Global Security and United Nations Reform: Proposing a New Political Act

By Rotfeld, Adam | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, April 15, 2005 | Go to article overview

Global Security and United Nations Reform: Proposing a New Political Act


Rotfeld, Adam, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


A few days ago, at the special session of the General Assembly on January 24 convened to commemorate the liberation of Nazi death camps, Kofi Annan said the United Nations must never forget that it was created as a response to the evil of Nazism, and that the horror of the Holocaust helped to shape its mission. The Secretary General also said that since the Holocaust, the world has, to its shame, failed more than once to prevent or halt genocide for instance in Cambodia, in Rwanda, and in the former Yugoslavia. Why has the international community failed?

Shaping a New Security System

The basic problem of the old international system is that it was designed to regulate relations between states. Whereas today, the main threats to international peace and security are rooted in situations within states. Hence, there is a tension between static structures and institutions on one hand and a dynamic evolution of international process on the other. Therefore, the UN must adapt its norms, principles and mechanisms to this new challenge. Otherwise its members may be increasingly forced to act outside its institutional framework. This in turn will lead to a marginalization of the UN and re-nationalization of security policies. Such scenario would be most unfortunate and undesirable.

It is not an abstract threat. For many years a lot of the new security institutions have emerged outside of the UN system (such as MTCR, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Wassenaar Arrangement, Zanger Committee, most recently - Security Proliferation Initiative and many others - not to mention the Group of Eight).

In addition, the UN Secretary-General's Millennium report of 2000 defined some other most challenging problems of the contemporary world. Namely, that the negative impact of globalization combined with bad governance in many parts of the world has resulted in widespread poverty, hunger, malnutrition and rampant infectious diseases. The Secretary- General's call for action to eradicate these scourges - including to reduce extreme poverty by half before 2015 - was recalled in the Millennium Declaration adopted by the General Assembly.

The Millennium Report presented a new approach to international security: a gradual shift from the concept of defending territory to the notion of protecting people. "The Responsibility to Protect" Report elaborated by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty is reflected in recommendations presented recently by the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.

If the basic assumption stemming from these concepts is correct - that there is sometimes a right, or indeed responsibility, of the international community to intervene and protect people of its members - there is a need to define how and when it should be exercised, and under whose authority. The answer to these questions touches upon the very essence of the future role of the United Nations within the global security framework.

In search of a New Political Act

The crucial issue is not only what kind of reform is necessary for the UN, but also in what way and form it should be undertaken.

One possibility is to take an expedient course and pursue reforms on an ad hoc basis. Consequently, the irrelevant or redundant provisions of the UN Charter would not require amendment as long as they did not stand in the way of action.

Another possibility is to prepare a set of necessary amendments to the Charter - a minimum minimorum. They would concentrate on a change in the composition of the Security Council and the removal of the "dead" provisions. Such set of changes could be accompanied by a political statement specifying the conceptual and functional rationale for reforms.

And, as yet another possibility - a two step approach is conceivable. The first step would be the adoption of a politically binding document which could be called a New Political Act for the United Nations. …

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