse the emerging norm that there is a ‘responsibility to protect’ where sovereign governments fail to protect their citizens in the event of genocide and wide-scale human rights violations. In such instances, the Security Council may authorise military intervention as a last resort if the decision has been taken collectively.


To stop the risk of countries sliding into chaos, State collapse and becoming a haven for terrorists, a Peacebuilding Commission is recommended to take a proactive approach in preventing future instability. In particular, it seeks to work with national governments to assist the transition from conflict to post-conflict peacebuilding. More advanced systems of prevention are needed to assist developing countries to halt terrorists finding shelter in weak states.



Countering the spread of nuclear weapons and WMDs


The report recognised that the various international rules to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological – were under great strain. A world in which those rules had further eroded would be an infinitely more insecure one if such weapons fall into the hands of terrorists who might have no compunction about using them. To avoid such developments the report recommended a range of urgent actions – to encourage acceptance of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Additional Protocol providing for snap inspections, to increase cooperation between the IAEA and the CWC and the Security Council on the basis of regular reports, to resume negotiations on an intrusive regime of inspection for biological installations, and to prepare for a biological incident or attack.


While the report recognised and firmly endorsed the balance in the nuclear non-proliferation regime between the need to prevent weapons proliferation and the need to respect the right of states to develop their civil nuclear programmes, it considered that the time had come to renew efforts to avoid the development of new capacity for the enrichment of uranium and the separation of spent fuel to extract plutonium given the propensity of these two technologies to provide a short cut to a weapons programme. So it urges the IAEA to negotiate an international system that would enable it to guarantee the provision of enrichment and reprocessing services at market rates and without risk of interruption, to any country in full compliance with their safeguards obligations; and it suggest that, for a limited period, while such a scheme was under negotiation, states should agree to a voluntary moratorium on any new enrichment and reprocessing facilities. In addition to these measures it believes that next year’s review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty provides an opportunity which must not be missed for the accepted nuclear weapons states to give more substance to their arms reduction commitments. And the report recommend that the Security Council undertake to act in any circumstance where a non-nuclear state is attacked or threatened with attack by nuclear weapons.



Tackling ‘soft’ threats alongside ‘hard’ threats


The Panel also realised that to face the threats mentioned so far, the soft threats - poverty, environmental degradation, pandemic disease, organised crime – need also to be part of the main reform agenda. To this end, there is an urgent necessity to complete the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to tackle development. Furthermore, the report stresses the need to substantially increase financial resources to fuel development programmes and to counter AIDS and other pandemic diseases.

As the report makes clear, development and security are inextricably linked. A more secure world is only possible if poor countries are given a real chance to develop. Extreme poverty and infectious diseases threaten many people directly, but they also provide a fertile breeding-ground for other threats, including civil conflict. Even people in rich countries will be more secure if their Governments help poor countries to defeat poverty and disease by meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Consequently, the international community should not only view ‘soft’ threats as part of the development agenda but also be an important component of the peace and security agenda.



Institutional reforms


On an institutional level, the report recommends that the General Assembly needs to be more focussed and less formulaic in its handling of the burning issues of the hour. The Security Council needs to be enlarged. It has set out the criteria which should guide the choice of a wider membership. The report forwards two models, one involving the admission of new permanent members, albeit ones without a power of veto, the other involving the creation of a new category of longer term but still non-permanent members. Both models involve a Council of 24 members; both envisage a review in 2020 of whatever arrangement is agreed. However, no consensus was agreeable on the part of the P5 on the possible abolition of the veto power enjoyed by them for the last 60 years.


Underpinning all this is the need for a stronger, more professional Secretariat and a Secretary-General with more control over his human resources and more authority to switch them from areas of less immediate priority to those which urgently require boosting. The report has recommended the establishment of a second post of Deputy Secretary-General, the new incumbent being devoted to the peace and security agenda and the present one freed up to deal more effectively with the development and administrative agenda. It would like to see a considerable re-structuring of the staff of the Secretariat with a rationalisation of the structure and full advantage taken of forthcoming retirements. It has recommended sixty additional posts to give the new Deputy Secretary-General some analytical capability and to staff a Peace-building Bureau, in particular with experts having field experience.



Criticisms of the report


Whilst the report should be commended for its well balanced analysis of today’s threat to peace and security, there are aspects of the report which fall short to emphasis the importance of certain areas:




Improving international relations


Few would dispute that difficulties the UN is experiencing is related to a deterioration of relations between different member states as well as US- UN relations. Therefore, it is important that all sides show there commitment to using the UN system as the main multilateral organisation for dealing with issues of international peace and security. Since 2000 the Bush Administration has dropped the U.S. government’s support of at least five major UN treaties including the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty and the International Criminal Court.


The Bush Administration’s withdrawal from the ABM treaty in 2002 was the first time a major power has withdrawn from a nuclear treaty after it had become legally binding. North Korea opted out of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty in 2003, citing new U.S. aggression on nuclear weapons. For any of these reforms to work, UN and the world community need to have an enlightened dialogue with US to adopt alternative methods than war to establish peace in the world.



The way forward


It is important to remember that no amount of systemic change at the United Nations will in itself be of much avail if the main protagonists do not re-double their efforts to resolve a number of longrunning, still festering disputes. In that context Palestine, Kashmir and North Korea stand out a mile. There seems to be a new willingness to address all of these issues. But will there be the perseverance and the determination to see them through to a conclusion? On the answer to that question the real value of many parts of the Panel’s agenda will depend.

The Panel recommends that new enthusiasm be directed towards disarmament, and that efforts be made to reduce the supply of nuclear weapons. They also recommend improvements to the enforcement capacity of the Security Council and better public health defenses to combat the threat of biological weapons.

The report is the start, not the end, of a process. The year 2005 will be a crucial opportunity for member states to discuss and build on the recommendations in the report, some of which will be considered by a summit of heads of States. But building a more secure world takes much more than a report or a summit. It will take resources commensurate with the scale of the challenges ahead; commitments that are long-term and sustained; and, most of all, it will take leadership -from within States, and between them.




Recommendations of Nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons disarmament


(as part of the 101 recommendations of the UN High-level Panel Report)



21. The nuclear-weapon States must take several steps to restart disarmament:

(a) They must honour their commitments under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to move towards disarmament and be ready to undertake specific measures in fulfilment of those commitments;

(b) They should reaffirm their previous commitments not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States.


22. The United States and the Russian Federation, other nuclear-weapon States and States not party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons should commit to practical measures to reduce the risk of accidental nuclear war, including, where appropriate, a progressive schedule for de-alerting their strategic nuclear weapons.


23. The Security Council should explicitly pledge to take collective action in response to a nuclear attack or the threat of such attack on a non-nuclear weapon State.


24. Negotiations to resolve regional conflicts should include confidence-building measures and steps towards disarmament.


25. States not party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons should pledge a commitment to non-proliferation and disarmament, demonstrating their commitment by ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and supporting negotiations for a fissile material cut-off treaty, both of which are open to nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon States alike. We recommend that peace efforts in the Middle East and South Asia launch nuclear disarmament talks that could lead to the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones in those regions similar to those established for Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the South Pacific and South-East Asia.


26. All chemical-weapon States should expedite the scheduled destruction of all existing chemical weapons stockpiles by the agreed target date of 2012.


27. States parties to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention should without delay return to negotiations for a credible verification protocol, inviting the active participation of the biotechnology industry.


28. The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should recognize the Model Additional Protocol as today’s standard for IAEA safeguards, and the Security Council should be prepared to act in cases of serious concern over non-compliance with non-proliferation and safeguards standards.


29. Negotiations should be engaged without delay and carried forward to an early conclusion on an arrangement, based on the existing provisions of Articles III and IX of the IAEA statute, which would enable IAEA to act as a guarantor for the supply of fissile material to civilian nuclear users.


30. While that arrangement is being negotiated, States should, without surrendering the right under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to construct uranium enrichment and reprocessing facilities, voluntarily institute a time-limited moratorium on the construction of any further such facilities, with a commitment to the moratorium matched by a guarantee of the supply of fissile materials by the current suppliers at market rates.


31. All States should be encouraged to join the voluntary Proliferation Security Initiative.


32. A State’s notice of withdrawal from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons should prompt immediate verification of its compliance with the Treaty, if necessary mandated by the Security Council. The IAEA Board of Governors should resolve that, in the event of violations, all assistance provided by IAEA should be withdrawn.


33. The proposed timeline for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative to convert highly enriched uranium reactors and reduce HEU stockpiles should be halved from 10 to five years.


34. States parties to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention should negotiate a new bio-security protocol to classify dangerous biological agents and establish binding international standards for the export of such agents.


35. The Conference on Disarmament should move without further delay to negotiate a verifiable fissile material cut-off treaty that, on a designated schedule, ends the production of highly enriched uranium for non-weapon as well as weapons purposes.


36. The Directors-General of IAEA and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should be invited by the Security Council to report to it twice-yearly on the status of safeguards and verification processes, as well as on any serious concerns they have which might fall short of an actual breach of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Chemical Weapons Convention.


37. The Security Council should consult with the Director-General of the World Health Organization to establish the necessary procedures for working together in the event of a suspicious or overwhelming outbreak of infectious disease.