Sunday, June 22, 2003
United Nations: Reform - 22nd June 2003, 17.28

A reform programme in the United Nations was already underway before the shock of 9/11, but it was limited to the more visible demonstrations of failure, such as peacekeeping. After the divisions in the Security Council before the Iraqi war led to a critical questioning of the UN's role, the issue of reform has been dormant, awaiting the stirrings of one of the permanent members. The tensions that underlie any reform programme stem from the ambiguous role of the United States: how far it is willing to support the United Nations or how far it prefers the contemporary arrangements, where division has promoted irrelevance.

The Foreign Office has set out an agenda for reform that attempts to resolve the problems, identified by US critics, and restructure the Security Council in recognition of post Cold War shifts in geopolitics. Bill Rammell, in his opening speech at Chatham House, during a seminar on UN reform, explained,

1. A consensus on the requirements for legitimating intervention on humanitarian or security grounds (and, presumably, removing the need for a resolution in every case).

Just as there is an ongoing discussion of the principles under which we intervene in states on humanitarian grounds, we also need to re-examine the principles under which we intervene to tackle global threats more widely. What are the circumstances in which we can agree that multilateral intervention to prevent proliferation of WMD or international terrorism is justified? Iraq, where I believe we were right to intervene, demonstrated never the less that we do not have a consensus on this issue. We should seek, if possible, to establish one, and I hope that today's discussion can take that forward.

2. Restructuring the Security Council.

We want to see all the regions of the world represented by permanent members of the Security Council. But at the moment there is no agreement and no consensus within the United Nations on future reform.

3. Reforming the procedures of the General Assembly.

4. Reforming the UN Secretariat and Conferences.

One of the Secretary General's key recommendations we need to face up to is the need to do away with outdated UN activity. Some of the UN's existing programmes and activities are redundant, no longer serve their original purpose or provide valuable output.

However there is a general consensus that we need to ensure that the agreements that come out of these events [conferences] are implemented. That is a challenge, there are questions - but they should not just be talking shops, they should be followed up by concrete actions.

The Foreign Office may have a number of motives for championing UN reform. Calls for reform have begun to appear in the last month from Canada, Australia and Russia. Britain recognises that the issue will be addressed at some point in the near future and would prefer to obtain a 'first mover advantage' that sets an agenda, incorporating US criticisms, whilst ensuring that the reform programme is not hijacked by those who would wish to use it in order to raise their profile with developing countries. In other words, they wish to head off both the Americans and the French.

However, any reforms that do not acquire the support or enthusiasm of the United States will not be implemented. Given that the energies of the Bush administration lie elsewhere, reform is unlikely to be debated in the near future.


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