Yale Bulletin and Calendar

February 6, 2004|Volume 32, Number 17















John D. Negroponte

United Nations still plays vital
global role, say officials

Despite the stalemates that can result when nations attempt to reach a consensus on an issue with global repercussions, the United Nations -- the international body in which many international dramas are played out -- remains a vital and viable force in world affairs, two top U.N. diplomats asserted in recent campus talks.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John D. Negroponte '60 and Julian R. Hunte, president of the U.N. General Assembly, spoke at Yale as part of the 30th annual Yale Model United Nations (YMUN), an undergraduate-run conference that draws to campus some 900 high school students from around the country. During the four-day event, participants serve as "delegates" of U.N. member nations in simulated U.N. council and committee meetings as they debate and address true-to-life global problems and crises.

Negroponte, a career Foreign Service officer who was sworn in as the U.S. representative to the United Nations in 2001, addressed Yale undergraduates and the YMUN participants at Battell Chapel on Jan. 30. Hunte, a politician and activist who served as the minister of external affairs, international trade and civil aviation in St. Lucia until he was elected president of the General Assembly in 2003, was a guest at a Silliman College master's tea on Jan. 29.

Summaries of their remarks follow.

Cooperative nation-states, not world government

Noting that the United Nations consists of 191 nations with "191 differing histories, 191 perspectives, yet bound by the terms of the same [U.N.] Charter," Negroponte said that the "perennial question" for the United States is: "How do you advance your values and interests and accept the responsibilities of leadership, while simultaneously supporting the U.N. as a whole, ensuring its vitality and effectiveness?"

The answer, he maintained, is to promote "policies that support the freedom and well-being of people within their own nation- state -- not by pursuing the illusion of world government."

Negroponte told his audience that even in the Cold War, when there were often stalemates among the five permanent members of the 15-member U.N. Security Council, the rivalry between them "helped everyone understand a fundamental fact: the essential component of peace, stability, prosperity and respect for human rights is not 'world government' but rather, the nation-state itself."

In the Cold War era, he said, the United Nations became a forum where Communist adversaries "sought out individual nation-states as surrogates for local action that was unthinkable at the global level." He cited Cuba as a nation that was exploited to advance the agenda of the Soviet Union and asserted that, "to this day ... Cuba remains hostage to its Cold War past."

During the Cold War, said Negroponte, many resolutions of the U.N. General Assembly led to "less, not more, freedom in the world."

It was at this time, he said, that the United States "drew the obvious conclusion" that international problems are best resolved "from the bottom up rather than the top down": by protecting the freedom and well-being of its own citizens.

A "strong, vibrant U.N.," Negroponte told his audience, depends on having "a strong roster of member states" that follow the same approach.

Linked with this approach is the view of the current U.S. administration that when trying to resolve internal national conflicts, "it's always better for people to put their own house in order," said the ambassador.

There are situations, however, where so-called "failed" or vulnerable nations are unable to take up their own cause, Negroponte stated. He cited Afghanistan as such an example, saying it had been prey to "external and internal exploitation" and ultimately was transformed from a "failed state to a terrorism-sponsoring state, with terrible consequences, as we saw on September 11, 2001."

The ambassador said that when crafting foreign policy on how to deal with such an adrift nation, the best course is to turn to a "regional entity" that can assist the troubled country and its people. Unfortunately, he maintained, there was no such entity in Afghanistan's region that could rise to the challenge, and thus, it became "logical" for the U.N.-member states to become involved.

As a result of the military action of a U.S.-led coalition "acting in self-defense as provided by the U.N. charter," along with a U.N.-guided initiative to address issues of political and economic development in the nation, Afghanistan is today in the process of "negotiating a new, democratic constitution," Negroponte remarked.

"Wherever possible, the progression of response to conflict and suffering should be from nation-state to regional association to multilateral, or U.N., intervention," Negroponte asserted. "Why? Again: because in the long run, nation-states are the crucial link in the chain, and it is important to fortify them as directly as possible. This was true in the Cold War, and it's true during the War on Terror."

Thus, said Negroponte, the way in which the Bush administration "reconciles" the United States' leadership role in world affairs "with the obviously desirable goal of supporting a vibrant, vital United Nations," is to work in partnership with other nations without "deferring" to them.

"In the administration's view, the U.N. cannot be successful and effective if its members defer downwards to a lowest common denominator response when something obviously is very, very wrong," the ambassador told his audience. "That's how we ended up with 16 Security Council resolutions condemning Saddam Hussein's regime while he was torturing, imprisoning and executing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and defying international law. ...

"Working with others but not deferring to them; seeking democratic peace, but not empire, this administration is in pursuit in both words and actions at the U.N. that matter, that generate positive results, and that encourage the world community to work together in ways that were not possible during the Cold War," he continued.

Noting that some of the audience members will be among those who help shape foreign policy in the future, Negroponte said that many of the global problems being confronted today will still be theirs to tackle. Among these, he said, are rural poverty and malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, the exploitation of children, discrimination of women and the protection of the world's natural resources. He passed on some advice to future diplomats on how best to address these and other issues of a global magnitude.

"I only caution you to remember the pragmatic importance of solving problems close to their source, of insisting on the democratic principles of local accountability and responsibility, and recognizing that the U.N. can only be as strong as its individual members, for neither it, nor the United States, can bear all the world's burdens alone," Negroponte said. "To make the 21st century the kind of century we all want it to be, we're going to need strong, healthy partners on all sides."

Effectiveness of multilateralism

At a crowded master's tea in Silliman College, U.N. General Assembly president Julian Hunte said that despite some "collective failures" at resolving specific global problems, the U.N. member states share a conviction that "multilateralism, as exercised through the United Nations, is still the best means of tackling global problems."

He pointed out that even the smallest or least powerful nations on the globe are given a voice, thanks to the United Nations' "very democratic" system of rotating the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council and rotating, according to region, the presidency of the General Assembly.

Hunte told his audience that his own country, the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, is among one of the smallest U.N. member countries.

Many of the problems of the world today, he said, have an impact on the world's nations regardless of their size, their power or their economic prosperity.

"Even the most prosperous nations are affected by world poverty, the newly international threat of terrorism, the degradation of the environment, the ravages of HIV/AIDS and the lack of resources in so many affected countries to deal with it," Hunte commented, adding that he believes it is through an international forum such as the United Nations that these problems can best be addressed.

Hunte reserved most of his time at the tea for questions from his audience of students, whose queries often focused on the issue of Iraq.

The diplomat said that the U.S.-led war on Iraq, entered into without the support of most U.N. member states, has called into question the role of the United Nations in achieving a multilateral approach to global problems. He noted that, in response, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed a panel to examine possible reforms in the Security Council.

"Since Iraq, there have been a lot of people who before the war felt that the United Nations was useless -- that the U.S. can go it alone -- but who now realize that the United States cannot take on the role as the world's policeman," he said.

"The United Nations plays an important role in peacekeeping throughout the world, and in this way, the costs can be shared," he continued.

Furthermore, Hunte asserted, there is "more and more coming out each day which suggests that the war in Iraq was ill-advised," and said that this evidence may alter the perceptions of those who were initially critical of the U.N. Security Council process.

While the U.N. diplomat said that the United Nations can and is ready to assist in the rebuilding of Iraq in the areas of humanitarian assistance and political elections, he explained that continued conflict and violence in the country -- including the killing of Red Cross personnel -- makes most U.N. member states cautious about being involved.

Likewise, he said, the issue of what type of democracy should be encouraged in Iraq is extremely complex, especially because of the "religious circumstances that underpin the nation."

"If democracy means one man/one vote, the Shiites would obviously dominate that scene," he commented. "If this is what we went in there for ... it would negate the purpose for which democracy was intended."

Asked whether the United Nations is too bureaucratic and slow to handle such problems as international terrorism, Hunte argued that deliberation is necessary when dealing with the question of intervening in a sovereign nation.

"In most times, a great deal of patience is required -- although we [the U.N.] may get the timing wrong from time to time," he admitted.

Hunte also acknowledged that new challenges of the 21st century may require "fundamental reform" of U.N. processes, and pointed out that when the U.N. charter was established in 1945, there were only 51 members, while today the international body has 191 member nations.

"We need to look at the organization, how it was formed, what governs it and how to make it more relevant to today's world," he said.

Despite the challenges faced by the international body, Hunte said it has also had many successes. He noted that the U.N. is coordinating many initiatives to deal with the problem of HIV/AIDS and said that numerous multinational efforts in countries in conflict have been effective.

He particularly praised the fact that each member state -- whether large or small, developed or not -- has one vote in the General Assembly, and said that while some of the larger or more powerful nations may not be entirely happy with this system, he believes it is the most democratic and should not be reformed.

"As you say in this country, 'If it isn't broke, don't fix it,'" he quipped.

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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