CAIN: Democratic Dialogue: New Order? International models of peace and reconciliation (Report No. 9)

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New Order?

International models of peace and reconciliation

Globalism, security and human rights

Cedric Thornberry

Nine years ago, in a dusty little desert town, the United Nations began an independence and peacekeeping process in a huge, beautiful, sand-blown country at the far end of Africa, still at that time mostly called South West Africa but to others known by its modern name, Namibia. For the UN, it was the finale to 50 years of diplomatic dispute with South Africa; for the people of Namibia, the end of a hundred years of vicious, sometimes genocidal, always repressive, colonialism - to which, in later days, had been added the modern obscenity of apartheid. It was the UN's first return to Africa since the operations in the Congo in the early 60s which, however successful, had split the organisation, driven it almost into bankruptcy, and claimed the life of its most luminous secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjold.

We, who had participated in the last arduous decade of negotiations for this independence process, were aware that we were witnessing something momentous, and that the cold war was drifting to its end. But we could scarcely believe the signals saying that we were about to reap the first harvest of a new international environment. Within a week we would be sitting with the old antagonists - the Soviet Union, the US, Cuba, Angola and South Africa - combining to salvage the Namibian process from a sudden heartbreaking emergency that had engulfed us on the first day.

The working relationship became increasingly close as we dismantled the consequences in southern Africa of the cold war's rivalries. Mutual confidence grew, helping South Africa itself to take the dramatic decision to abandon apartheid, accept majority rule and rejoin the world. As Namibia voted, in the November of that annus mirabilis, 1989 - with vast determination, in resoundingly free and fair elections -7,000 miles away the people of Berlin tore down their monstrous Wall. Within weeks, Mandela was freed from Robben Island. Simultaneously, eastern Europe began methodically to smash its chains.

Do you remember the exultancy of those days? How humanity itself seemed newly-empowered, with the long-dormant principles of the UN Charter at last about to be vindicated, and human rights enthroned, worldwide? It seemed universally decreed that we were, indeed, members one of another, and that a New World Order would descend upon us like manna in the wilderness.

Optimism was especially rife here, in Europe, and seemed to have solid foundations. Rapid progress was made towards democracy and human rights protection across almost the whole continent, backstopped by the maturing European institutions - especially the Strasbourg-based bodies having at their heart the European Convention on Human Rights-and, strangely, by NATO, which had never been tested. But swords would be beaten into ploughshares - if not immediately, then, for certain, by the end of next week.

What has happened since then? Have there been long strides towards greater international cooperation and security, and more effective systems for the protection of human rights, both national and international?

As the barriers fell in Europe, historians remained sceptical. Eric Hobsbawm, in his history of the 'short 20th century', The Age of Extremes,[1] recalled that history showed that many years of international chaos and instability inevitably followed the crash of great empires such as the former Soviet Union. He contended that we were passing through a confused and structure-less period of modern history, at the end of the most murderous and genocidal century ever recorded - despite having more co-operative institutions than ever before, and despite the progress of human rights. In Juno and the Paycock, Sean O'Casey's Joxer Daly had, of course, put it more succinctly, rather earlier: "The whole world's in a powerful state of chassis."

It is a paradox that, at this time of increasing 'globalisation' we should also be seeing pressures towards regionalism. But cerebral malaria and the ebola virus do not confine themselves within the boundaries of Africa; nor does the fallout from the gyrations of the Hong Kong dollar remain in eastern Asia; the hole in the ozone layer will soon be the hole in everybody's ozone layer; intercontinental missiles are, by title and definition, no respecters of regional boundaries. And as our world shrinks in all fields - in communications, health, the environment, economics, human movement and migration, military strategy and security - we find 'ethnicity' resurgent. It has seemed strongest where it has been longest repressed - whether in former Yugoslavia or elsewhere in the Balkans, or in the republics of the former Soviet Union. Even in Britain, the Scots and Welsh are to have their national parliaments.

But what does 'ethnicity' mean, for these purposes? In some instances it means little more than 'regionalism' - which should, of course, not be confused with parochialism. 'Ethnicity' is, however, often a shorthand for longstanding historical, religious and cultural differences. It would have taken a lot sharper eye than mine to detect - other than by dress - Croats, Moslems and Serbs in Bosnia. And one cannot, with any seriousness, assert that there are frequent ethnic differences between us variegated Celts currently resident at the northern end of this island, after so many millennia of Scots-Irish-Anglo-Saxon-Nordic miscegenation and mass migration.

I say this with confidence, though a British soldier once told me that he could not only tell the difference at sight between a Protestant and a Catholic - he could also distinguish, at two metres, between a Catholic sandwich and a Protestant sandwich.

We in Europe, perplexed by recent outbursts of 'ethnic' savagery in our midst, should remember that the divisiveness of exaggerated ethnic consciousness, and incitement to hatred of one's neighbour who has some marginal ethnic or cultural difference, has been one of the major concerns of many states emerging from colonialism during the past 50 years. The Swedish International Peace Research Institute, which charts conflicts throughout the world, has found that over 90 per cent in the last decade have been within-not between-states, and that virtually all have had an ethnic foundation.

Despite this, it has been and remains one of our civilisation's defining principles that people of different cultures and backgrounds should be able to live secure and fulfilled lives within the boundaries of a single state. My luminous and very distinguished Irish predecessor at the UN, Conor Cruise O'Brien, is one of the analysts who have said that the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland have been based on vast cultural and historical differences, which tend to be unbridgeable, and have created two nations. An analogy would be between the peoples of ex-Yugoslavia.

I wonder about this. Having seen something of the start of the current phase of the 'troubles', have they not, instead, been mainly driven and fuelled by the claim to equal rights, equal human rights? I merely wonder; I do not contend. (But it would be interesting to see if Dr O'Brien's thesis, that we are two nations, would withstand modern DNA testing ...)

Is one of the reasons for the emphasis now being given to regional co-operation that the global environment, with people and customs so different from our own, is pressing more and more closely upon us? Are we feeling an especially urgent need to stabilise and solidify our own locality? Are we looking not only at Isolationist America, but also Fortress Europe? Regionalism has both virtues and weaknesses, and should usually be seen as a building block. The existing international architecture is both global and regional. As mentioned earlier, there are some signs that the global framework is being weakened at this time, just a few years after such high expectations had been placed in it, and despite the dramatic pace of globalisation. Let us first look at the present condition of the United Nations.

In 1990, hopes were unrealistically high. Many believed that the UN's Security Council, after decades of near-impotence because of confrontation between the superpowers, would at last function as intended by the charter's draftsmen-namely, as the instrument of universal collective security in the world. The success of the UN's Namibia operation, it was thought, had shown the world what international co-operation could achieve when the Permanent Members (the 'p5') stood squarely behind the secretary-general and whatever mandate the council might have given him.

A very successful UN election supervision in Nicaragua followed, confirming a UN-led engagement of the five central American presidents in a peace process ending a generation of misery and conflicts - a peace process that, today, remains successful. Then came Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which was confronted by a unanimous international community and a Security Council that mandated a coalition of the willing, under US leadership, to eject the aggressors, by force if necessary - leading to the remarkable Desert Storm operation. Desert Storm not only achieved its goals: it marked, in 1991, a unique degree of consensus among states, and probably the high point of UN authority in the post-cold-war era.

While the UN's Cambodia operation in 1992-93-intended to achieve nation-building, democracy and an act of genuine national self-determination - was successful up to a point, it had an over-ambitious mandate, having regard to local conditions and the limited resources and political support available to it. Other proposed UN operations of the time, such as the still unfulfilled peace plan for western Sahara, began to show a dangerous drift away from reality, induced by the widespread euphoria. For the UN, the years 1992-94 were near-cataclysmic.

In several regions of the world, the ending of superpower rivalry and proxy wars meant the creation of power vacuums, which outsiders were reluctant to fill. Such reluctance stemmed from the conviction that electorates above all wanted the 'peace dividend' brought about by the end of the cold war; while some governments felt that they must now concentrate on creating stable, market-based societies, with an end to foreign adventures. There were others who believed that their peoples wanted them to exercise military strength in various parts of the world, but only if nobody on their side got hurt. Thus, with no one any longer sitting on the lid of Pandora's box to hold it down, conflicts which had seethed for years spilled out and ignited in Afghanistan, Angola, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and Yugoslavia.

Governments began coming to the UN with grandiose mandates, while, for the most part, impressively refusing to provide the resources required for their implementation - it was apparently for the secretary-general to magic them into existence. Nor, one should add, had the UN Secretariat, called upon to direct and service many complex operations, a sufficient managerial capacity. For more than 40 years the secretariat, unable because of the cold war to carry out the often operational tasks foreseen in the charter, had instead become the world's experts at organising and servicing inter-governmental meetings, negotiations and conferences.

During 1992-94, while I was head of civil affairs for the UN in its peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, we had about 50 Security Council resolutions and presidential statements. Many enlarged our mandate, but few provided the resources necessary to carry it out. A number did not even enjoy the agreement of the parties. It was not long before we realised that governments did not know what to do in Yugoslavia; or, if they did know, did not want to face the probable consequences in terms of casualties and loss of domestic political popularity.

The depth of frustration among the leaders of UNPROFOR was profound, and it was little wonder that a Belgian general, in charge of our military operations around Sarajevo - after taking constant shrill criticism from governments and the western press for failing to do what he had neither the mandate nor the resources to do - said in his resignation statement that he no longer even bothered to read the resolutions of the Security Council: "They don't concern me", he said. Such UN dysfunctionalism amongst the council, the secretariat and the field was also seen in Angola, where the support given to a UN peacekeeping mission with far-reaching and complex tasks in a huge country racked by a 20-year civil war was ludicrously inadequate.

Successive secretaries-general were, of course, familiar with the idea that the only problems that were dumped into the UN's lap were the insoluble ones: if a solution was possible there would be innumerable would-be governmental peacemakers. But in the early years of this decade some governments wanted to use the UN as the scapegoat for their inaction, rather than as a constructive instrument of the international community. Events in Somalia, especially in 1993-95 brought further discredit upon the UN, especially in the US, some of whose troops were killed during an ill-advised American punitive action in Mogadishu which took place under the nominal authority of the UN and brought about massive Somali civilian casualties.

The Canadian general Romeo Dallaire recently gave evidence to the war crimes tribunal, sitting at Arusha in Tanzania, concerning the inadequacy of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda at the beginning of the genocide there - despite the warnings that had been sent to the secretary-general and the Security Council. It was not elevating testimony, suggesting, as it did, that the genocide that claimed so many hundreds of thousands of victims could have been prevented had the UN had more presence in the country - and that it did not have more troops there because governments were not willing, until the massacres were shown on their television networks, to make any serious commitment.

Relations between the UN and the US have remained delicate, as we again saw with Kofi Annan's visit, in the teeth of the guns, to Baghdad, and the US has failed to meet its financial obligations to the organisation for several years. In the 80s, its default had been led by the administration; now, it is Congress that declines to pay Debts to the UN stand at around two billion US dollars - far more than the UN's annual budget - and if the situation is not remedied by the autumn the US, owing a billion, is liable under the charter to be deprived of its vote in the General Assembly. It is a wretched situation and all friends of the US and of the UN must hope and work for its early resolution, because no one gains from it, and it is becoming a chronic disease.

States - and the Americans are only the largest, not the only, defaulters - must adjust to the idea that they have to meet their legal obligations in full and on time. No organisation can long survive what the UN has undergone financially in recent years.

In the 80s, the chiefs of administration of the UN - including the current secretary-general, Kofi Annan, then head of personnel, used to gather for our weekly Friday meeting with the under-secretary, now the president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari. The agenda's first item, almost every week, was whether there was any way we could avoid closing the building at the end of the afternoon, sending everybody home and turning out the lights in UN offices and peacekeeping operations throughout the world-as we were technically bankrupt and could not even pay the electricity bills, because governments were failing to meet their assessed contributions. It was only through creative accounting, winked at by the auditors, that the organisation survived the 80s.

For all the fine speeches by princes and presidents and premiers, failure to meet the responsibilities they have themselves voluntarily incurred corrupts the very basis of obligation in international law and makes a mockery of the effectiveness of the international bodies they have created. It is a question of commitment, a matter of whether they are serious.

Thus, the UN's effectiveness is, at present, sadly undermined. It would have the greatest difficulty in mounting any current major action-it is unable even to reimburse troop-contributing nations. Though small missions continue to be created, they usually consist of a few military observers, as in the Abkhazia region of Georgia. The then very successful UN operation of reconciliation between two former adversaries, the Croats and Serbs in eastern Slavonia - the UN Transitional Authority - was wound up in January 1998, far too soon in the eyes of most observers; and its work is imperilled by the Croats forcing out the Serbs, now unrestrained by any substantial international presence. If the success the UN attained there in a creative process is destroyed, not only will we see yet another wave of 'ethnic cleansing'-which constitutes a crime against humanity - but hundreds of millions of international dollars will have been dumped into the Danube.

Again, until the recent increase of tension in Kosovo-which seems to be forcing a welcome re-think - another of the UN's most successful operations, that in Macedonia, was to be withdrawn this summer, also because even a force of not much more than a thousand people is apparently too much, now, for the membership to support and fund. The mission is called UNPREDEP - and it's the first preventive deployment fielded by the UN. Again, experts have been unanimous in warning that the mission's withdrawal this summer would carry with it the serious risk of upsetting a still delicate situation in south-eastern Europe which the deployment of the small force of civilians, police, and Nordic and US soldiers in 1993 stabilised.

The UN has become so emaciated, its capacities so reduced, that it would be impossible for it to mount the kind of operation, today, that brought about the successful transition from liberation war to independence in Namibia nine years ago. It is little wonder that major tensions have arisen at the UN in New York between even its closest friends and the US. Today, the same fear stalks the corridors there as, in its last years, menaced the League of Nations at the Palais des Nations in Geneva - that of the disintegration of the organisation.

But the picture is not entirely gloomy: steps are being taken to advance humanitarian values under UN auspices. The two ad hoc war crimes tribunals, that on former Yugoslavia sitting at The Hague, and that on Rwanda at Arusha, are now functioning. The Hague court has already disposed of a number of cases and its prosecutors are working to bring more indictments. This summer, an agreement is likely to be concluded to establish a permanent international criminal court, though there is not yet consensus as to how it will become seized of cases. Its establishment will mark a huge stride forward, providing invaluable support for human rights and international humanitarian law. How I wish there had been such a jurisdiction while we were in ex-Yugoslavia: I believe it would have had a real deterrent effect on the parties if they had known of the reasonable probability that their conduct, illegal under human rights norms and those of the Geneva Conventions, would bring about their personal criminal responsibility, and lead to their punishment by an independent and objective court.

I remember all too well how various local leaders just sneered when they were reminded - as we often did remind them - that there were international laws protecting civilian populations, forbidding the barbarities that have been termed 'ethnic cleansing'. The Hague court still has a long way to go, and has not yet universally established its reputation for independence and nondiscrimination in the prosecution process; there were, in my opinion, errors of judgment in some of its early actions. But it is making progress - the Arusha court, rather more slowly.

The former Irish president Mary Robinson has undertaken extensive responsibilities in her new role as UN high commissioner for human rights. One must acknowledge that the promotion and protection of human rights has been an orphan child in the UN system, lacking financial and political support, and with grossly inadequate human resources attached. Successive secretaries-general of the UN have been a little apprehensive as to the potential explosiveness of human rights issues, and governments have tended to treat the UN's Human Rights Commission as a political tennis-court. Even so, the cause of human rights has made progress in recent years and most of the architecture has been put in place: the treaties are in force, and mechanisms-which hopefully will evolve further as confidence grows - exist and are in most cases functioning. Everyone, of course, is in favour of human rights, as everyone is in favour of motherhood and against sin. There is even talk today of the transcendence of human rights over the sovereignty of states-the French are calling it le droit d'ingérence (the right of interference).

This raises big questions. At least, let us categorically assert that there may be no international intervention without a binding resolution of the Security Council. Otherwise, the danger of abuse, of a slide back into international anarchy, of the hegemony of the mighty few over the rest, may engulf the progress made this century-and, - pace Hobsbawm, that progress has been evident in the spread of the international rule of law. Compare the law of today with that of 1914 and you will see.

Claims of violation of human rights brought by one state against another habitually raise the political and diplomatic temperature-and it is hard to see how, in the near future, this can be avoided at that level. This is one of the reasons why treaties setting human rights standards should, if they are to be effective, enable individuals and organisations to initiate implementation and enforcement processes, as in the case of article 25 of the original European Convention on Human Rights. As I have already mentioned, the Strasbourg machinery has been effective in maintaining the high reputation of human rights in our continent, so that when the Wall came down its standards provided recognised and workable criteria for the new democracies.

It is 20 years since I myself last appeared as counsel in a case in Strasbourg. However often one does it, it is an experience never to be forgotten - to stand before an international court on behalf of, say, some forgotten and beleaguered prisoner who's locked up and the key's been thrown away, and open a case alleging breach of fundamental rights on the part of a sovereign state. In my experience, the importance of the role played by non-governmental organisations in this field cannot be overstated; I should like to return to this theme before I finish.

I am not sure that the work of the UN high commissioner for refugees stands at quite such an auspicious threshold. As you know, UNHCR has, in recent years, found itself with an expanded role. Founded nearly 50 years ago, the first time it worked alongside and in tandem with a peacekeeping operation was in Namibia in 1989, when it was charged, under the settlement agreement, with bringing back the diaspora of Namibian refugees and resettling them in time for the elections. But in ex-Yugoslavia, and since, it has tended to become an all-purpose humanitarian organisation, looking after internally-displaced persons as well as cross-border refugees. In fact, it undertook the task of providing all kinds of humanitarian relief to victims of conflict sur place, helping them in their home areas so that they would not be driven to become refugees or displaced persons.

UNHCR, as an organisation, has undergone big changes, as a result of this experience. While governmental support for its work as an all-purpose relief agency has continued, what is politely called 'donor fatigue' has also set in, with consequent funding problems for particular programmes.

UNHCR has found itself having to carry out tasks for which it is not equipped: the problems which befell Goma camp last year in Zaire/Congo provide a good example. This Rwandan refugee camp was in effect taken over by armed elements who had been responsible for Rwandan massacres and who used its facilities, personnel and relief supplies as a base for attacks into Rwanda. The international community was unwilling to provide the kind of security support that UNHCR needed if it was to carry out its duties and retake control of the camp. In the end, it was attacked and its residents dispersed by Rwandan governmental forces, with many fatalities among the purely civilian residents, driven into the bush.

Meanwhile, the protection functions of the organisation have suffered - including through governmental distaste for UNHCR'S mandated stand in favour of refugees as defined by the 1951 Refugees Convention. In one way or another, this has also affected funding-one of the main actors here being Britain, which has been reducing its support to an organisation largely dependent on voluntary contributions, unlike the UN itself. Britain's contribution has fallen by more than two-thirds in the last year.

As European NGOs know, the welcome mat in this continent, even for persons genuinely suffering from persecution, was long ago rolled up and put away. Many ex-Yugoslav refugees are being repatriated from European countries against their will and against the basic principle of refugee law of voluntary repatriation, and without anywhere to go when they are taken back. Other societies, especially in the third world, have been more generous.

Instability around its borders is the rationale that has been advanced for NATO's imminent expansion, to incorporate the Czech republic, Hungary and Poland. And 27 other countries in Europe have decided to participate in its Partnership for Peace programme, actively developed over the last five years-with growing interoperability, unity of doctrine, joint studies and exercises, usually in the context of simulated peacekeeping operations. PfP has been immensely successful, attracting not only the Asian republics of the former Soviet Union and the countries of eastern Europe, but also all Europe's traditional neutrals: Finland, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland - all, that is to say, except the Republic of Ireland.

The Irish army must be eating its heart out, denied the possibility of working with the rest of Europe, exchanging ideas and learning mutual lessons. I have worked with pfp programmes for several years and they have been a great success. Ireland is missed from the company - and it has a lot to contribute, given its stellar reputation in UN peacekeeping. Perhaps there could be a small - but significant- contribution here to the peace process, a confidence-building measure? Even Switzerland, which regards UN membership as incompatible with its neutrality, had little hesitation about joining.

PfP participation is very different from formal membership of NATO, about whose expansion there is still much controversy, though the ratification process is currently taking place in the US Senate. Strategic experts continue to be divided over the wisdom of enlargement. George Kennan, for instance, the architect in 1947 of the policy for the Soviet Union's containment, contends that it will prove a divisive disaster because it will damage relations with Russia and influence for the worse perceptions there of the west's intentions. This is likely to affect, especially, disarmament talks in the SALT framework. But the enthusiasm in eastern Europe for membership of NATO, and desire for the collective guarantee of article v of the North Atlantic Charter, is irrepressible. NATO'S enlargement seems inevitable next year, and Romania, Slovenia and one or more of the Baltic states will surely follow soon after.

Yet this is happening without there having been any serious debate as to what NATO'S purpose is to be, eight years after the cold war ended. You remember the devastating comment of the Soviet general to his NATO counterpart: "We are going to do something terrible to you. We are going to remove your enemy" In Brussels, the US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, recently offered the prediction that NATO would evolve into "a force for peace from the middle east to central Africa"; but European foreign ministers quickly dissented from the idea of a radical expansion of the alliance's geographical area of responsibility. Anew 'strategic concept' for NATO is due to be unveiled next year, during its 50th anniversary celebrations. But it is strange, even in these confused times, to see the cart being placed so firmly, though nonchalantly, in front of the horse.

Some discussion has begun - mostly in the States - as to what an enlarged NATO should be doing, and American commentators, in particular, have described alternatives which, while being less divisive, could provide a similar security guarantee for Europe. Meanwhile, NATO'S members are changing the configuration of forces, with the emphasis being placed on more mobile, quick-reacting, joint task forces, geared for peacekeeping duty. And the Western European Union continues as a potential vehicle for European Union foreign and security policy; the WEU might run operations that Europeans decided to undertake but in which north Americans did not wish directly to participate - thus creating the parameters for a European regional peacekeeping structure.

With the support of numerous PfP countries, and of others from outside the region, NATO has also provided the core of the post-UN forces in Bosnia - IFOR (the Implementation Force) and SFOR (the Security Force) - working to implement the Dayton agreement of 1995 between all the parties. The military tasks have been satisfactorily completed but the problem areas were always going to be those relating to political and civilian affairs, and here progress has been much slower. There have also been particular problems achieving coordination between the military, in a NATO framework, and the civilians, working under a UN umbrella.

The main goals now are to reverse the consequences of ethnic cleansing, by all sides; to permit the refugees to return to their homes; to ensure that the new constitutional arrangements for Bosnia become effective; and to help rebuild the country's infrastructure. There has been a huge investment of political resolve and resources in IFOR and SFOR and it has been clear for some time that only by SFOR remaining in place for an indefinite period can Dayton be implemented.

I doubt that there will be any similar international operation in the foreseeable future. Apart from anything else, it is hideously expensive, and the UN would never be allowed by member governments to lavish such a fortune on a peacekeeping mission. This is an interesting distinction; all UN operations are run on a shoestring, to the extent that frugal support often substantially affects mission performance - fatally, in cases like that of Angola in 1992-94.

Since the highpoint of UN peacekeeping in 1994, when we had more than 70,000 personnel in the field at a cost of about $3.5 billion, the emphasis has shifted from the UN to what chapter VIII of the UN Charter calls 'regional arrangements'. These had been somewhat neglected in the first decades of the UN, but the last few years have seen their resurgence. The concept is worthy enough. Article 52 recognises the existence of "regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action, provided that such arrangements or agencies and their activities are consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations". It goes on to encourage member states to use such arrangements for peaceful dispute settlement, and commits the Security Council to their use for enforcement action; but such action can be undertaken only with the authority of the council. Chapter VIII has been invoked several times in recent years - notably in regard to Haiti and Liberia, where regional organisations have provided peacekeeping forces. Some western countries have also been helping to build peacekeeping capacities in Africa, to help with the kinds of problem that have blown up there in recent years.

About the new emphasis on 'regionalism' let me just say a few words. For many years the UN, in composing a peacekeeping force for some new trouble spot, automatically ruled out troops from the following groups of countries: the parties themselves, the parties' neighbouring countries and the five permanent members of the Security Council. Why? Because experience showed that these groups of countries - there might also be others - were apt to have too much at stake to be able to be, or to seem to be, impartial; and impartiality is the very essence of peacekeeping. On the other hand, one must be realistic: often, it is hard to find anyone willing to contribute infantry or logistics for a particular mission, and sometimes only those with much at stake are willing to accept the obligation. However, regionalism cannot be allowed to become a mask behind which the local bully, prevented by international law from subverting the sovereignty of his weaker neighbours, finds legitimacy for frontal attack. Nor is every military action 'peacekeeping' that calls itself so. Peacekeeping is a practical and well-known concept, forged from the experience of more than 40 UN operations in more than 50 years, with clear principles compatible with those of international law, which it serves and helps to support.

However confused the post-cold war situation may be expected to remain for some years, there is progress in the development of an international society, with community values and an increasingly effective system of law. There is not the slightest basis for euphoria but, for example, I believe we saw something very significant, in the contretemps over the weapons inspectors in Iraq, leading to Kofi Annan's astute visit to Baghdad. Although we are left with just one superpower, with a huge economy and a worldwide reach and grasp, I think we shall not again see any state or group of states purporting to act on behalf of the international community without the full and explicit endorsement of the Security Council - other, perhaps, than when facing some overwhelming and instantaneous necessity of self-defence. And this is an important realisation, for centralising the use of force is a first step towards public order - and civilisation. Similarly, as Argentina, Armenia and Iraq have all found in recent years, attempts to seize territory by force are today categorically illegal and will not be recognised.

I have tried to survey some areas of international activity wherein we have been seeing dynamic development, even since the start of this decade-in regard to human rights, including the creation of an international criminal court; the development and legal control of trade; co-operation for international security; and the myriad other transactions, from meteorology to disarmament, accelerating the process of community-building. In my opinion, however, it is urgently necessary to rally around the UN and strengthen it, so as to guard against any recurrence of the activities that have so undermined it in recent years, preventing its healthy development. A reform programme for the secretariat has been instituted, though as a former director of administration and management there, I am the last person to have illusions about the range of early possibilities. But the UN is essential to the world.

The day when the sovereign state was the sole actor on the international stage-apart from a motley crew of pirates, war criminals, blockade-runners and the East India Company-is long gone, and I have argued for many years, especially in the field of human rights, that NGOS have a vital role to play. Your organisations are varied in size and strength and preoccupations and outlook. Often, you can go where governments cannot; you can focus precisely and engender attention. You can encourage, goad, study, warn, assist, and you will be heard, because access to the means of publicity as well as the levers of power is usually part of your lifeblood.

The success of some recent humanitarian campaigns, such as that against anti-personnel mines, is an object-lesson in working effectively at an international level. In our modern style of representative democracy, the popular will needs to express itself through not just one but various channels. Much of what I have sketched has stemmed from the activities of persistent and resolute NGOS.

I hope that all of the organisations represented here will continue to refuse to take 'no' for an answer.


Discussion of Mr Thornberry's address started from the suggestion that there were two ways to view the late 90s: was the glass half-empty (as Eric Hobsbawm appeared to believe) or half-full, as the speaker implied?

The NATO representative, Harald Bungarten, took a sceptical view: politicians wished soldiers would do more without giving them the mandate to do so, he said. Every decade the number of conflicts increased, despite talk of the 'end of history'. The glass was only quarter-full'.

This led to an exploration of why ethnic and nationalist conflicts were an increasingly evident feature of the European and worldwide landscape. It was suggested that globalisation was a process lacking legitimacy because not everyone could participate equally in it; ethnic élites were able to garner support from the excluded. Globalisation also destroyed old certainties; ethnocentrism allowed these to be reinstated in an imaginary way.

The middle-east conflict, it was argued, had been prefigurative of many of today's ethnic tensions - including in the failure of the international community to resolve it. One of the virtues of war crimes tribunals, as that in the Hague on ex-Yugoslavia, was that they provided a vehicle through which citizens could make a connection with the international community.

As regards the role of NGOS, Mr Thornberry admitted that governments weren't always as sympathetic to working with them as were intergovernmental organisations. The UN and NGOS tended to have similar roles in mind, such as

protection of human rights: "I'm not always sure that that can be said of some governments some of the time." But governments were not monolithic and often contained some who shared the aspirations of NGOS, as against other individuals or departments to which they were opposed.

1Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991, Michael Joseph, London, 1994

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