Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2023
Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2023
Interview / Global

UN Reform Failure

BBC: (beginning of the question is missing) …the body which made several recommendations on ways to reform the UN. Opportunity missed these last couple of days?

Gareth Evans: Absolutely, this depressing parade of clichés hasn’t concealed the reality that this has been a hugely disappointing week for those of us who saw this as the opportunity for really a major leap forward in bringing the UN into an environment of contemporary relevance, not only in terms of the poverty and development agenda, but also the whole security agenda and its own internal management.

It struck out I’m afraid on most of those fronts. A couple of bits of very good news: the "responsibility to protect" issue, on the genocide, crimes against humanity, intervention and limitations on state sovereignty front; and good news on the development of the new peace building commission to fill a huge gap in the institutional armoury.

But apart from that, pretty desolate terrain.

What went wrong? Was it just the usual infighting and factionalism?

Part of the problem was that state capitals -- country capitals -- never really took the responsibility for this process. They left it up to the diplomats in New York, who basically are a bit of a piranha pool most comfortable when they’re tearing flesh off each other and not necessary devoted to the larger international weal.

That’s a terrible generalization, I know, but it is the case that if you combine the cast of characters there permanently in New York with the principle of consensus, saying that  nothing should ever be brought to a vote, you do have a recipe for the worst kind of lowest common denominator outcomes.

That’s what happened. On the two or three issues where some capitals really weighed in, some Prime Ministers really weighed in, like the Canadian Prime Minister, for example, on the responsibility to protect issue, you did get a result.

And I think that if that kind of political leadership had been shown much earlier on, we would have had a much more substantive outcome than has proved to be the case.

Terrorism seems to have hijacked the agenda…

Well again there is a terrible parade of clichés about terrorism. We’re all against it like sin. But what we needed out of this Summit was something new, an agreed definition that whatever else might be covered by the concept, violence against civilians or other non-combatants for political purposes was absolutely forbidden and to be regarded as outlawed in the 21st century, as piracy and slavery were in the 19th. That’s what we need and that’s what we didn’t get.

We can talk about a new convention but that doesn’t matter because we have lots of conventions. What we don’t have is the moral norm, the moral imperative coming out of this Summit.

Gareth Evans, thank you.

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