The Future of the United Nations and Global Order
The Hon. Kevin Rudd
26th Prime Minister of Australia
Chair, Independent Commission on Multilateralism
Honorary Professor, Peking University
Remarks at Peking University
21 October 2016
迈向 2030 的联合国:
联合国需要一个“执行”的文化，以可“衡量”的结果为导向，特别是《2030 议程》中提出的17 项可持续发展目标，和 169 个附加目标。
The ICM was a two-year review of the United Nations which began in 2014 when Terje Rod-Larsen, the President of the International Peace Institute, after discussions with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, agreed to mandate a comprehensive UN review process.
They asked me to chair this two-year project.
The ICM was established to make recommendations on how to make the UN more “fit for purpose” for the demands of global governance in the 21st century.
And to provide these recommendations to the incoming secretary-general of the United Nations.
This Chair’s Report is entitled UN2030: Rebuilding Order in a Fragmenting World.
The ICM’s formal, consensual report was released on 21 September.
This, in turn, will be followed by the release of 15 individual policy papers online, incorporating the recommendations put to the Commission during its one-and-a-half year long consultation process.
But this Chair’s report presents my personal reflections on the state of the global order, and my policy recommendations on UN reform.
They’re more than the sum of two years of work.
They’re the outcome of a life-time of reflection on, and engagement with, the UN itself.
As both a student, a public servant, a diplomat, and a head of government and foreign minister.
I have been a life-long supporter of the UN.
Not because I believe, naïvely, that it can build Heaven on earth.
But because—as UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld so aptly remarked—it can save us from Hell.
This, I argue, is why the UN is worth defending.
During today’s lecture, I’d like to give you an overview of this report focusing on following two questions:
- Is the UN actually in trouble?
- If so, what should be done to fix it, for a better future of the UN, and the global order?
Is the UN actually in trouble?
The report argues that, at multiple levels and in many issue areas, the UN is in serious trouble.
The risk is not that the thing simply topples over overnight.
That we all wake up to find UN HQ building on the East River abandoned, the grass overgrown, and all the lights off.
Stranger things have happened in world politics.
But, of course, that’s the not the real risk.
The real risk is that, in coming years, the UN simply continues on its current trajectory of slow and steady decline.
That we continue to take the UN as a diplomatic afterthought—a nice extra, rather than core business.
That we actually use the United Nations machinery for fewer and fewer critical global security, sustainability, humanitarian and global public health issues.
Until one day, years from now, maybe decades from now, we finally end up with something like the Holy Roman Empire.
Something which, as the joke went, was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.
A simple institutional shell to which we pay tribute, not remembering precisely why.
We’re not yet there, obviously.
But I’d argue that we’re at least one-third of the way there.
And this road leads down a dangerous path.
It’s dangerous for Agenda 2030 and the fulfillment of the SDGs.
It’s dangerous for gender equality and the global youth and employment agenda.
It’s dangerous for globalization, on which economic growth and development depends.
And it’s dangerous for the stability of the global order, including great power relations.
In the report, I detail what the UN is doing right, including:
- Helping avoid another global war
- Amassing a body of international legal norms
- Putting in place a system of international dispute-settlement mechanisms
- Developing a network of international regulatory institutions
- Managing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
- Imposing sanctions
- Deploying peacekeeping operations and political missions
- Reducing global poverty
- Agreeing on a new sustainable development agenda
- Providing humanitarian support
- Promoting human rights
- Expanding the concept of human rights to all
- Championing gender equality
- Taking action on climate change
- Curbing ozone depletion
- Working to protect biodiversity
And it has had a lot of successes to its name, which the UN system has usually been mediocre at best at promoting.
The UN has at least 50 positive, news-worthy stories to tell each day about what it is doing—actually doing on the ground—to improve people’s lives.
Yet it consistently fails to get the message out and to communicate it effectively and strategically.
Which is one of the failings I address in the report.
While appropriately recognizing the UN’s achievements, we would be foolish not to recognize with equal candor the challenges, problems, and failures of the UN system and the impact these have had on the institution’s international standing.
And the UN has unfortunately accrued a growing list of failures to its name as well.
These pave the way to the UN’s “death by a thousand cuts”, to use a Chinese expression.
The UN’s cumulative failures do not in themselves represent existential threats to the system’s survival.
The real danger is more gradual than that.
It comes when a growing number of failings begins to reach a “critical mass” and bring the system’s overall credibility into question.
It is at this point that the real danger emerges of the UN losing its unique status, in time being seen as “just another NGO.”
We have not reached that stage yet.
But for those who care for the institution’s future, there are a number of warning signs, even if some have been overstated:
- Perceptions of Security Council impasse
- Failure to prevent mass atrocities (war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity)
- Limited response to global terrorism
- Repercussions from the invasion of Iraq
- Absence from negotiation on Iranian nuclear agreement
- Lack of effective action on Syria crisis
- Lack of effective involvement in Ukraine crisis
- Lack of involvement in dealing with the North Korean nuclear program
- Inability to handle the 2015–2016 asylum seeker, refugee, and migrant crisis
- Inconsistent responses to human rights violations
- Chronic underfunding of humanitarian programs
- Sexual abuse in peacekeeping operations in CAR, DRC, and other missions
- Responsibility for cholera outbreak in Haiti
- Insufficient warning of and response to the Ebola epidemic
- Member states “going around the UN” by diverting funding to private programs and partnerships
- Reputational impact of previous corruption scandals, including the Oil-for-Food Programme
There will be disagreements about each of the cases I listed.
That is understandable.
Nonetheless, we cannot easily walk away from the cumulative impact these have had over time.
Most particularly, they point to an increasing tendency for both states and civil society to ignore the formal machinery of multilateralism when there are real problems to be solved.
In part, this is because it is seen to be too difficult to achieve multilateral consensus for urgent, necessary action.
And even when such consensus can be achieved, international confidence in the efficiency and the effectiveness of UN institutions delivering real results on the ground is under challenge.
The result is that, on core security challenges, the UN is often seen as an “afterthought”—a final recourse to “legitimacy” once substantive deliberations, decisions, and deployments take place elsewhere.
On development and humanitarian challenges, the UN is in danger of being seen as just one of a number of major players.
Over time, these trends are potentially deeply corrosive to the UN’s long-term institutional standing.
And in so doing, they threaten to undermine the current global order itself.
And that is in no state’s interests.
The UN and the Future of the Global Order
The future of the UN, in large part, is a question about the future of the global order.
The UN matters because it is a foundation stone of the global order.
The current global order is broadly made up of three parts:
- First, the geopolitical relationships among the great powers themselves, as well as diplomatic, military, and alliance relationships that have developed between the great powers and other states;
- Second, the horizontal relationships between all states, irrespective of whether they happen to be aligned with the great powers or not, including those that have consistently chosen to be neutral or nonaligned; and
- Third, the global and regional institutions that use multilateral means to manage differences and maximize peaceful cooperation between states, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all states.
This latter principle is particularly important for smaller and middle powers in the international system, which historically have often become the casualties of great-power politics gone wrong.
And it is here that the UN plays the central role.
There is no neat, systemic relationship among these various parts of the global order.
These different elements of the current order are also the product of different, some would say conflicting, concepts of the natural behavior of states.
At one extreme is the deep “realism” of “nation-state against nation-state” based on irreconcilable national interests, the absence of trust, and ever-present “security dilemmas.”
In contrast to this almost Clausewitzian view of interstate relations, there is what is often described, and sometimes derided, as the high idealism of neoliberal institutionalism, premised on concepts of common security, shared interests, and international cooperation.
Our current global order is an untidy amalgam of both.
Yet in the increasingly “postmodern” politics of the twenty-first century, it is often forgotten that “order” in international relations remains fundamental.
We seem to have forgotten what “disorder” actually looks like, even though we saw the full horror of this on display less than one lifetime ago.
In many respects, the twenty- first century international community no longer seems conscious of the international legal and institutional underpinnings of what we now almost breezily refer to as the “postwar order.”
It seems that this order has simply become “factored in.”
But to allow this cornerstone to gradually crumble would inherently destabilize the overall structure on which it rests.
The effective, if not formal, demise of the UN would create, at minimum, a vacuum in the international relations system.
And history teaches us that political and institutional vacuums cannot remain for long before being filled by something else.
The international community needs to tend carefully to the foundations of the current order, particularly given the hard circumstances in which they were secured following the implosion of the previous order in 1939.
Moreover, it is important to recall that order in international relations is not naturally self-generating.
Even less is it self-perpetuating.
Over the last half millennium, there have been four major efforts in Europe to construct order after periods of sustained carnage: in 1648, 1815, 1919, and 1945.
The first three of these “orders” have had, at best, patchy records of success.
The jury is still out on the fourth.
History teaches us that the concerted efforts of states that are party to the creation of an agreed order are required to continue to invest in its future.
This particularly applies to an institution such as the United Nations, whose charter does not assume the underlying power of any single hegemon to sustain it over time.
This stands in contrast to most previous orders in history, which have been the construct of a single great power (e.g., Rome) or a balance of power among several great powers (e.g., the Concert of Europe).
Furthermore, history teaches us that order in international relations is the exception, rather than the rule.
Since the rise of the modern nation-state, both prior to and following the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, disorder has been the dominant characteristic of inter-state relations.
Any assumption that, in the twenty-first century, we have seen “the end of history” is simply wrongheaded.
This is a triumph of hope over reason.
Finally, there is a related concept in international relations that holds that the natural trend in any system of inter-state relations is toward entropy.
Under this argument, any international order, once established, is immediately subject to the natural processes of decline and decay, ultimately resulting in a return to disorder.
If this analysis holds true, it reinforces the core argument of theorists and practitioners alike that preserving the current system of UN multilateralism will require greater and greater conscious efforts over time.
Sitting back is not an option—even less a posture of benign neglect.
The UN multilateral system remains a cornerstone of a multidimensional twenty-first-century global order.
It is crucial for us all that there be predictable, shared, and, where possible, enforceable norms, rules, and expectations for all states, great and small, in managing their relations with each other.
This does not mean that norms, rules, and expectations are frozen in time. They can, of course, evolve.
But the key to the continued stability of the order is that, when changes occur, they are commonly and, ideally, universally supported through the institutions of multilateralism.
The future of the UN, therefore, will require focused, ongoing investment in the integrity and the energy of the overall system as a global “public good” in its own right.
This will not be achieved through occasional expressions of passive support.
If we want the UN to survive as an effective, rather than symbolic, component of the global order, its member states, as equal shareholders in the system as a whole, must work actively to make this happen.
China’s Role in Reforming the UN and the Global Order
China has long been engaged with the UN and with questions concerning the global order.
This engagement will increase with China’s increasing size.
We begin to see China displaying a new approach in multilateral forums.
There is a change in diplomatic style.
No longer will China “hide its strength, bide its time, and never take the lead” (taoguang yanghui, juebu dangtou 韬光养晦 决不当头), as was the case under Deng Xiaoping’s foreign policy mantra for decades.
China is now pursuing an ”activist” (有所作为) but “not overreaching” (尽力而为) foreign policy that maximizes China’s economic and security interests, and one that begins to engage in the longer-term reform of the global order.
China is implementing what I describe as a “new multilateralism”.
And this has clear implications for the future of the UN.
As Xi Jinping said, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in September last year:
“China is a participator, constructor and contributor of the current international system, and has always done its part to uphold the international order and system with the United Nations (UN) as its core and the purposes and principles of the UN Charter as its foundation”.
Xi has also emphasized, on multiple occasions, that:
China has “become an important player in international relations and an active contributor in building the international system”, and “we need to keep the spirit of inclusiveness to promote harmony among different social systems, mutual learning among different cultures and civilizations and mutual benefit among different development models”, so as to “advance multilateral diplomacy”, “work for democracy in international relations”, and “reform the international system and global governance”.
At recent study sessions of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, Xi stressed the urgency of reforming global governance against a backdrop of growing global challenges.
Xi called the reform of global governance “an irresistible trend.”
He defined this process as “laying down rules for the international order and international mechanisms” and “deciding in which direction the world will head”.
Xi said that, “as the international balance of power has shifted and global challenges are increasing, global governance system reform has emerged as a “trend of [the] times”.”
“It is not simply a case of competing for the high ground of economic development, but what roles and functions nations will play in the long-term systemic arrangement of the international order”.
They are important declaratory positions by the Chinese leadership which are already being felt across the multilateral system, from Geneva to New York.
This signals that China will not be a passive observer in future efforts to reform the current global system.
China intends to contribute, with other great powers, to actively shaping the order, including the rules and mechanisms which govern it.
China has indicated it will play a growing role, commensurate with its growing importance in world affairs, in “deciding in which direction the world will head,” as Xi suggested.
Exactly what China wishes to see in a reformed global order remains to be seen.
The reform of the global order will result from China’s interactions with other great powers, including the U.S. and Russia, and the rest of international community.
The report before you today presents my own recommended menu of options to reform and revitalize the United Nations which, I hope, may be of some use to member-states, and the new UNSG.
I have already summarized these in Chinese but for the record of the formal text of this address, this also includes the English rendition of the basic organizing principles for a more effective UN.
Organizing Principles for a More Effective UN
The ICM report details more than 50 specific recommendations in the domains of peace and security, sustainable development, human rights, humanitarian engagement and budget, management and resources.
But I’ll just focus on the ten basic principles for UN reform which I suggest
- The political reaffirmation by member states at summit level (through a second San Francisco Conference at summit level on the UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020) to the fundamental principles of multilateralism – designed to prevent the further erosion of multilateralism, underscoring the critical advantages effective multilateralism delivers to states, rather than entrenching an view that the multilateral system is simply a burden to be borne.
- The role of the UN in building bridges between the great powers themselves, particularly at a time of rising great-power tensions, and where great power cooperation is needed to enable the UN to deliver results for the wider international community.
- The role of a UN secretary-general prepared to take initiatives under Article 99 of the Charter, even when such initiatives may not be guaranteed of success, but where challenges to the provisions of the Charter make global leadership necessary.
- The adoption, inculcation and implementation of a comprehensive doctrine of prevention across the UN system, rather than the prevailing culture of reaction, and one that is directly reflected in the organization’s leadership, organization, resource allocation and culture. Relatedly, the development of a robust UN policy-planning capability, looking several years out into the future, not just at the crises of the day, and critical to the effective deployment of preventive diplomacy.
- The effective implementation of, and measurement of, existing major UN global initiatives. Most particularly, this requires the urgent establishment of effective implementation machinery for agenda 2030 and the agreed seventeen sustainable development goals and 169 targets. If this does not happen, the SDGs run the risk of becoming an indictment of the hollowness of the UN’s normative agenda. Effective implementation will require a new global compact between the UN, the global and regional development banks and private finance to deploy the finance necessary to give effect to the SDGs.
- The effective anticipation of, and response to new, emerging, critical global policy agendas of the future, not just those of the past, including effectively countering terrorism and violent extremism, enhancing cybersecurity, constraining lethal autonomous weapons systems, elevating the absolute priority of enforcing international humanitarian law for the wars of the future, and developing a comprehensive approach to planetary boundaries beyond climate change, particularly for our oceans.
- The structural integration of the UN’s peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights and humanitarian agendas as a strategic continuum, rather than leaving them as the rigid, self-contained, institutional silos of the past..
- The development of a “Team UN” in the field that finally resolves the problem of its rigid institutional silos by moving increasingly to integrated, multidisciplinary teams to deal with specific challenges on the ground, guided by fully integrated, common mandates across all UN agencies, and under the leadership of fully empowered Directors of UN Operations in each country.
- The full integration of women at the center, and across the totality of the UN agenda, not just in discrete parts of it, because to fail to do so will further undermine peace, security, development, and human rights. The full employment of women, to the level of the male participation rate, would add a major addition to flagging global economic growth rates.
- A new approach to global youth so that their voices are heard at the center of the UN’s councils–not simply as a paternalistic afterthought, so that global youth can help shape their own future. As the global youth bulge (those under 25) now represents 42% and rising of the world’s population, new policies are needed, given that current approaches to youth unemployment are failing.
- The development of a UN whose culture is driven by the prioritisation of operations in the field, rather than UN headquarters; the implementation of UN reports, rather than the proliferation of the writing of such reports; the rigorous measurement of UN results on the ground, not just the number of UN conferences held; and the introduction of a reward structure for staff that reflects the same.
- The capacity of the UN to efficiently, effectively, and flexibly act within the reality imposed by ongoing budgetary constraints, rather than hoping that the fiscal heavens will one day magically reopen, because they won’t.
This report also includes 55 individual piece of recommendation of reform, across peace and security, sustainable development, human rights and humanitarian engagement, and budget, personnel, management, and communications.
Where the rubber really hits the road is whether a UN reform process like that described in the report can better equip the United Nations over the next decade to prevent a repeat of crises like the Syrian catastrophe unfolding before our eyes.
With more effective policy planning, could we have more clearly foreseen the impact of the Arab Spring on Syria back in 2011?
Could the UN have been more forward-leaning in its preventive diplomacy at that time?
Could the UN have acted as a more effective bridge-builder between Russian, American Syrian positions at that time?
Could the UN have better representation of the developing countries to better reflect their aspirations, and therefore a more balanced globalized development?
Would it have been more possible to carve out humanitarian corridors into the country while a functioning infrastructure remained?
Could a reformed UNHCR, World Food Program and WHO have been more effective in their responses to the outflows of Syrian refugees into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, rather than unilaterally halving financial support for these millions of people?
Could a reformed UNHCR have worked more effectively with the European Union on the large-scale outflow of asylum-seekers and refugees from the Middle East across eastern and western Europe in 2014-2015?
These are all imponderables.
It is easy to speak of them now.
And with the clarity of 180-degree hindsight.
It is much harder when you are staring into the mist of the future with limited information, and often, with limited capacity.
So the key question is how do we learn from these failures and from the successes, too, in building a more effective UN, fit for purpose for the challenges of the 21st century?
I hope this report can make a modest contribution to global policy deliberations on this great question of our times.