Reviving Multilateralism: A Priority for the Incoming Secretary-General

PARIS – Youth & Leaders Conference

18 January 2016



ARNAUD LEPARMENTIER: Kevin Rudd, you wrote a piece in Le Monde this afternoon so explain to us what reform can revive multilateralism?


KEVIN RUDD: En français?


LEPARMENTIER: No in English!


RUDD: [FRENCH]. It’s good to be here at Sciences Po and to be among the new generation of leaders of tomorrow. Three points in five minutes, and in the spirit of what Enrico Letta described before as authenticity and candour. The first question that I will try to speak about is how do we define the current deficit in global governance? Number two, how is the UN performing in relation to that deficit and is it meeting it? And thirdly, if not, what can be done about it?

So question number one. My argument is that there is a growing gap in global governance. We all know that. The demand for effective global governance is going through the roof, the supply of effective global governance is going through the floor. That is a deficit and it is a growing deficit. What are the reasons for it? Number one, the globalization of everything. The globalization of security, of politics, of economics. The globalization of social movements, the globalization of ideological movements, the globalization of people movements. The globalization of everything and at a pace and an intensity which none of our institutions have been capable of anticipating or responding to and driven in the main by technology. The second reason we have this growing gap in global governance is that most of our global institutions have been relatively static in response to that growing gap and were established to deal with different global circumstances. And the third, often talked about less, is the crisis of the nation-state itself and the individual nation-state’s inability to deal effectively with transnational let alone global problems. The result is that the citizens of the world find themselves increasingly in no-man’s land between incapable global institutions of dealing with the problems that they feel and fear about yet national institutions equally incapable of covering the field.

Second point, therefore, is the UN, the United Nations, fit for purpose for dealing with this growing governance gap for the 21st century? And my short, candid and honest answer is no. Having said that, I desperately want it to be so. But what is the evidence that we have to confront. Number one, peace and security – the core of the UN Charter. The evidence is over the last several years we have seen – whether it’s on the Ukraine, the big challenge, the question of Iran and its nuclear program – we have not seen the United Nations at the table. Thirdly, if you look for example at Syria, the United Nations has been there late in the piece. Fourthly, what is happening now in the emerging crisis in Burundi? And fifthly, the question of terrorism raised before, what is the credible global role of this institution of global governance in dealing with a global threat to us all? My argument is simply on these questions, the international community is walking around the UN and finding other solutions.

Number two evidence point – sustainable development goals. This was a great achievement of the United Nations last September. Amina Mohammed and those who put it together did a fantastic job. But as of now we have no agreed global machinery to implement these goals and, secondly, we are a million miles away from the finance necessary to give effect to them, either public or private. Thirdly, the greatest public health crisis that we have faced in a long time in the Ebola crisis in Africa is a clear failure of the principal institution of the United Nations to deal with it, the WHO. Four, not a UN problem, but symptomatic of the wider multilateral governance problem is what Pascal has just been talking about with the WTO and, frankly, what the world is doing is walking around that institution as well and developing bilateral and regional free trade agreements because a multilateral round is impossible. And finally, the most stark example of where we are not performing effectively as a UN system today is on the question of asylum seekers and refugees. Our global system is broken. It has been for some time. Europe has become conscious of it because the crisis has come here most recently. In other parts of the world where you’ve had outflows of refugees in Asia, frankly, it’s been evident to many of us for a long time.

I say all that mindful of the great institutional successes of the UN and I am its number one advocate as an institution but let us be real about where we now find ourselves. Therefore, my fear is not simply the UN being abolished one day but dying, what our Chinese friends might describe as, ‘the death by a thousand cuts’ – bit by bit by bit until frankly, it ceases to be relevant as a global institution. Finally, if you accept my argument that the UN at present is not competent to deal with this mounting global governance deficit, how can we change the UN in order to close but, frankly and realistically, never eliminate that deficit? Number one, everyone points to the state of great power relations – the UN is only ever as good as its member states and the relationships between the P5. There is great truth in that and I accept it. But a core challenge for all of us as other nation-states within the United Nations system is to say to our Chinese friends and our Russian friends and to our American friends, “It is critical for the functioning of the United Nations system for these great powers to place their cooperation in the UN as a number one priority.” China is making important positive steps to becoming an increasingly positively active global citizen through the instrumentalities of the UN. Read Xi Jinping’s statement to the UN General Assembly last September. We need to see Russia and the United States come back together. These great powers can around the table make the UN system work at the level of the Security Council or they can cause its implosion over time.

Number two, as mentioned by Marty before, the absolutely essential nature of Security Council reform. It is not currently representative of the global security reality. Number three, and Irina made this point before and I would really emphasize it again, the centrality of a doctrine, a culture and a practice of prevention across the UN system. Preventing crises when you can, whether they are humanitarian, political or security crises, because we have a system designed to respond to crises but not to anticipate and prevent. And this is a deep doctrinal, cultural and resourcing shift which must occur across peace and security development and humanitarian affairs. Four, a new approach to the mobilization of global finance. At present global public finance is insufficient – how do you marshal global private finance, for example, to effect to the sustainable development goals? And five, on the question of refugees, as I said before, you need a global summit of the United Nations system in order to bring about a fundamental reform to the way in which the Refugee Convention is implemented, with an emphasis on source countries and their early stabilization, neighbouring countries where people flee to first and the proper resourcing of countries like, in the most recent examples, Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey. Otherwise people will flee. Thirdly, for transit countries for there to be proper systems of reception centres and processing centres. And, fourthly, for destination countries (at present Germany, France as elsewhere) for there to be a system of not regional burden-sharing but global burden-sharing.

I conclude by saying this, new ideas are needed for the reform of this system and we are in this room because we love it, we cherish it and we want it to succeed. We need new ideas from you good folk in order to make that work. Thank you.



LEPARMENTIER: Kevin Rudd, I would like to have your reaction. Terrorism zero says Hubert Vedrine. That’s why it’s off the agenda. What do you say to that?


RUDD: No, I disagree with my good colleague. And the reason I disagree with him is in one specific domain and that is the effective control of global terrorism finance. This is a domain where in fact the United Nations has a role to play beyond the international collaboration between the central banks.



RUDD: I think there’s a number of factors. One, you my good European friends drew some very bad colonial lines and I blame the British first and you guys weren’t so good. But probably the Belgians were worst. That’s a reality but you’ve just got to deal with it though. The second thing is a serious point which is if you look at peacekeeping operations in Africa, and we have many people in the room here who have extensive experience of this on the ground, is that so many of our peacekeeping operations become repeat operations, and repeat crises and repeat wars. The data I have read but I have not separately attested is that we are looking at about a 90% repeat rate over time within ten to twelve years. This points to a different conceptual approach when it comes to conflict prevention, conflict stabilization, peacekeeping and then peacebuilding. This is an integrated A-Z process. I think our PKO operations have been pretty good on the ground. But if you look at the integrated system which is pre-crisis, crisis prevention which is political diplomacy (the classical diplomacy which my French colleague spoke about before), then if that fails conflict minimization and stabilization but then the peacebuilding task after the event. Unless we do this institutionally in an integrate fashion you’re going to end up with repeat occurrences. Final point, if you want a case study of how a peace and stability or peace and security arrangement can be done differently look at the recent work done as a political mission by Jose Ramos Horta, the author of the Second Brahimi Report, in I think it was Guinea-Bissau. Guinea-Bissau, none of us have heard much about the crisis – why? Because the UN dispatched Jose Ramos Horta from the Lusaphone world, he went and spent six months on the ground, talked to everybody and, frankly, what could have become a very bloody outcome was stabilized. So there is a different model.



LEPARMENTIER: Kevin Rudd you were part of the G20 when it was created. How come it didn’t take over the United Nations, whereas you had 85% of GDP with 20 or 30 people in the room? It was much more efficient, is that not a modern solution?


RUDD: Because Pascal Lamy is right, it doesn’t have international legal legitimacy. It’s a very core point. And that is the core reason we need to preserve the United Nations system. Because whatever its inefficiencies are, its ultimate international legal legitimacy stands and we cannot readily reconstruct that in any other institution. Therefore, the task of making the United Nations increasingly functionally efficient is critical given its underpinning legitimacy is not in doubt. The second point I’d make in response to the broader questions is, when we talk about pluralateralism, when we talk about regional agreements, when we talk about polylateralism etc, I understand why that happens because if you cannot get a multilateral agreement based on universal legitimacy then that is the next best thing you can do. But here is the problem, if we continue doing that across the board in increasing scope and number of global public policy activity, then the legitimacy of the United Nations starts to be shredded as it is used less and less. It doesn’t simply remain there like an intact Holy Roman Empire. Only 300 years later it’s just a name and nothing is happening within it.

It relates to the question raised, by our friend before from Africa, about the operation which occur in peace and security in the continent. If you go to Addis Ababa, which I’ve done recently in my work as Chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism, and ask this question, “What is the core challenge between Africa and the United Nations in securing peace and security in various states where there are crisis?” They point to this: one, the African Union Charter in Chapter IV entitles the Peace and Security Committee of the African Union to make decisions to intervene without any reference to what occurs within New York at the Security Council; number two, if they do that the problem with the peacekeeping operations launched exclusively by the AU is that there is insufficient funding to properly resource such peacekeeping operations. And the core ongoing debate between Addis Ababa and New York is on that very question.

My final response is to my Chinese friend about global refugees and asylum seekers. I think that’s the question I was asked. And the attitude of local peoples. Look, I think this is a critical area of UN reform. Right now this is seen as a European crisis – it is in its current political manifestation. We should see it as a global crisis because we now have somewhere between 50 and 60 million internally and internationally displaced persons. So the reform must be at four levels: preventative diplomacy as it relates to emerging crises so that they does not result in what we have most recently seen unfold through Syria; number two, where you can’t do that and it overlaps to the neighbouring countries then it must become an immediate global responsibility to feed and provide shelter to those who have been displaced. It was the failure of our UN system through the WFP and the UNHCR and the member states to fund that effectively last year which caused this massive outflow of people which now threatens the internal politics of Europe and of Germany. Thirdly, transit countries such as Greece and Italy so you have proper well-established reception centres for dealing humanely with people until their status is finally determined. And finally, most critically, every developed country of means in the world should accept a system of global burden-sharing so that when a crisis occurs, whether it’s in Syria or it’s in Sri Lanka, frankly, the same system kicks in so it’s not seen as a single state’s responsibility because that will crack the operational credibility of the system.



LEPARMENTIER: So Mr Rudd on the refugee, you must know that Marine Le Pen gives Australia as an example of the way to tackle refugees. That’s just some background information not an assessment, but you must know this in France.


RUDD: Perhaps you don’t know this in France but one of the stated reasons that the conservative party used against me in the last election, and successfully, is that my government was soft on refugees. So it’s a difficult fight in every national political constituency where you are dealing with two tensions. One is your international legal obligations. And, two, the expectations of your local community. That’s the reality in each of our nation states. The question that was asked to me by the woman in the back was about what principles underpinned our position and our approach to the management of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. It’s very simple – those contained in the Refugees Convention. And those contained in the Refugees Convention are those which are anchored in the doctrine of non-refoulement, which is you don’t send people back. And that is axiomatic to our approach as well – nobody is sent back until such time as status is determined by an asylum seeker whether they meet the criteria of the Refugees Convention or not. Which is outlined in the Convention, whether the person is in legitimate fear of their lives or their way of life in that particular country under the provisions of the Convention.

The other point I would say – given your question stated quite clearly that the approach which we adopted was, therefore, wrong against those criteria – is that there had been a fundamental challenge to the legislation introduced by my government on this question which was overturned by the High Court of Australia, which has a history of taking a very liberal approach to the interests of refugees. In other words, the High Court of Australia in a major case twelve months ago defended of constitutionality and international legality of the actions that we have taken. So it’s important to read that decision before rushing to a conclusion.

The final point is countries like Australia, Canada and the United States, it’s no great virtue but for decades every year have taken something in the order of 10 to 20 thousand refugees around the world, wherever the UNHCR has said they need to come from – so from the camps in Dabab, the camps throughout Africa, the camps throughout Asia. We have done this year in, year out. And the legislation that I referred to in dealing with the arrival of literally hundreds and hundreds of boats in Australia has at the same time increased our annual intake of refugees through the formal UNHCR system and, in fact, double that from where it was before. None of these solutions are perfect. All I can say is that you asked the question what is our guiding principle – it is the Convention. We agreed to it. I do not seek to change the Convention one bit but our global cooperation mechanisms within the Convention are demonstrably failing. Ask anyone in government today in Rome, in Berlin, across Eastern Europe and in Athens – they will say it’s not working. The same is said in so many capitals in Asia. But here’s the point – we do not know where the next crisis affecting hundreds of thousands, or millions or tens of millions of asylum seekers will occur in the world. We do not know that. Therefore, are we simply going to have a system whereby it is purely an accident of geography that if you are a developed country in a part of the world where a crisis erupts, it’s all your problem. Or do you have instead what I would describe as a civilised system of global burden sharing? That’s one that I would certainly support strongly into the future. If there’s time later I’ll answer the other question but I’m conscious that everyone has to have a say.