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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
95/03/20 SPEECH: T. WIRTH ON THE UN AND THE NEXT 50 YEARS
UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS
TIMOTHY E. WIRTH
MARCH 20, 1995
"THE UNITED NATIONS AND THE NEXT FIFTY YEARS"
Good evening. I am delighted to be here. In this age of too much
information and too little wisdom, institutions and events that truly
educate are rare. This university and this timely and ambitious forum
qualify on both counts.
This is a time of profound change for our country and the world.
Indeed, change is all around us: in the angry election results of last
fall, in the altered nature of geopolitics in the post-Cold War era, and
in the relationship between human beings and the natural world.
We face a range of unfamiliar challenges in a world itself so
unfamiliar as to be nearly unrecognizable. We are grappling today with
a set of novel concerns in the uncertain setting of inescapable,
disorienting, fast-forward global change.
Unquestionably, we must alter many of the assumptions and
definitions of national security. The changes and the choices that the
United States and the world community now confront are every bit as
demanding as those we have known since 1945. The nature, diversity and
speed with which the new challenges proliferate dictate a serious
rethinking, a new understanding of the meaning and nature of national
security and of the role of nation-states in meeting new tests and
forging a better world.
Last year, President Clinton delivered a far reaching foreign
policy address to the United Nations General Assembly. The United
States is working to deal effectively with the realities of the Post-
Cold War world. In short, what combination of policy initiatives will
replace containment, the successful and overarching priority that has
dominated our policy for the last 45 years?
The President outlined three central themes:
-- Nuclear Non-Proliferation; and
-- Trade and Sustainable Development.
These three broad umbrellas cover the essential elements of
American foreign policy, and will guide us in our deliberations and
expenditures in the coming months and years.
The first two, peacekeeping and nuclear non-proliferation, have
received the most attention in the media, and most closely resemble more
traditional diplomatic and military definitions of national security.
Less conventional is the high priority that the Clinton
Administration gives to trade and sustainable development --
increasingly important elements of national security and prosperity, for
the U.S. and for all nations.
Familiar is the emergence of the global economy -- increased
trade, market economics, technology cooperation, international financial
flows, intellectual property rights -- a centerpiece of the
Administration's successful global leadership.
Less familiar is a package of global issues that demand our
attention, and for which the world also looks to the United States for
The international drug trade is one example -- ruining the lives
and robbing the future of young people the world over. The prevalence
of narcotics has emerged as a major threat to civil societies in the
great cities of the North and the rural villages of Africa, Latin
America and Southeast Asia.
Terrorism that can strike as easily in New York as in New Dehli is
also a matter of common security. Resulting in part from rising
nationalist and religious pressures, targeted small-scale terrorist
attacks can fragment civil society, undermine the rule of law, globalize
local conflicts and breed hatred and hostility.
More subtle and perhaps most profound is the emerging crisis of
global environmental decline. The multifaceted assault on the global
commons is surely compromising global security and prosperity by slowly
degrading our planet's life support systems.
The loss of land and soils stretches our ability to provide food
in support of even today's population, and the destruction continues at
an alarming rate. The increased carbon content of the atmosphere is a
barometer of how man is altering his world on a global scale. The
decimation of forests and species around the world is not only a loss of
our inherited genetic promise, but also a dereliction of our duty as
stewards of God's creation.
Like environmental pollution, transnational health concerns
respect no border. AIDS, unknown a decade ago, holds the seeds of a
public health disaster as devastating as the plagues of the Middle Ages.
Central to these concerns is the spiral of population growth. If,
every 10 years, we go on adding a China's worth of human beings to the
planet, the human population will triple from today's 5.5 to almost 15
billion by the end of the next century. To stand by and let that happen
would be to condemn not just nature but humanity as well. Uncontrolled
population growth will doom every hope of economic progress in the
developing world, every humanitarian endeavor.
Common to all of these dangerous trends -- rising population and
drug use, the degradation of international law and environmental
stability -- is that they are simultaneously pulling the world together
and pushing it apart.
The forces of integration and disintegration can be characterized
as pressures up and pressures down. The pressure down comes from the
grassroots, where local networks of environmentalists, democrats, and
NGOs are proliferating the world over. For example, the stars of the
Earth Summit in Rio were not governments but environmental NGOs.
Women's groups from around the world dominated the organization and
agenda of the UN Human Rights Conference in Vienna, the Cairo Population
Conference last fall and the Social Summit of two weeks ago. We need to
nurture these forces as we seek to weld larger structures that cross
familiar borders and power centers.
Up because solution can be found not only in national action and
traditional bilateral diplomacy, but also in strengthened cooperative,
multilateral endeavor. Initiatives and solutions, like the problems
themselves, must transcend national boundaries, and will depend on
strengthening existing international institutions, and building new
In a more interdependent world, where global issues help define
our common purpose, we will be tested to adapt our approaches and
institutions. The persistent and perplexing nature of cross-cutting
global issues demonstrates that safety no longer lies in wealth or power
alone. Long-term leadership relies on forging cooperation among all
The assertion still made by some that America can isolate itself
from the world has become not simply a faulty political strategy; it is
absurd. If America is going to progress, we have to be able to act in
concert with others, not instead of, but in addition to, acting alone.
In some circles, multilateralism is a politically incorrect term. As a
word, it's probably not the best: it's got too many syllables; it has a
little Latin in it; and it ends in i-s-m. But whether we call it
burdensharing, cooperation, teamwork, partnership or anything else, in
the modern world, we've got to work with others if we're going to do
In every region of the world, we see examples of men and women
pushing back the limits of past possibility, rising above historic
resentments, insecurities and limitations. From Central Europe to
Central America, from Southeast Asia to South Africa, we see the release
of new and positive energies nurtured by freedom and dedicated to the
But as the daily headlines remind us, there are perilous
crosscurrents at work:
-- In Rwanda and the Balkans, we have witnessed atrocities of a
magnitude matched only rarely this century.
-- In too many regions, the exploitation of ethnic and cultural
divisions is fostering instability, strangling growth, slowing reforms
and forcing innocent families from their homes.
-- transnational criminal enterprises thrive where national
governments are complicit or weak.
-- The demographic center of gravity is shifting towards what we
have traditionally called the less developed world.
-- And the gap between rich and poor among and within nations
continues to grow.
These facts challenge, but should not daunt us. Our task is to
cope with immediate needs while assembling the building blocks required
for long term progress. In this endeavor, there is no sure recipe for
success. No model is without flaws. A broad and continuing
international discussion aimed at establishing a working consensus and
partnership on global issues is required. The Administration will
continue to contribute its own ideas; and we will continue to listen
with care to the ideas of others.
Fortunately, the tides of history have given us an incredible
opportunity to re-energize the United Nations and to build other
structures and arrangements that will make the world safer, freer and
more prosperous for generations to come.
The UN right now is flush with reform proposals. This gathering
is intended to contribute to these deliberations about reform -- and it
promises to offer some cogent insights that will help guide us in our
work, both within the government and in the larger civil society that is
increasingly looking for the UN to play a more useful role in meeting
the world's needs.
As a way of moving that discussion forward, let me outline tonight
some of the steps that we believe can and should be taken at the UN or
with UN participation to advance the interlocking goals of peace,
prosperity and democracy in the global era.
First, we must persist in efforts to make UN peacekeeping amore
effective instrument of collective security. The dawn of this era was
accompanied by great expectations; the Berlin Wall had been torn down,
the Gulf war had been won, democratic principles were ascendant and old
enmities in the Middle East and elsewhere seemed to be softening.
President Bush envisioned a "new world order"; there was an upsurge of
enthusiasm for the UN, where the number and ambition of peace operations
soared. So the question arises: after so many years in the wings, why
was the UN pushed so quickly to center stage?
The obvious cause was that the big powers were finally cooperating
in the Security Council which made the authorization of peace operations
possible. But there was another reason, and that is the weariness we
all felt with Cold War sacrifice. The costs of that struggle were
astronomical. We fared better than our adversaries, but still we
emerged saddled with debt and with a list of long neglected domestic
With the end of the Cold War, we saw in the UN the promise of a
relatively inexpensive and risk free solution to the challenge of
maintaining world order.
Confidence was bolstered by the early successes of UN peacekeepers
in Namibia and El Salvador. By January, 1993, President Bush was
the UN...(is) emerging as a central instrument for the prevention and
resolution of conflicts and the preservation of peace.
The Clinton Administration took office sharing this view . What
we have seen since is neither success nor failure, but rather a mixed
set of outcomes. An astonishing transition to democracy in Cambodia. A
peace agreement and subsequent demobilization in Mozambique. Hundreds
of thousands of lives saved in Somalia, but a long term outlook that
remains grim. A heroic humanitarian effort in Bosnia, but in
circumstances that remain tragic and unsatisfying. The evidence of the
past three years is that peacekeepers can accomplish much where the
local parties have grown weary of war; but they will have great
difficulty where one or more of the factions remains more interested in
conquest than co-existence.
This limitation -- which is partly inherent in the UN and partly
correctable -- has caused some to want to give up on UN peacekeeping
altogether. A bill recently passed by the House of Representatives
would do just that. In Secretary Christopher's words, it would leave us
with an unacceptable choice whenever a crisis arose -- a choice between
acting alone or doing nothing. If such a bill were to become law, we
could expect the sudden withdrawal of peacekeepers from such tinderboxes
as Cyprus, India-Pakistan, the Middle East and Bosnia; greater chance of
humanitarian catastrophe in Africa; and an end to international
monitoring of Russian peacekeepers in the former Soviet Union.
Despite all this, one Senate leader said recently that he
"wondered from time to time" whether there was any point in having a UN;
and "I don't think we're going to lose a lot if they drop peacekeeping."
What are we to make of such comments? They have to be taken
seriously because if these attitudes prevail, American leadership at the
UN will end. And yet, I suspect such thoughts are the product less of
reflection, than frustration. In places like Bosnia and Rwanda, the UN
has struggled with little success to do what member states are unwilling
to do. Consequently, the UN has often become an easy scapegoat in a
Such frustrations are not unique to our era. After World War II,
many Americans thought of the newly-created UN as something it could
never be--an absolute guarantor of peace. And when the UN failed to
prevent the Korean War, it was condemned by many as useless.
Today, we are confronted with many conflicts that Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili has described as
falling into "that netherworld between war and peace where the lines
between diplomacy and force are intermingled and...muddled."
Few of these conflicts are as clear as Iraq's invasion of Kuwait -
- where the aggression was overt, the stakes included oil and the
possibility of a madman equipped with nuclear arms, the military terrain
was favorable, the enemy was isolated, the finest armed forces in the
world -- ours -- were fully engaged, and the bills were being paid by
somebody else. Most threats to stability are not so clear, and are
usually even more complex:
-- violence caused not by international aggression, but by civil war;
-- fragile ceasefires that do not hold;
-- extremist political movements within strategic states;
-- or ethnic fighting that spills unpredictably across national lines.
There is no simple remedy for such outbreaks and certainly none
that come without cost. The UN is no panacea, but neither is NATO, nor
unilateral action, nor inaction. The right prescription for the ills of
UN peacekeeping is not to call for the services of Dr. Kevorkian, but
rather to administer sound treatment--to make this tool the best it can
Such treatment is in our interests, for when America acts
unilaterally, we bear all the costs and risks. When the UN acts, the
great majority of the costs and the lion's share of the risks are borne
by others (moreover, we have asked the hard questions about the fair
share of U.S. contributions to peacekeeping, and have taken steps to
reduce our rate of assessment to 25 percent from the current 30
Furthermore, the lessons of the last three years are being
learned. At U.S. insistence, the Security Council now ensures that
tough questions about the cost, size, risk, mandate, and duration of a
peacekeeping mission are answered satisfactorily before one is started
or renewed. Our goal is to make certain that UN operations have clear
and realistic objectives, that peacekeepers are equipped properly, that
money is not wasted, and that an endpoint to UN action can be
identified. The policy is working, has resulted in fewer and smaller
new operations, and better management of existing ones.
For all their limitations, UN peace operations have proven their
ability, in the right circumstances, to separate adversaries, maintain
ceasefires, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian relief, enable
refugees and displaced persons to return home, demobilize combatants and
create conditions under which political reconciliation may occur and
free elections may be held. Contrary to some of the political rhetoric,
there is a long list of successful UN operations -- successful in
keeping the peace, calming down the participants, striving toward
reconciliation -- all better solutions to more or greater conflict:
In many cases, these have also helped to nurture new democracies;
lower the global tide of refugees; and prevent small wars from growing
into larger conflicts which would be far more costly in lives, treasure
Opponents of American participation and leadership in the UN
should understand that when we weaken the UN, we weaken ourselves. An
effective UN provides an indispensable, additional option for pursuing
objectives important to us, objectives we might otherwise not be able to
obtain as easily or at all. This is true not only of peacekeeping, but
of other UN actions.
Which brings me to a second area where multilateral action is
needed: arms control and disarmament. Here again examples illustrate
the importance of having the option of combining American leadership
with cooperative international action:
-- international agreement on the indefinite extension of the Nuclear
non-Proliferation Treaty makes us all more secure;
-- a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would help to ensure the safety of
our world while eliminating some future threats to the environment;
-- and emerging agreements on restraining the production and sale of
land mines are urgently needed -- millions of the these mindless weapons
threaten innocent civilians, especially children, all over the world.
We are more secure, and our children have the opportunity for a
happier future through such international agreements limiting arms
development and proliferation.
A third area where international cooperation is being strengthened
is in broadening and deepening support for democracy, human rights and
justice. These are interlocking goals and our support for them--both
politically and financially--is a vital component of preventive
It is refreshing, therefore, to see the United Nations finally
begin to emerge as more than an instrument of governments, but as a
voice for individual dignity and freedom. In 1993, we fulfilled Eleanor
Roosevelt's dream by creating a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
We have taken the lead in supporting war crimes tribunals for former
Yugoslavia and Rwanda. And in places as diverse as Cambodia, El
Salvador, Mozambique and South Africa, UN peacekeeping or observer
missions have helped countries long ground down by repression and strife
begin the transition to democracy.
We will be working to improve the functioning of the UN's human
rights machinery. We want to ensure that the new High Commissioner has
the resources to carry out his mandate. The UN Human Rights Commission
-- which just concluded its 51st session about two weeks ago -- needs to
shorten and focus its agenda to address real problems more fully and
avoid time-consuming rhetorical and political grand-standing. We've
made some suggestions along these lines, and will continue to push them
as opportunities arise. The credibility as well as the efficiency of
the Commission can be advanced by progress in achieving these goals.
A fourth objective must be to move ahead on sustainable
development in all its aspects, the lofty proposition that was the basis
of the ambitious foundation set forth at the Earth Summit, held in Rio
in 1992. The Earth Summit was designed to and succeeded in integrating
economic development, environmental protection and needed social
institutions into a single conceptual framework.
Sustainable development fundamentally means that the economies of
the world, including our own, should attempt to meet the needs of
today's generation without compromising or stealing from future
generations. Understood and pursued, the idea of sustainable
development can integrate and harmonize powerful economic, environmental
and social forces at work in today's world. It is a concept rooted in
recognition of the mutually reinforcing nature of economic and
The Preamble to the UN Charter defined one of the UN's purposes as
"...to promote social progress and better standards of living in larger
freedom." Perhaps more than anything else, achieving sustainable
development may distinguish the UN's next 50 years most sharply from its
first half century.
Sustainable development should be the organizing principle for the
economic and social aspects of the UN system's deliberations and
actions, which today flow through a broad array of institutions,
-- assistance programs, such as the UN Development Program (UNDP), the
UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and the
Office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR);
-- specialized agencies and programs like the UN Environment Program
(UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International
Labor Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and
-- technical agencies like the International Maritime Organization
(IMO), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and the
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
All of these efforts are meant to operate under the guidance of
the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), a body designed to be for
social, economic and development issues what the Security Council has
been for issues of international politics, arms control and
peacekeeping. But ECOSOC has been notably weak compared to the Security
Council, and must be strengthened and streamlined; this leads to our
fifth and final concern for the UN: Institutional Renewal and Reform.
The Cold War impacted the UN as it did most international
deliberations. During most of the life of the UN, the competition
between the superpowers created two competing ideologies, economic
systems and social organizations; those countries who wished to stay on
the sidelines remained at least nominally non-aligned. So the UN became
an institution of three major power blocs: East, West and non-aligned.
The resulting paralysis harmed both the image and the reality of
the international system. The UN emerged from that era tainted by
politics and weighed down by bad habits and old divisions. Just as any
government, industry or university confronted by change must modernize,
and become more efficient and accountable, so must the UN.
The first words of the UN Charter are not "We the governments";
they are "We the peoples of the United Nations". The UN's real
constituency is not heads of state; not diplomats; not even
international lawyers -- it is teachers, factory workers, farmers,
businessmen, professionals, working mothers and children from the most
remote village to the greatest metropolis; they are what the UN
experiment is all about; it is their futures that are at risk when the
UN acts or fails to act; it is their sons and daughters that are sent --
sometimes into grave danger -- to keep the peace; and it is they who pay
With that in mind, the Administration is playing a leading role in
strengthening the United Nations and the UN system. We applaud the
creation of a new office with the functions of Inspector General. We
support strongly the reform agenda of the new Under Secretary General
We are working to establish a high level review of past reform
recommendations for the purpose of developing a strategy for
implementing the best of those recommendations during the first of the
UN's second fifty years. We are exploring options for consolidating UN
agencies and functions in accordance with the principles of the
Administration's own "reinventing government" initiative. And we urge
that the UN follow the recommendations of its Secretary General, who
suggested that as we near the end of a string of conferences (the Earth
Summit, the 1993 Vienna Human Rights meeting, the 1994 Cairo Conference
on Population, and the 1995 Social Summit), the rich body of ideas that
emerged as consensus recommendations must be synthesized, costed and
prioritized. We have also advocated the development of a set of common
indicators, so that countries can measure themselves against the
documents they signed, and so that people all over the world can hold
their governments accountable for what they agreed to do.
Accountability can be uncomfortable, but it is essential and must become
a more powerful dynamic of the UN system.
We should bear in mind that in this era of plentiful emergencies
and limited resources, efficiency has a human face. At the UN, funds
saved through better management, less duplication and less waste are
funds available to care for children, return refugees to their homes and
help communities to build or rebuild for the future. Member states have
a responsibility to work with the Secretary General and his staff to
guarantee that the resources contributed to the UN are used wisely and
We will soon begin the UN's second half century. Today, more than
ever before, we have the chance to help this organization fulfill its
promise. We need not confine ourselves to the cramped horizons of past
accomplishment. The new UN has the potential to move far beyond the old
in preserving peace, limiting the transfer of deadly arms, promoting
democracy, defending human rights, encouraging sustainable economic
growth, preventing disease and increasing respect for law.
Former Secretary General Hammarskjold once said that we should
"stop thinking of the UN as a weird Picasso abstraction and see it as a
drawing (we) made ourselves."
In the months ahead, we are going to face some important choices.
By "we", I mean all of us--governments, multilateral institutions,
NGO's, the private sector. We must choose how we will organize
ourselves now that the Cold War structure is gone. Will we have a set
of standards and expectations that will bring us together in shared
effort and common hope? Or will we allow ourselves to be divided, with
an ever-narrowing vision and a focus always on the short term?
I, for one, am looking forward to the coming debate, in the U.S.
Congress and on the broader world stage. I believe, with Guyanese
statesman Sir Shridath Ramphal:
that there is a spirit of human solidarity stirring in the world; that
many are ready to show by example that they care about their neighbor
and recognize that their neighbor now is everyone on earth; that a
younger generation, in particular, demands to be heard in the cause of
Let us do all we can to summon that spirit of solidarity forward,
and to transform it into a mighty force reaffirming basic principles,
re-inventing institutions, rejecting excuses, building consensus and
embracing the future.
Thank you very much.
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