H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, arrived in Brazil yesterday at the invitation of the Brazilian Government to attend a one-day seminar titled “Turning Point: Emerging Structures of Global Governance” to be held on Thursday, 22 April, 2010. The seminar’s purpose was to highlight the increasing interdependence of the world and the need for global governance, explore the current global governance mechanisms and identify possible areas for future improvement. The Concept Note for the seminar, circulated by the Government of Brazil, suggested that the period between the global financial crisis in September of 2008 and the difficult climate change talks in Copenhagen in December of 2009 represented a turning point for global governance, and prompted a widespread recognition that the old structures were no longer adequate to the need. Invitees to the conference included academics, politicians and diplomats.
Ambassador Tanin was asked to deliver the keynote address during the seminar’s working lunch, where he began with a brief overview of recent trends in global governance, the founding of the United Nations, and the attempts of the last few decades to reform the Security Council. He highlighted the unique legitimacy and legality of the United Nations as a body of global governance and argued for the necessity of reforming the UN, and the UN Security Council in particular, rather than turning to less inclusive forums. The Security Council, as the only global body dedicated to the maintenance of peace and security, and the only body whose decisions are binding on all 192 Member States of the UN, is unlike any other international body. He concluded by saying, “…If the last decade has taught us anything it is that the perceived legitimacy of power is now nearly as important as the power itself. In the sphere of international peace and security, the Security Council remains the only source of that legitimacy. This must be preserved, or we risk returning to the law of the jungle.” Ambassador Tanin’s statement was followed by an extensive debate.
Ambassador Tanin will return to New York on Saturday, 24 April.
Keynote address of H.E. Zahir Tanin
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan
To the United Nations
At the Seminar “Turning Point: Emerging Systems for Global Governance”
22 April 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here today. I want to thank the Government of Brazil for extending me the invitation to participate in this seminar. In particular, I would like to thank Minister Amorim, Minister Guimarães, Professor Garcia, and Mr. Rothkopf for their thought-provoking comments this morning. On a personal note, it is a great moment to be in Brazil, because later this year Afghanistan will open its first embassy here, and I look forward to a bright future of close relations between our two countries.
Ladies and gentlemen,
No nation chooses to put national interest second to the good of all. This is not a criticism; to the contrary, when governments do their jobs properly, they fight, above all else, for the wellbeing of their people. But it creates a central paradox in international relations. Though we all recognize the necessity of international agreements governing the global sphere, these agreements are at the mercy of national interests which are concerned more with local needs than with international stability.
This paradox means that global governance mechanisms are frequently toothless and devoid of enforcement measures, both practically and legally. Even when the agreements are widely seen to be necessary, self-interest and domestic political pressures frequently prove stronger than the perceived benefit of an agreement. Peoples are particularly reluctant to sacrifice visible comfort or convenience without equally visible returns. As a result, we often find ourselves caught up in empty rhetoric and unable to encourage tangible cooperation. Even when a political agreement can be found, the resulting decisions may be bluntly ignored by states at little cost when compliance is inconvenient.
However, to paraphrase the French scientist Blaise Pascal, if justice without force is powerless, force without justice is tyrannical.
International politics have always been governed by the law of the jungle: rule by the strongest. But none of us would be here if we didn’t also recognize that our self-interest can no longer be divorced from the interests of our fellow nations. Despite the difficulty in forging or enforcing agreements, the alternative would be unilateral action on the part of powerful states, enforcing their decrees by military or political force. Even those who have such power now recognize that this would be an unsustainable option. The world is far too interconnected for one state, no matter how powerful, to act alone without far-reaching repercussions. Frustrations, the difficulties and the inefficiency notwithstanding, global agreements have become necessary for the smooth functioning of the international system.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Recognition of the need for global cooperation is by no means unprecedented. It was precisely this recognition that underpinned the establishment of the United Nations after the Second World War. When fifty nations gathered in San Francisco in 1945, it was to address the growing interdependence of the world and the mutual responsibilities of nations to their people and to each other. Together, they built an Organization that aimed to prevent conflict and to inspire mutual trust and respect among nations and between peoples.
Of course, the world has continued to evolve since 1945. Decolonization and self-determination have created a new map, shaped by imperialism and the fight against it. A global economy now binds us even more closely together, developed and developing worlds alike. Conflict and instability no longer recognize national boundaries but affect entire regions and can span the globe. Non-state actors and regional organizations play a large and growing role in both the political and economic spheres. The hierarchy of power that bound the world together in 1945 has changed dramatically, with new powers rising and old powers finding new ways to engage with one another.
As the world has changed, the landscape of global governance structures has changed as well. Formal institutions like the UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions, created in the middle of the 20th century, have been joined by the WTO, the ICC and other organizations with more specific spheres of influence. Dozens of regional and trans-regional organizations address a range of issues from security to economic cooperation. Lobbying and voting blocs like NAM and the G77 represent particular global interest groups. In addition, new, more informal and thus more flexible decision-making groups have evolved to address targeted issues where no formal decision-making bodies exist. The G7/8 and G20 are perhaps the best examples of these.
Despite this proliferation of global governance mechanisms, the United Nations is still the only international body that can claim to represent all nations on earth; that aspires to grant each nation equal voice and equal sovereignty. Member States, in ratifying the Charter, commit themselves to respect the rule of law and the sovereignty of their fellow nations. The Organization as a whole enjoys a legitimacy unparalleled in the international arena. And the Security Council, as the organ responsible for the maintenance of international security, is the only such body whose decisions have full force of law over Member States.
Today we are entering a new era in global governance. Recent events, including the global financial crisis, have made our need for collective governance even more painfully clear. At the same time, recent setbacks such as the stalling of the Doha trade round and the difficult climate change talks in Copenhagen have also highlighted the challenges we face in finding innovative ways to inspire and encourage cooperation.
The United Nations has struggled to adapt to these new realities. The very solidity and legitimacy of its foundation makes it resistant to change, and the breadth and scope of its activities means that any reform has far-reaching consequences. And yet, despite the institutional inertia, reform efforts have begun. UN processes aimed at revitalizing and empowering the General Assembly, reforming the Secretariat, encouraging system-wide coherence and institutional efficiency, and reviewing and reforming peacekeeping operations, have been ongoing for years and have seen some modest success. New bodies like the Peacebuilding Commission and the new Human Rights Council have been created in the past years and are now entering their first review phase. Discussions on UN-led environmental governance efforts are ongoing. But perhaps most important, and most complex, are efforts to reform the United Nations Security Council.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Efforts to reform the UN Security Council began almost as soon as the Charter was signed. In 1965, the eleven-member Council was expanded to the current fifteen to account for the growing membership of the UN. Since then, the composition of the Council has not changed: we have five permanent members, whose concurring vote is needed for all Security Council resolutions, as well as for Charter amendments, and ten non-permanent members selected from the five regional groups, who are elected for two-year terms.
In the early 1990s, as new economic and political powers emerged, efforts to further reform the Council began with the creation of an Open-Ended Working Group to explore the issue. Two major drives for reform have occurred since then: the first, in 1997, when the facilitator of the group proposed a possible three-stage solution; the second in 2005, when Secretary-General Kofi Annan undertook a comprehensive review of the UN system with a view to promoting ambitious and sweeping reforms, including reform of the Security Council. Both efforts failed. In between, the Open-Ended Working Group oversaw years of endless discussions.
Our current reform attempt, which was mandated by a decision taken in September of 2008, tries a new approach: intergovernmental negotiations. These negotiations represent a long-needed break with the repetitive OEWG and the best opportunity for real reform that we have seen in decades. As the Chair of this process, I would like to take this opportunity to look at the efforts to reform the Security Council, and the attitudes of Member States towards this reform, in the context of our larger debate about global governance.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The need for reform of the Security Council is universally agreed upon, though the principles and details of reform are the subject of intense debate. Some feel that the current structure’s lack of representivity is a real threat to its legitimacy, while others feel that the long-term legitimacy of the Council is guaranteed by the UN Charter. Some feel that the decision-making process, even more than the membership of the Council, lacks transparency and effectiveness. Others are concerned that the Security Council supports a power structure that is no longer reflective of current geopolitical realities. Though the proposed reform options vary widely, there is a large and increasingly vocal majority who feel that the continued effectiveness of the Council is threatened by its current composition.
Perhaps as a result, Member States are now increasingly demonstrating an intense engagement in the process. Since the beginning of these intergovernmental negotiations last February, the Member States have gone through four rounds of negotiations, looking at each of the five key issues of reform both separately and together – categories, veto, regional representation, size and working methods, and relationship between the Security Council and the GA. In this time Member States have shown the desire to push for a real reform.
As I stand here today, we are reaching an historic moment in these negotiations. The fifth round, which will begin shortly, will be based on a negotiation text that reflects the positions and proposals of Member States. Member States all agreed on the need for a text and all expressed readiness to engage in this process. What remains to be seen is whether the membership has the political will, and the flexibility, to rise above their immediate national concerns to recognize the long-term consequences of failure. A solution is both possible and necessary, both for the strength of the United Nations as an institution and for the continued viability of our current system of global governance.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Security Council is unique among global governance mechanisms. As a body mandated to make legally binding decisions, the Security Council both directly and indirectly affects the national interests of all 192 UN Member States. As the only international body responsible for maintaining international peace and security, the Security Council deals with the most intractable and contentious issues in the world. It is crucial that Member States feel a stake in the Council’s decisions and that these decisions are widely, if not universally, implemented.
The Security Council must be reformed. No other body has the legal standing to tackle the most difficult issues of the day, and no other body has enough legitimacy to demand that its decisions are implemented. If we are unable to achieve this reform, we run the risk that some will turn to other less inclusive mechanisms to preserve peace and stability in the world, sidestepping the rule of law and the principles of fairness and sovereign equality of nations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
None of us are naïve enough to believe that relative power has become irrelevant in international relations. Lack of coercive enforcement mechanisms can mean that international agreements reinforce the political weight of strong nations, who are able to enforce their decisions through bilateral or multilateral political pressure. This will not change in the near future. But if the last decade has taught us anything it is that the perceived legitimacy of power is now nearly as important as the power itself. In the sphere of international peace and security, the Security Council remains the only source of that legitimacy. This must be preserved, or we risk returning to the law of the jungle.