Back to Common Ground Archive

UN 2000

Program 9634
August 20, 1996


Maurice Bertrand, former member,
UN Joint Inspection Unit

Fredrik Wilhelm Breitenstein, Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN

Annette des Iles, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Trinadad and
Tobago to the UN

Edward C. Luck, President Emeritus and
Senior Policy Adviser, UNA-USA

Charles William Maynes, Editor, Foreign Policy

C.S.M. Mselle, Chairman, Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary
Questions, UN

Prakash Shah, Permanent Representative of India to the UN

John Weston, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the UN

Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo, Permanent Representative of Spain to the UN

Edwin Smith, Professor of Law,
University of Southern California

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

EDWARD C. LUCK: The United Nations in the 21st century has to do what it has done in the
latter part half of the 20th century, only better.

KEITH PORTER: The United Nations and the 21st century on this edition of Common

CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: Just as governments are decentralizing functions, moving power
down, the United Nations has to do that as well. It has to do that in a way that preserves the
institution, which is already quite weak.

PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape
events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.

The United Nations faces financial trouble nearly every month and political trouble nearly every
day. These distractions make it very difficult for people in or near the system to think in
larger terms about how the organization should look in the coming century. Today on Common
, we try to break through the day-to-day crisis as nearly a dozen UN experts and
representatives share with us their vision of a United Nations well prepared for the coming

JUAN ANTONIO YANEZ-BARNUEVO: First of all, it should continue to be universal. I think it
is all important that the United Nations encompasses all the countries in the world.

PORTER: This is Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo, the ambassador of Spain to the United

YANEZ-BARNUEVO: Second, there should be more involvement of the peoples, not just the
governments, be it through parliaments or through representative associations, nongovernmental
organizations, and the like. It means that the United Nations will still be an organization of
states and governments, but with much more participation, active participation, by citizens of
the world.

And third, a United Nations that is more responsive to problems that concern the people of the

PRAKASH SHAH: I think the United Nations should be an organization in which the
membership works together in a spirit of partnership that transcends individual, political,
economic, or other national agendas.

PORTER: Prakash Shah is the ambassador of India to the United Nations.

SHAH: The important thing for the United Nations to be is not a super organization that
can solve every problem in the world. The important thing is that it is an organization that
commands the respect across geographical divides and across ideological divides, so that issues
on which all humanity is concerned, which is described as a global issue, can be tackled
cooperatively by the United Nations.

FREDRIK BREITENSTEIN: I would like first of all to see its financing secured, predictable
financing at a sufficient level. It does not need to be very high, because you can do an awful
lot with less money in fact.

PORTER: This if Fredrik Breitenstein, ambassador of Finland to the United Nations.

BREITENSTEIN: Then I would like to see it become a modern organization, which can respond
to tomorrow’s agenda not yesterday’s agenda or even today’s [agenda]. But we must organize the
United Nations so it can take up issues that are important and relevant to the future.

CONRAD MSELLE: I would like to see a United Nations which is democratic, where every
nation in the world participates equally and harmoniously.

PORTER: Conrad Mselle is chairman of the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and
Budgetary Questions.

MSELLE: I would like to see a United Nations which is involved in promoting peace,
development, and human rights. I would like to see a United Nations which addresses all the
global issues which its individual member states are incapable of addressing. I would like to see
a United Nations which has the full confidence of all member states, big and small. And I would
like to see a United Nations which provides security and promotes security for everyone of us.
This is the kind of United Nations I would like to see for the 21st century.

MAURICE BERTRAND: I would like to see a global organization really dealing with problems
of security.

PORTER: This is Maurice Bertrand, a former member of the UN Joint Inspection Unit and
author of several books and reports on the UN system.

BERTRAND: If there is one priority, it is the problem of peace. The United Nations has
been created for peace. Now the United Nations is not able to deal with the security problems, so
in the 21st century I would like to really see an organization able to deal with the problems of
security, which means that we would have a Security Council that would be representative of the
main actors, the main powers, but also of the rest of the world’s regional representation.

This council will be preoccupied by the prevention of conflicts, not humanitarian affairs or
intervention in conflicts which have already occurred. And for the prevention of conflict, there
is a lot of work to be done. The United Nations is not doing it at present. Some other
organizations are trying to, but the United Nations is not doing it. So we have a big difference
between the reality (which is needed) that it is a security organization and the present
organization, which is not really dealing with the problems of security.

MAYNES: I think you have to look at the institution in terms of different functions.

PORTER: Charles William Maynes is editor and chief of the journal Foreign Policy.

MAYNES: In the security field, I think that what we need is a decentralized system. The
role of the United Nations would be at the global level to help stimulate, empower, and
strengthen regional organizations. So that basically the various regions could take care of
themselves in terms of the kinds of operations that we have seen in places like Bosnia, Rwanda,
and Somalia. The role of the United Nations at the global level of the security field would be to
assist in the disarmament process to provide monitors and inspectors for global arms control
agreements and mediating services.

I think that is a system, if we could ever construct it, that would have greater stability than
the one that we have now. In the economic field, the role of the United Nations would be to
monitor the international system, basically to provide a red alert when there are food shortages
or epidemics that are threatening the international system. Once again, the goal should be to try
to decentralize the system, to get power down in the hands of people who can really use it. The
role of the United Nations would be to provide more information on best practices, to help
governments come up with development plans that they themselves could implement. In other words,
the United Nations would not be a top-down organization channeling resources from one region of
the world to another.

JOHN WESTON: The United Nations in the 21st century is going to have the same basic
objectives set out in the charter. They are peace, human rights, social progress, and
international law. But it’s going to have a much sharper focus on some aspects of these

PORTER: This is John Weston, ambassador of the United Kingdom to the United Nations.

WESTON: I am thinking of the conflict prevention field, sustainable development, and what
I call the big issues of planet survival. The other thing it is going to have, at least it
certainly is going to need, is a much wider underlying political support from us, the peoples.

EDWIN SMITH: I would really think that it is appropriate for the United Nations to begin
to evolve away from an organization tied exclusively to the governments of member states.

PORTER: Edwin Smith is a professor of law in international relations at the University of
Southern California.

SMITH: The number of players who are active in and formally involved in the
decision-making processes of the United Nations should be broader. The entities engaged should be
different. You should have nongovernmental organizations and maybe even groups of governments.
But there should be a richer, more democratic participation in the decision making of the United

I would also think that the United Nations ought to develop more systematic ways of regularizing
its relationships with other international organizations or other entities that can serve the
purposes that the United Nations needs to have served. The United Nations can provide legitimacy
to some of these groups that are doing things like providing humanitarian relief or engaging in
peacekeeping. At the same time, the United Nations ought to be able to supervise, review, and
when necessary provide some limitations on what these organizations may try to do in the name of
the United Nations.

PORTER: When you talk about a group that is more diversified in this makeup, not
necessarily tied to nation-states, are there any examples out there of other organizations that
are structured that way?

SMITH: There are a number of organizations that, even within the UN system, when you
start looking at what is evolving in arenas… actually the oldest organization to have done this
is the International Labor Organization (ILO). Since the end of World War I, the ILO has had
membership delegations made up of government representatives, business representatives, and labor
movement representatives. For each of the member states of the ILO the delegation had to be a
three-party delegation, including more than just government players. So that in each country you
had to have a consensus between business, labor, and government to reach the country’s position
on issues before the ILO. That’s one way of accomplishing it. But I would like to have more
opportunity for nongovernmental organizations, determined with responsibility and systematic
contribution kept in mind, to participate in governmental processes within all levels of the
United Nations organization.

LUCK: The United Nations in the 21st century has to do what it has done in the latter
half of the 20th century, only better.

PORTER: This is Ed Luck, he is president emeritus and senior policy adviser at the United
Nations Association of the United Nations Association of the United States of America.

LUCK: It has to remain a forum where all the countries of the world can gather to decide
their priorities and define areas of common action. Those areas were changed from time to time,
but the important thing now is that that process work. It is a place where everyone can come
together. The second, the organization has to continue to expand the scope and reach of
international law. Whether it is the issue of human rights, democracy, or questions of the way
governments treat their people. It is very important that the organization continue to stand for
international law and order and that continue to expand. Third, the organization has to be an
operational organization in areas where it has comparative advantage, where there aren’t regional
organizations or nonstate actors or individual member states who can do a better job.

Those areas are going to change from time to time. Right now in the humanitarian
area—peacekeeping and election and arms control monitoring—there are areas where the United
Nations has a special expertise, or because it represents all the countries of the world it has
special legitimacy. The problem is that right now it is trying to do too many things and be too
many things for too many people. It does not have the resources to do that. So it has got to slim
down. It has to do a much better job of making choices.

There is a temptation in the organization to agree to everything and try to be all things. That
it has to resist. It needs decision-making processes that are more focused and can better deliver
a shorter and more doable list of priorities.

ANNETTE DES ILES: I should like to see the United Nations of the 21st century become an
effective world organization that will make a real difference to the world of the 21st century
and that can be seen to make that difference.

PORTER: Annette des Iles is the ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations.

DES ILES: I should like to see a United Nations that has the backing and support of the
governments and peoples the organization is intended to serve. We need a world body to help us
ensure that we can live in a peaceful, stable, and secure world. We need a universal body to
protect and promote human rights. And we need a world body that can help to provide better
standards of living and a better quality of life for people everywhere.

PORTER: We are talking in this edition of Common Ground about how the United
Nations could be improved to face the challenges of the 21st century. Printed transcripts and
audiocassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details.
Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization
that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world

Thus far, each of our guests has described their vision of the United Nations as we face the year
2000 and beyond. Now they lay out the concrete steps necessary to carry out this vision. First,
Prakash Shah, the ambassador from India.

SHAH: Instead of focusing on the divisions, instead of focusing on the differences
through sort of categorization such as the north and the south or the east and the west, we need
to look at issues. We need to try and forge a consensus on issues that concern everybody. In my
view, these issues will continue to change depending on the dynamics of the international

If you look at those issues today, you will find that there is a large degree of concern in
addition to economic and social issues on such issues that threaten peace and security. For
example, dreaded is a drug-trafficking environment and nuclear disarmament. Because these are
issues that are no longer confined to individual countries nor do they recognize any borders, nor
do they recognize any ideologies.

YANEZ-BARNUEVO: What is needed above all are more demands on the part of society.

PORTER: Again, Spanish ambassador Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo.

YANEZ-BARNUEVO: This is not something that should be done by governmental representatives
cut off from the rest of society, on the contrary. There should be a lot of transparency and a
lot of demands and push by the civil society in all our member states.

BREITENSTEIN: I think the first step definitely would have to be to secure the financial
base of the organization. Before that is done it is almost meaningless to look at any other

PORTER: Fredrik Breitenstein is the ambassador of Finland to the United Nations.

BREITENSTEIN: The time has come to build stronger support among people. There is stronger
support, but that support must be translated so that the politicians and governments feel that
they ought to respond to that support, which is there among the general public but not
articulated enough today.

MSELLE: There are a number of steps that need to be taken.

PORTER: This is Conrad Mselle, chairman of the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative
and Budgetary Questions.

MSELLE: Member states should agree to provide adequate financial resources to the
organization. Secondly, member states should agree on the kind of programs that should be
performed by the United Nations in order to achieve the kind of goals that I have outlined.

BERTRAND: A first step would be to organize through the NGOs, through the various people
we are concerned with a real research team about this problem of prevention.

PORTER: Again, Maurice Bertrand, a former member of the UN Joint Inspection Unit.

BERTRAND: For the moment there is a complete confusion about what is prevention. The
United Nations still believes that prevention is preventive diplomacy, which means acting on the
actors of the conflict when it is too late to bring them to the negotiation table. Now many
organizations, which is really curious—not only the OCS (Organization for Cooperation and
Security) in Europe but the OECD—are development organizations.

The European Union is really reflecting now on the mythology of the prevention of conflict by
acting on the situations which lead to conflict. I believe that if the United Nations and the
people who are interested could be persuaded of making a lot of research in this field and
proposing the solutions to reach it, it would be possible to act on situations leading to
conflict that will make a major step in the right direction.

MAYNES: The first thing we need is a basic understanding of where we are heading. We do
not have that right now.

PORTER: This is Foreign Policy editor, Charles William Maynes.

MAYNES: Just as governments are decentralizing functions, moving power down, the United
Nations has to do that as well. But it has to do it in a way that preserves the institution,
which is already quite weak.

SMITH: The process that we are undertaking right now in the ESC (Economic and Social
Council) is to figure out how to more specifically incorporate the opinions of nongovernmental

PORTER: Professor Edwin Smith is from the University of Southern California.

SMITH: Now they credit nongovernmental organizations, and they are allowing
non-governmental organizations to observe. But there ought to be more systematic ways of having
them involved in the taking of positions by the Economic and Social Council. That is the next
obvious step, to have that done.

DES ILES: Let me just mention a few things that I think will be needed if we want to have
a strong United Nations in the 21st century.

PORTER: This is Annette des Iles, the ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago to the United

DES ILES: First of all, I think we need greater clarity of purpose—what it is we want to
do with the United Nations and the political and security field, the human rights field, the
environment field, and the socioeconomic field. We need political commitment. Here I think we can
not overstress the commitment we need from the United States of America in today’s world. We need
good leadership. Here the rule of the secretary-general is terribly important. We need a well
motivated and properly equipped secretariat. Finally, and most important, we need to be assured
of the financial resources that are needed to do the job.

LUCK: The first thing one has to do is to pick a secretary-general who will provide real
leadership for the organization. Now whether that is Boutros Ghali for a second term or someone
else, I don’t know. But that’s a really critical decision. It is being made this year. That
decision will last into the 21st century for the next five years. There is very little public
discussion. There is even relatively little discussion among member states about who that should
be and how that process should operate.

PORTER: Again, Ed Luck of the United Nations Association of the United States.

LUCK: You need the secretary-general on one hand to be the conscious of humanity and to
be a spokesperson for goals and objectives that unite all countries, and not just a few. On the
other hand, you need someone who is going to be more of a manager than we have had to date, who
is going to demand efficiency and effectiveness. It seems to me the United Nations ought to stand
for excellence in everything that it does. So it has to set its standards high despite the
financial crisis, despite the current problems that it is going through, and recognize that no
time soon is it going to be reinvented. It’s here to stay. It’s a place that we have to work on
day to day to make the reform process better. It is not going to have a beginning and an end.
Every organization should be reviewed, reassessed, and restructured, year by year. Something has
to be worked on continually.

One of the things that has to be done now is to instill within the organization a process of
continual reevaluation, and not just on the surface but in a fairly deep kind of a way. The
United Nations presumably will always be the United Nations. It will have both the advantages and
disadvantages of being an organization with all the member states. But it does seem to me that
this universality could be handled much more efficiently than it has in recent years.

PORTER: One last question. Because of your organization or because of your position in
your organization, the United Nations Association of the US, what is it that Americans can do to
influence the actions that might lead us down this path that you have suggested?

LUCK: I think from the very beginning the United States has exercised leadership in the
very creation of the United Nations. Americans, whether in the government or private citizens,
have given much of the vision, many of the ideas, and much of the inspiration to the
organization. Much of that has stemmed from a sense of idealism. I think that is something we
must not lose. We must recognize that we should aim high both in our standards as a nation and
for the United Nations itself. So I hope Americans continue to approach the United Nations with a
sense of idealism and a sense of a positive agenda and wanting to do something that will unite
member states and not simply seek unilateral advantage. If we do that, and we don’t approach the
reform of the United Nations from a negative way, simply trying to slim down and cut back and
stop abuses, but in fact have a positive agenda at the United Nations, I think that will have a
very major effect on other member states, because they do look to the United States. They resent
American power, but they know that they need it. They need the power of ideas, as well as the
power of purse and the power of our military.

WESTON: So we are going to need reinvigorated leadership. That means the United States,
which after all was the progenitor of the United Nations in the first place. But also from the
secretary-general, whoever he or she may be.

PORTER: John Weston is the British ambassador to the United Nations.

WESTON: On that basis we can go forward to reform the financial base of the United
Nations, to enlarge the Security Council and to tidy up and render more effective the whole
economic and social and develop dimension of the UN’s work. So then, with assured finances and a
better organized resource space and taking advantage of the great leaps forward that the
information technology revolution will make possible, I think that the aim I have described is
indeed attainable.

Let me just add one footnote. Perhaps it is not for me as a non-American to say this to
predominately American audiences, but I do hope all those Americans out there who are proud of
what the United Nations has accomplished over the last 50 years will continue to back very loudly
the continuation of the United Nations into the 21st century. It is terribly important that if
they do feel the UN matters, as many of us who are your friends and allies elsewhere in the world
feel, that people should talk to their parliamentarians, media, and colleagues, and let that be
known. So that we can be taking decisions and you can be taking decisions through your government
on the basis of real information about what people on the ground think.

The charter starts with the words “We the peoples…” If the people don’t make themselves known
on this subject, how can the politicians get it right?

PORTER: That was John Weston, ambassador of the United Kingdom to the United Nations.

For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security