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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
95/03/28 SPEECH: D. BENNET ON U.N. 50TH ANNIVERSARY
BUREAU OF INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AFFAIRS
(prepared for delivery)
Douglas J. Bennet, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State
for International Organization Affairs
Conference on the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations
Institute for the Study of Diplomacy
Georgetown University -- Washington, D.C.
March 28, 1995
Thank you, I am delighted to be here.
According to the letter I received from Professor Yost, our assignment
is to draw together the threads of the UN's next half century--
development, human rights, collective security and multilateral action--
and assess their capacity to serve as the basis for future prosperity
and peace. That is a daunting task.
I begin with this truth.
The need for vigorous, trusted, forward-looking mechanisms for
multilateral action is so real, so undeniable, so essential to the
quality of all our lives that we will meet that need.
Although the United Nations is not the only such mechanism; it is the
most important. It is universal; it has global legitimacy; it is
relevant to the central concerns of citizens from Georgetown to Jakarta;
and in the United States, it enjoys broad public support. According to
a recent Times Mirror poll, 84% of Americans want to strengthen the UN.
Why, then, the recent outbreak of reactionary, isolationist rhetoric in
Congress? And why did the House of Representatives pass a bill that
would kill UN peacekeeping?
We live in an era of porous borders, instant communications and
relentless change. There is a primal impulse to curl up and pull the
covers over our heads. And a temptation to blame our anxieties on
others--of another party, race, ethnic group or country.
The current tantrum will wear itself out, hopefully before too much
gratuitous damage is done. Meanwhile, we need faith to sustain us.
Walter Lippman wrote once that a person with faith can confront
martyrdom without flinching; those lacking it are lost when not invited
I do not invite you to martyrdom; and this Conference does not include
dinner for any of us; but I do invite you to a reaffirmation of faith:
-- Faith that, indeed, our combined efforts in support of development,
human rights and collective security will make this a safer, freer and
more prosperous world.
-- Faith that the Charter of the United Nations--the Contract among all
peoples of the world--will stand long after other, lesser contracts have
-- And faith that we can cope with the realities of this transforming
world, provided only that we are pragmatic enough to face those
realities, and creative enough to harness them to our purposes.
Nor are these articles of faith in any way at odds with reality:
We know that technology, capital flows and communications have
integrated the world economy; that open markets are replacing statism
and that a global free trading system is in prospect.
We know there is a growing consensus--forged in large measure under UN
auspices--on key developmental goals; family planning, the empowerment
of women, debt reduction, and the need for cooperation between
industrialized and less-industrialized countries.
We know that citizens everywhere are becoming conscious of the impact
that events elsewhere have on their lives. They are demanding results
from their leaders that national governments, acting alone, cannot
A final reality is that much of our multilateral machinery does not work
very well: too often, institutions are looked to by governments for
patronage and politics--not results; and too many national and
international bureaucrats confuse meetings and memos with
Our challenge is to connect our faith with the new reality; and to build
multinational arrangements that work.
But work to what end? Here is where the threads mentioned by Professor
Yost and discussed throughout this conference come together.
Development, peace and respect for human dignity are inter-twined.
Democracy reinforces peace; peace aids development; and development is a
friend to democracy because its absence breeds instability and conflict.
Let's take these objectives one at a time. First, development.
Here, the challenge is far different than fifty years ago--or twenty--or
ten. The world is multi-polar, energized by democracy, free markets and
free trade and awash in enterprise, ideas and information.
In development, as elsewhere, those who are succeeding are first
adapting. External assistance is being matched by internal energy and
reform. Markets are opening, investments are welcomed and corruption is
curbed. Once-marginalized segments of the population are gaining
greater access to economic and political life. And the lessons of Rio
are being heeded; strategies for growth are more sustainable and focused
on the long term.
The Clinton Administration has taken the lead in expanding trade and
supporting economic systems that are decentralized and free. We have
faced down the protectionist pressures that are inevitable, but deadly.
We have restored American credibility on the environment, in the
broadest sense of that term. And we have made the case strongly that
development anywhere will encourage growth everywhere, for the global
economy can be an ever-expanding pie.
What is the UN's role? How will we measure its success in development
over the next fifty years? Clearly, it will be more catalyst than
agent; more coordinator than implementer; a wide-ranging forum where
priorities are debated and consensus goals are hammered out. It can
report on progress made, fill gaps, share information and advocate the
fullest possible development of human resources, without discrimination
and without neglect.
To fulfill these tasks well, the UN's social and economic structure will
require revitalization and some consolidation. UN members must be clear
about objectives and focused on results.
The same is true with United Nations peacekeeping. Here, our task is
not to develop a means for ensuring absolute collective security; that
is a pipedream. Our task is to develop a system that works when you
expect it to work, and often enough to be useful; with peace operations
that don't go on forever, don't cost too much, don't risk lives
unnecessarily and do give peoples wracked by conflict a chance to get
back on their feet.
This is realistic, necessary and happening.
Since 1990, UN peacekeeping has gone from a standing start to an around-
the-clock organization that is more integrated, professional and capable
and that has been getting results. It has shown the ability, under the
right conditions, to nurture new democracies; demobilize rival factions;
maintain ceasefires; facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and
lower the global tide of refugees. Even where it has been
unable to fulfill ambitious mandates, as in Somalia and Bosnia, it has
saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
As a leading member of the Security Council, the United States
acknowledges that, in some circumstances, our strategies will be
limited. If local factions are intent on killing one another, there may
be times we will have no realistic choice but to step aside. When that
is not acceptable, and the use of decisive force is required, we will
doubtless have to turn, at times, to individual countries acting alone
or in coalition. This is consistent with the UN Charter, which
recognizes the inherent right of self-defense, cites the role of
regional organizations in maintaining peace and urges member states to
assist in carrying out Security Council decisions.
The era of UN Peacekeeping was greeted with expectations that were too
great; predictions of its imminent death also are premature. The
Secretary General has identified correctly the three pillars needed for
a workable system--consistent response--which we are developing;
adequate human and financial resources--which the world has, but won't
always commit; and sustained political will.
The elements are there. We are making progress and can make more. We
can build arrangements that will cause aggressors to think twice; and
strengthen the hand of conciliators over cutthroats time after time.
Such a system would provide the international community with an option
between major power intervention and doing nothing when emergencies
arise; and it would allocate broadly and fairly the burden of
maintaining world order.
Looking ahead, we can predict with confidence that unpredictable and
dangerous conflicts will continue to arise, in response to which we will
need a full range of diplomatic, political and military tools. If we
are wise, United Nations peacekeeping will be prominent among those
tools--providing true value--for decades to come.
The third thread referred to in Professor Yost's letter was human
rights. I talked earlier about the importance of faith. The UN Charter
reaffirms "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth
of the human person, (and) in the equal rights of men and women."
For decades, UN efforts in this field were crippled by Cold War
divisions. More recently, the climate has changed and so have the
Within the past five years, a UN-appointed Truth Commission has helped
El Salvador bind the wounds of a bitter civil war. War Crimes Tribunals
have been established for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia. UN human rights
monitors helped expose the brutality of Haiti's former military leaders.
A UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was created. The right of women
to participate fully and equally in society, and to be protected from
officially-sanctioned abuse, has been placed high on the global agenda.
And the UN has played a major role in transitions to democracy in places
as diverse as Namibia, Cambodia, South Africa, El Salvador and
These efforts contribute to development and reduce conflict; they
reflect the kind of preventive diplomacy that is often discussed, but
insufficiently practiced; and they are a product both of geopolitical
trends favorable to democracy and of technological forces that make
political barbarism more visible, and political barbarians more
In this decade of democracy, the Clinton Administration is unabashed in
its support for human rights and human freedom, whether in the
Caribbean, the former Soviet Union, Central Europe or Africa, where 26
countries have had multiparty elections since 1989 and a dozen more will
in the next two years.
In 1993, in Vienna, the world community reaffirmed its commitment to the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are some who suggest that,
for reasons of tradition or culture, some societies or regions are not
well-suited to democracy and should not be expected to live up to global
standards on human rights. We agree that every society is different and
that democracy must find its roots internally. But we are inflexible on
one point: there is no reason of history, ideology, religion, law or
culture that justifies the theft of human dignity; there is no rationale
for torture, rape, abduction or murder by the forces of any faction or
As we contemplate the future, the horrors of the recent past--in Rwanda,
the Balkans and elsewhere--restrain optimism about higher standards of
respect for human dignity. We draw strength, however, from knowing that
the United Nations, although not able to transform human character,
provides a bully pulpit for its better side.
With the Cold War behind us, we have an unprecedented opportunity to
shape a world of open societies and open markets--a more peaceful,
democratic and prosperous world in which our own people will thrive.
But we cannot do this on our own.
Isolationist tantrums aside, we have no alternative but to find the
means of working together if we are to deliver to our children and to
theirs a civilization worthy of the name. No nation alone, no matter
how powerful, can preserve the peace, expand economic opportunity,
ensure a healthy environment, contain epidemic disease, prevent weapons
of mass destruction from falling into the wrong hands, or safeguard its
citizens against drugs, terror and crime.
The UN has been around for fifty years. There is no conceivable
scenario for the next fifty in which U.S. interests will not best be
served by a healthy UN--a meaningful political forum, an instrument that
can help keep the peace, and an entity that affirms human rights and
other standards on a global basis.
There is nothing ideological or partisan about the need to build a UN
that will succeed in these times. Security, prosperity and dignity are
three threads of one cord; they reinforce each other; and they depend on
the depth of our own faith not in institutions, but in ourselves.
I cannot look ahead fifty years. Although I hope, by then, the O.J.
Simpson trial will have ended. But I can tell you that if we take
responsibility, reaffirm basic principles, reject excuses, and harness
the realities of this exciting new era, we can build a future that
reflects not our fears, but our cherished aspirations.
In that effort, we all have a role.
Thank you very much.
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