Response to 2005 Human Security Report summary by Gareth Evans
On 24 October 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations, Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group, published an article "Where the UN Is Winning". (http//www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfmid=3764&l=1.htm) In this article he acknowledges that the “need for change was almost universally recognised” but that this year was (as was in fact a number of previous years as well) “hugely disappointing one for the cause of United Nations reform.” However, unlike most reasonable and intelligent people, who are very concerned about the UN as it is at the moment, this author believes that there is some good news, “quite a lot of it in fact.” This “quite a lot” then turns out to be the results of a single report, the “long-awaited Human Security Report.” He waxes lyrical about the “dramatic decrease in the number of conflicts and mass killings and a more striking fall in the number of battle deaths,” before coming to the preposterous conclusion that “more civil wars have been ended by negotiation in the past 15 years than in the previous two centuries.” Really? All wars throughout human history have ended because sooner or later the two sides sat down and negotiated the terms of putting an end to it. There may be a wide variety of reasons why the belligerents may decide to sit down and have a talk; one side may have had a comprehensive military victory over the other, the military situation may have reached a stalemate, one or both sides may have run out of resources, a third party may have pressurised them to talk. It is as inconceivable to imagine any sort of conflict – from a playground tiff to a World War – coming to an end unless the belligerents agree to put and end to it (by talking to one another), as it is to imagine any belligerent in any conflict to agree to stop fighting because the UN had asked them to do so. That has not yet happened. It is unlikely to happen in the near future. John Bolton, American ambassador to the UN, not someone that one ordinarily would want to take too seriously, is nevertheless correct when accusing the UN of living in a bubble and when asked about the values that Winston Churchill and President Franklin D Roosevelt had foreseen for the UN, said: “It's hard to see the idealism of the founders in the actions of the UN today.” The content of Mr. Evans´ piece amply demonstrates in fact, that its title is misleading and inaccurate. The UN is not winning anything at all, apart from setting record breaking standards in resisting change. The dynamics that lead to, what could be but a lull in the level of conflict worldwide, are far larger than any one institution or even group of institutions. There may well have been a six-fold increase in UN preventive diplomacy missions; a four-fold increase in UN peace operations; and an 11-fold increase in the number of states subject to UN sanctions, but closer inspection of these show that the UN, on its own initiative, have always played at best a marginal role, more often than not simply rubberstamped the efforts of others. Far from complying with its full mandate, the UN manages to succeed at best, in but the most basic of humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping missions and then only when compelled to do so by political leadership and/or pressure from outside the system. It is not very helpful or accurate to measure conflict only by its mortality rate (however it is measured); conflict is perhaps simply changing to new forms, which may well have low battlefield mortality, but would be as destructive, or more, of political, social and economic life. New challenges of exclusion, exploitation and unequal access to resources provide new threats to security; it may lead to new types of war to which the UN will be as incapable of responding as they were in responding to the conflicts of the latter part of the twentieth century. Unless there is broad based, meaningful reform of this body, it is likely that, as at present, conflict will simply provide further opportunities for its substantial compliment of freeloaders, criminals and conmen to exploit those already marginalised by poverty and war. This is not the time to clutch at straws of UN success but to be ever vigilant of the urgent need to reform this institution. This reform need to go beyond what has grabbed the attention of the media; reforming the Security Council and establishing a Human Rights Council. Far and deep reaching reform is required; ridding it of the multitude of agencies, committees, councils and whatnot that does not and cannot make any contribution of any sort; teaching its staff a code of ethics, enforced by introducing and implementing a management system that can make the UN system relevant, competent and accountable. Not only is the UN not winning in this, at best it has long since dropped out of the race, at worst, it had simply become part of the problem it was designed to solve.