REVIEW: Article

The United Nations, the European Union and the United States

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), Kofi Annan, addressed the closing session of the Millennium Summit in New York on September 8th. He expressed appreciation to the 160 chiefs of state and heads of government for the Declaration they adopted defining the goals to be achieved in the next 15 years—by 2015. Their Declaration said that it is intolerable that millions of innocent people, especially women and children, should still fall victim to brutal conflict. It reaffirmed the vital importance of international law; it called for a comprehensive reform of the Security Council and for action and results to make the United Nations more effective.

Kofi Annan then spoke these crucial words to the assembled member states, words which are basic to any hope or possibility of making the UN more relevant and effective: “...You are yourselves the United Nations. It lies in your power, and therefore it is your responsibility, to reach the goals you have defined. Only you can determine whether the United Nations rises to the challenge...”

The Secretary-General has wisely welcomed and promoted growing links with international business and with non-governmental organizations that give hope of a constituency of support that the UN desperately needs. But it is the 189 member states that are in fact the United Nations; their governments must determine if the UN will be an important instrument of international governance. The great power and energy of the United States (US) is not available to lead this historic mission. We can regret that reality but we must confront it—and the results of the presidential elections in November will not change that reality.

In this paper, I will discuss the future of the UN in the context of the United States and the European Union (EU). I will argue that America’s faltering and provocatively negative role in the UN can now be transformed into opportunity by the European Union—an opportunity to bring the economic and military power of the member states of the European Union together for a universal purpose and in so doing give form and substance to the new Europe—an opportunity for the European Union to offer the leadership that is desperately needed and that the United States cannot presently give. The strategic and diplomatic decisions are complicated. They need intense effort and commitment by the European Union to be formulated and executed. If the EU accepts the challenge and carries it out successfully, it will give the 21st century an incomparable prospect of peace, purpose, and historic progress in achieving social justice.

Let me begin by discussing the American relationship to the United Nations. It is important to understand some fundamentals as to how our government works. The US is not a parliamentary democracy where the executive power is an extension of the legislative power. We are a constitutional republic, founded by men whom experience and learning had taught to be distrustful of power, especially the concentration of power. The result is a commitment to the concept of balance of power with three branches of government—the executive, legislative and judicial, given express and implied powers, which 210 years of experience as a nation have defined, enlarged, and distilled. It is a remarkable system and it works for our country, now the oldest constitutional democracy in the world. Protected and isolated by two oceans, America has lived its history free of the destructive violence of foreign enemies that has diminished and destroyed other nations. Now, for more than 50 years, America has been the dominant military, economic and political force in the world. It reluctantly accepted the responsibility of international leadership. It has certainly been as generous and benign as any predecessor nation in world history, which has had its opportunity of power and leadership. Self-interest, national interest, sometimes arrogant self-confidence have all been a part of its decisions affecting other nations, but it has responded greatly to the challenges to humanity and democracy in the 20th century. 

The relationship of the US to the UN since its founding has been creative, intense, often supportive, frequently insulting, sometimes disruptive, often undiplomatic, and increasingly destructive. The Americans who participated in the creation of the United Nations were tough, pragmatic politicians who, having witnessed the collapse of the League of Nations, were determined to avoid its weaknesses, yet build upon its ideals. The terrible cost to humanity—in life, in wealth, in spiritual values—of the Second World War and the advent of the nuclear age made age-old ideals of international governance into pragmatic necessities. The Holocaust showed us the depth of human evil. The Second World War cost more than 60 million lives, an overwhelming percentage of them innocent civilian lives. The great cities and countryside of Europe and Asia lay in the ashes of horrific destruction. The nuclear age provided the curtain to this awful episode of history. For the first time Mankind had a capacity to destroy itself and to make the world uninhabitable. The world was blessed to have an extraordinary generation of men and women of ideals and vision available to it.

The United Nations was the last great achievement of the President whom most agree was the greatest American leader of the 20th century. Franklin Roosevelt understood the history of American isolationism and the powerful forces that would resist US participation in international organizations. He was determined to avoid the political mistakes of Woodrow Wilson, creating a universal organization which would bring all nations together but where the most powerful nations, designated as permanent members of the Security Council, had a special responsibility for collective security and the obligations of the UN Charter. The Charter was not done by decrees from heaven. It was carefully crafted, with national interests and attitudes often in conflict. There was endless negotiation of the various proposals even as the war continued. Idealism and cynicism confronted each other but in the end, an intelligent, pragmatic, imperfect agreement was negotiated. In the midst of hope and with the echo of every political argument that still has resonance today, the UN Charter was adopted. The founders understood that a civil society needs to be built on law and order—that civilization needs a policeman. Since no single nation—and certainly not the United States—wanted to be that policeman, the Security Council was organized to carry out an important part of that responsibility through collective action. The Charter became an instrument by which the principle of self-determination could be realized. It insisted on respect for human rights, and encouraged economic, social, cultural and humanitarian cooperation among all nations. And every nation was signatory to that Charter—51 in 1945, 189 today. The founders knew—and we know—the gross imperfections of the world but they knew—and we know—what had to be done to make it better.

America made its commitment in 1945. President Harry Truman expressed it in his address to the delegates in San Francisco who adopted the Charter of the United Nations:


“If we fail to use the Charter and the organization that we have created with it, we shall betray all of those who have died in order that we might meet here in freedom and in safety to create it. If we seek to use it selfishly for the advantage of one nation or small group of nations, we shall be equally guilty of that betrayal, but what a great day in history this can be. This Charter is no more perfect than our own constitution, but like the constitution it must be made to live. The powerful nations must accept the responsibility for leadership toward a world of peace.”


Sitting at President Truman’s right hand was Arthur Vandenberg, the most powerful Republican member of the Senate of the United States. This was not the commitment of a party or of a person. This was a commitment of a nation, proposed by its President and ratified by the Senate in the solemn manner ordained by our Constitution. Only two members of the Senate voted in opposition. The United States understood that it had to lead in organizing the community of nations if the United Nations was to succeed.

The depth and continuance of that commitment is a decision that each generation must make anew. Is the United Nations an instrument of international governance that serves American interests? Germany’s interests? Europe’s interests? The interests of the Atlantic community? Not to mention the countries separated from us by ideology and poverty and systemic failure? The question presupposes that we know what those interests are. Let us frame the question in terms of the countries of the Atlantic Alliance both individually and collectively. Is the international control of nuclear proliferation in our interest? Were their interests served by de-colonization, a process that has taken place for the most part peacefully because the United Nations served as the bridge that old Empires could cross so that new nations would emerge? Is it in their interest to advance the Rule of Law, to encourage respect for human rights, to ameliorate humanitarian crises so that the millions of refugees wandering the earth, devastated by famine and despair, have at least the option of surviving and resettling in their own countries and regions? 

And what does UN peacekeeping and peacemaking mean to their interests? Let us consider only some of the interventions since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Consider Cambodia, where in the 1970s the world witnessed the killing fields where two million innocent people were murdered and did nothing to stop the slaughter. Because of United Nations intervention, because of the end of the Cold War, because of the leadership of Australia and Japan, because of the support of the European Union and the United States, the violence has ended in Cambodia and there is hope for democracy. A United Nations force did not liberate South Africa, but its condemnation of Apartheid and its sanctions helped force the release of Nelson Mandela, a transforming event in the history of South Africa.

Americans especially should remember what peace in El Salvador means, having spent billions of dollars taking sides in a civil war that cost the lives of 80,000 people— 80,000 dead in one decade in one small Central American country in our own hemisphere. Was it in our interest to have the diplomatic intervention of the Secretary-General of the United Nations that brought an end to that struggle? 

How could Iraq’s aggression have been repulsed and the principle of collective security sustained without a Security Council mandate which allowed both Arab nations and Israel to support the liberation of Kuwait—and which made its $100 billion cost a shared responsibility? In 1992, American forces, under the flag of the UN, brought a quick end to the suffering in Somalia where 400,000 people a year were dying of starvation. The mismanagement of the subsequent military role by both the UN and the US in Somalia, instead of being a painful lesson in future preparations and restraints, became a political liability that President Clinton was unwilling to accept, permitting the UN to become the scapegoat of defeat.

When the crisis exploded in Bosnia, none of our countries wanted to face the costs of peace, costs that Benjamin Disraeli calculated with extraordinary precision 114 years before. In a speech in 1878 in the House of Lords, Prime Minister Disraeli said: “No language can describe adequately the condition of that portion of the Balkan Peninsula— Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina. No words can describe the political intrigue, the constant rivalries, a total absence of all public spirit, a hatred of all races, animosities of rival religions, absence of any controlling power. Nothing short,” Disraeli said, “of an army of 50,000 of Europe’s best troops would produce anything like order in those parts.” We have seen the Serbs and the Croats and the Muslims kill each other with heartrending results six different times since 1878. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been murdered. In 1992, no country wanted to send their ground troops to be involved in another civil war among the Balkan nations. The United Nations was given an impossible mission. The Security Council sent unarmed peacekeepers into a shooting war with a mandate to be neutral in the face of criminal violence. Nevertheless, their very presence stopped the wholesale slaughter, which before their arrival had taken 250,000 lives. When the Security Council created the safe havens such as Sbrinica, it did the right thing. The obligation was to save innocent people. The concept was not wrong. The failure was the Security Council’s unwillingness to provide the resources to protect those safe havens despite the pleas of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali. The world was outraged by the massacre at Sbrinica. The UN Secretariat, as its recent reports candidly state, bears an important responsibility but the Security Council, which refused it the proper mandate and resources also bears the responsibility. The Dayton Accord, brilliantly negotiated by Richard Holbrooke, brought an end to the fighting. But peace is a process, not an event. The Balkan cauldron seethes with 600 years of hatred. The United Nations can have a critical role in reconciling ancient enemies and building the framework of a civil society. But this is the work of a generation and undoubtedly longer—and the very possibility of success depends on dedicated leadership, such as that being provided by Bernard Kouchner, and a willingness of Europe and America to make the necessary resources available. 

Ronald Reagan in a speech at Oxford University in December 1992 spoke to the future of the United Nations:


“And now the United Nations has been liberated by the end of the Cold War. We are at last able to recognize the vision of its founding fathers. Just as the world’s democracies banded together to advance the cause of freedom in the face of totalitarianism, might we not now unite to impose civilized standards of behavior on those who flout every measure of human decency? Are we not nearing a point in world history where civilized nations can in unison stand up to the most immoral and deadly excesses against humanity?”


But President Reagan’s words did not influence his party as it gained control of the Congress in 1994 and chose Senator Helms to be Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Jesse Helms, a southern gentleman who speaks candidly and courteously, quickly made clear his attitude in an article in Foreign Affairs in September, 1996. He allowed that the UN might be tolerated as a convenient diplomatic forum for the nations of the world but otherwise it had little other function. Its “bloated, ineffective bureaucracy” was a waste of money. Its basic purposes represented a continuing threat to American sovereignty. The UN was certainly vulnerable. There were legitimate concerns regarding its administration, efficiency and effectiveness. To these legitimate questions, the United Nations has responded constructively. Congress said that the United States had to have control over the UN budget; a majority vote of the General Assembly would not be allowed to spend American money without American consent. The General Assembly now adopts a budget only by consensus, which means that the United States has a veto over it. We demanded that the United Nations reorganize its budget and administrative framework—and said we wanted an American in charge. The UN accepted that demand and appointed the former head of Price Waterhouse who has discharged his responsibilities for budget management and finance at the United Nations with praiseworthy success. The United States demanded an Inspector General and made such an appointment a condition of paying its dues. The UN created such an office and gave the Inspector General total independence in the discharge of his responsibilities. But Congress continued to impose new conditions on the American obligation to pay its dues. Every time the United Nations met an American demand, new demands were made, and the good faith of the UN effort was frustrated by the destructive purpose of the Congressional assault.

The problems of American participation in the United Nations are not related to money. The assessed share of the United States for the $1.3 billion annual UN budget amounts to $325 million. The United States has a $1.8 trillion national budget. Its economy produces a gross national product of over $8 trillion. In that context certainly, an appropriation of $325 million to fulfill a significant international treaty obligation is not an onerous burden. The assault on the UN is not to save money. The objective is to undermine the United Nations that its Founders envisioned, to diminish it as an obstacle to American hegemony in international affairs, to make it marginal and irrelevant to the exercise of American power.

In the past, Congress generally, often reluctantly, went along on UN decisions because of strong White House leadership, which insisted on the president’s constitutional authority in the conduct of foreign affairs. Strong public majorities supported that leadership as it would today, but that presidential leadership in UN affairs has not been available.

Congress never has been, and by its nature and composition probably never will be a cheerleader for the United Nations. The UN has no constituency that Congress fears. There is irony in this because every reliable poll shows that a strong majority of Americans consistently supports the United Nations and US participation in it. The clear majority of Americans does not fear a growing role for the UN nor does it believe such a role would impinge on American sovereignty. Americans know that the veto in the Security Council prevents the UN from doing anything inimical to the interests of the United States. A clear majority of Americans favor both the principle and the practice of contributing troops to UN peacekeeping missions, wanting the US to participate fairly in multilateral operations, which are perceived as likely to succeed and which have a defined mission. 

A recent Brookings Institute study entitled Misreading the Public (by Steven Kuel and I.N. Destler, 1999) is indispensable reading for anyone interested in understanding the divergence in attitude between the government and people of the United States. As the Brookings study states: “The American public does not give priority to international issues when it chooses public officials. The executive branch does not give priority to public opinion when it makes foreign policy. The legislative branch cares a great deal about public opinion, but not opinion on international matters, [knowing that] whatever the Members’ position on foreign affairs, they are unlikely to be punished by voters for disagreeing or being disagreeable…[A]nd,” the Study continues, “individual policy practitioners, particularly in the executive branch, do not challenge the widely held belief in public neo-isolationism because they fear they will be labeled unrealistic or even naïve, and this will undercut their influence…” So, it appears that in the greatest representative democracy in history, the attitude of the people, at least as it relates to their country and the United Nations, is hardly relevant.

The stunning Republican victory in the 1994 Congressional elections brought the Republican ideological right wing to positions of power it had not had for more than 60 years. It brought a large new group of Congressmen and Senators who were remarkably inexperienced and uninterested in international affairs—and who became the loudspeakers for a xenophobic, often irrational, eccentric group, which made the UN the target of unrelenting abuse. In the background was the Heritage Foundation, brilliantly administered and heavily funded, which gave intellectual veneer to anti-UN attitudes and which had no counterpart among those majority forces that saw the UN as an important component in international governance.

Senator Helms, a brilliant parliamentarian, has intimidated the foreign policy establishment, controlling, among other things, the confirmation process of policy making and ambassadorial appointments. With a White House too inexperienced and unwilling to fight, Senator Helms took control of the US relationship to the United Nations. The UN agenda became dominated by the non-payment, the partial payment, the conditional payment of America’s assessed dues. One could think of this process as a cynical way to marginalize the UN—the thousands of hours spent in endless discussions, the abject trips to Washington by pleaders of the UN cause, the depressing impact on the morale of UN personnel, the growing, almost tangible sense of frustration and anger among diplomats who profoundly admire America but feel that great possibilities are being trivialized by Congressional intransigence and presidential disinterest. With no authority for external borrowing, the UN struggled on a day to day basis, strangled by the cash flow crunch that the American indebtedness had deliberately created. The United States’ example of indebtedness invited replication by 80 other member states.

Senator Helms in his address before the Security Council last January singled out a statement made by the Secretary-General to the General Assembly on the question of sovereignty where Kofi Annan said: “The last right of states cannot and must not be the right to enslave, persecute or torture their own citizens,” clearly stating that the UN must be quicker to react to large-scale violations of human rights, even if that means intervening in a nation’s internal affairs. Citing a long list of US interventions for which it neither asked for nor received the approval of the United Nations to legitimize its actions, Senator Helms stated: “The United Nations, my friends, has no power to grant or decline legitimacy to such actions.” Using the oldest of rhetorical devices, he set up a straw man and beat it to death, saying that “a United Nations that seeks to impose its presumed authority on the American people, without their consent, begs for confrontation—and eventual US withdrawal.” Of course, such an action by the UN has never happened and could never happen because of the US veto on the Security Council. When reality is ignored to such an extent, the real objectives of the argument have to be examined. Put aside the soft southern accents of Senator Helms because his attitudes are made of steel. When the hostile forces, which dominate these issues in the Congress talk about sovereignty, they are echoing the attitudes of those in American history who have argued States’ rights to forestall every progressive advance from the recognition of labor’s rights to a system of social security to the constitutional protection of civil rights and desegregation.

What a mischance of history that American policy toward the UN should be in thrall to those whose hostility toward international organizations is so profound that they can talk of American withdrawal from the UN as a plausible option in the conduct of our foreign policy. For the purposes of the presidential campaign, the Know-Nothings are carefully concealed from public view but the platform adopted in May by the Republican party of Texas with 8,000 wildly cheering delegates in attendance and with every major Republican officeholder in Texas—except the Governor—in attendance, stated categorically and unconditionally that “all US participation in the United Nations should come to an end.” The ideological fringe whose attitude this statement reflects is certainly less than ten percent of the American public. In the presidential election, it is represented by Patrick Buchanan who, on September 18,sup>th at Bob Jones University in South Carolina promised “to expel [the United Nations] from the country if elected.”

The mischance of history is to have such hostile attitudes in control of American policy at a time when we have the most effective, charismatic, purposeful Secretary-General since Dag Hammarskjold leading the United Nations. A recent profile of Kofi Annan in Time Magazine ascribed to him the five virtues of a great moral leader: dignity, confidence, courage, compassion and faith. Educated in America, having lived a good part of his adult life in America, Kofi Annan understands the United States better than any of his predecessors. He deeply believes in the greatness of the American nation, he knows our history and our ideals, he understands and admires our great strength and power. The Secretary-General also knows the weakness of the UN structure, its total dependence on the support and goodwill of the member states. He never mistakes his considerable personal authority for the power of the Security Council and the General Assembly to command. He has the beatific patience to endure the yelling of a Secretary of State and the diplomatic skill to give Senator Helms as good as he gets with the same charm and gentlemanliness. Speaking in June at the commencement exercises at Wingate University in North Carolina, the Senator’s alma mater, Kofi Annan proceeded to tell his audience in words of poetic eloquence that the world Senator Helms was talking about did not exist anymore, that “our era is one of momentous transition and transformation, one in which there are real openings for change, a receptivity to new ideas—in short, room to make dreams come true.” 

Kofi Annan is the best hope we have ever had to transform our vision of the UN into reality. The Security Council has confidence in him as does the developing world. With his personal knowledge and experience of the UN’s limitations, he can help guide the nations of the world as they take the long, unending journey, small step by small step, to a better world, a world safer for our children than it was for us, a world more abundant in well-being for their children than it is for them.

Like a beached whale, the great power and energy of the United States is not available for this great task in the United Nations. We can regret that reality but we must confront it. The United States government is not able at this critical point in UN history to give the political leadership to take advantage of this historic opportunity to advance international governance. The United States government can be expected to say the right words and it can in significant ways encourage and at times support the initiatives of others if appropriately presented—and by that I mean not presented confrontationally or with an intent to embarrass. The United States will continue to spend 17 percent or more of its $1.8 trillion budget on defense and security, considerably more than the members of the EU spend on their military, providing thereby an overall protective shield that should allow other nations to concentrate on the questions that are crucial to the UN’s future. The real question now is whether there are other forces that can fill the leadership vacuum. The leading and possibly the only candidate is the European Union, which has good working relationships with the significant members of the UN whose support they would need.

The European Union and its individual members have the power and the possibility to determine the future of the United Nations for the next generation. The creation and successful development of the European Union is one of the decisive events of the last century. Its creation has brought an end to the civil wars of Europe, which twice in the 20th century threatened the very existence of civilization. By population and economic and nuclear and potential military power, the EU is a Super Power, perhaps not a Hyper-puissance, but a force that with political and diplomatic skill, can fill the vacuum of American negativism toward the UN. France’s Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, may be right when he says that the United States is so powerful that it cannot accept real partners. In any event, it is presently unwilling to do so. Meanwhile, as long as Europe remains divided, American attitudes of unilateralism are easier to carry out. 

Europe’s leadership at the UN is also an opportunity to strengthen the Atlantic Alliance because the EU’s success will be dependent on working closely with Canada and with the governmental and private forces in the United States who share a commitment to making the UN more effective and relevant. There are many Americans in policymaking positions who believe that the United Nations is indispensable to the purposes of American foreign policy. As the Millennial General Assembly convened earlier this month in New York, Richard Holbrooke, the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations, spoke those very words. Holbrooke, who has a remarkable combination of substantive and political skills, has—with little if any support from the State Department and the White House, forget the active animosity of the Congress to the UN!—maintained a presence for America that has won him a regard, which is denied to his instructions from Washington. It is insulting to his great creative capacities that so much of his time and diplomatic capital have to be spent pleading the reduction of the American dues assessment and peacekeeping costs, rather than building a structure for international peacekeeping that could change the world. 

Leadership at the UN offers extraordinary opportunities to the European Union. It offers the opportunity to forge a more significant bond as Europeans, to act with the power, authority and influence that their Community represents if it can speak with a unified voice. The EU has sustained and encouraged democracy and democratic values and has shown the will and capacity to embrace the lands of central and eastern Europe, giving those countries, including Russia, the hope for a revival in the 21st century that will bring them peace and prosperity. All this has been accomplished with the member states and ethnic groups keeping intact their proud identity—with a sense of generosity to the rest of the world that sets a standard for all of us. Jean Monnet would be well pleased. Like Kofi Annan, he too started with a dream.

In the context of the United Nations, the European Union is a superpower—and the only one that can be presently mobilized to give the UN credibility and a capacity to participate in the dynamic events ahead of us. The costs of such a presence are minimal compared to what unified leadership can do to make the Union truly European, and what EU leadership could do for the UN, for peace, for development, for the environment, for human rights.

I would urge the EU to begin a new era by accepting, as America’s best friend, the reality of American political gridlock. Perhaps the November election will liberate the Congress from the control of the right wing ideological fringes. But the new President will not change the almost total absorption of the American government with domestic affairs. If Governor Bush is elected, he may be inspired by his father’s example which was a President who understood, respected, and used the UN effectively. If Vice President Gore is elected, he may well be a strong, resourceful President; if he is lucky, he will have at least one house of the new Congress controlled by his party—if he is blessed, he will have both. But neither the new President nor the new Congress is going to expend significant political capital on UN matters—and the Helms-Biden legislation is the law of the land—and as Senator Helms reminded the Security Council, it took three years to pass it and the final vote was 98 to 1. “Some may contend that the Clinton Administration should have fought to pay arrears without conditions—and I assure you,” said the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “that had they done so, they would have lost and lost badly.” Not that much is going to be changed by the November elections.

My first recommendation to the EU is to accept the reduction of the assessed obligation of the US from 25 percent to 22 percent, and in Peacekeeping from 31 percent to 25 percent. On the dues question, the reduction means $40 million, an embarrassing sum to be a policy focus for the richest nation on earth, but we cannot allow this question to remain as the most discussed item on the UN agenda. The EU should take the leadership not only in accepting the reduction but in advocating it to all of the member states. Rationalize it by recalling that Sweden and Olav Palme argued that no member state should pay more than 15 percent of the assessed budget so that there would be a more level playing field in influencing UN decisions. The United States government vigorously opposed the proposal then, properly recognizing that our financial participation gave us important leverage. Accepting America’s dilemma on this financial question will be widely appreciated. Great allies understand each other’s weaknesses. Perhaps the EU and the United States together can convince Kuwait, having been saved by UN intervention, and some of its OPEC partners to make up the difference.

Secondly, remake the structure of the UN so that it is responsive to the world’s needs. Of course Germany and Japan and India should be permanent members—and Africa and Latin America should have permanent representation. But as we have seen, these conclusions are easier said than done. The politics of the reorganization are intense and complicated. I would make only two suggestions in the context of this discussion: enlarging the Security Council will not make it more effective—the whole history of the UN gives evidence of that so try to keep the number of members to 20 or less; and remember that two of the five permanent members with the power of veto are already part of the European Union. In the course of the next generation, perhaps the EU itself can be represented as a permanent member. As Italy has effectively argued, it too is a major financial and creative contributor to the United Nations. What an extraordinary breakthrough for the recognition of the European Union as a superpower if Great Britain and France were to find a way to lead the reform of the Security Council by having all of the member states of the EU involved through the representation granted to them by the Charter. The European states have been brilliantly creative building a governmental infrastructure for the new Europe. Let that same imagination take hold of this problem.

Another area for EU leadership relates to the disintegrating states often, like Somalia, sources of violence—and how the UN can help them. Europeans have historic links to the developing world, which, for the most part, have continued in constructive ways. One of the six primary organs of the UN created by its Charter is the Trusteeship Council. The last UN trust territory became independent in 1994 leaving the Trusteeship Council without purpose. There are nation states that are barely functioning, leaving their people in the despair of anarchy and violence. In American bankruptcy law, we have a Chapter Eleven proceeding by which a corporation besieged by creditors seeks the court’s protection while developing a reorganization plan. The Trusteeship Council could fulfill this function for those member states that need time to create or rewrite their Social Contract. Through the Council, the UN could supply trained civil servants, a police training program, urgent food and financial assistance, and practiced negotiators who could help contending forces find a way to live with one another and save the seedcorn of their children to build a civil society. Relevant agencies like the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) could be part of the country teams that would be created by the Council. I know there are a thousand complications but I also know that it is worth the effort and that it can be done and that it could make a significant difference for millions of people. The United States will not oppose the concept, only the cost, but if every possibility of change can be vetoed by the US because of possible costs, then no one should waste their time trying to make the UN more effective. Progress is a step at a time. With the EU leading the way, the concept can be agreed upon; then one nation becomes the first project—and much will be learned in the process, including the costs and the means of financing. We are talking about what can be done within a decade, a generation—who would have predicted Maastricht when the signatories of the Treaty of Rome convened in 1953? Let Europe give the global community hope that the UN can be a substantive force in governance and extraordinary things may happen.

The decisive test of its relevance is whether the UN can be a major force in peacekeeping and peacemaking. Can it help stop the insanity of war? Or at least limit the violence of our times? Can it intervene helpfully in the humanitarian crises that destroy the possibility of civil society? The miracle is that UN intervention has been as effective as it has been. With meager resources, with limited staff personnel, with no effective military command center, with no inventory of basic supplies, with no standby force available for urgent interventions, the UN is left to confront each crisis as though none has preceded it, often made to look hapless and incapable by a Security Council that gives assignments of enormous responsibility but grants only minimal resources to carry them out. Report after report has been written that brilliantly define the shortcomings, correctly analyze the deficiencies, and make over and over again the recommendations that could quickly and significantly improve the situation. The latest such report was prepared by a panel of international experts appointed by the Secretary-General and chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi, a former foreign minister of Algeria. “There are many tasks which the UN peacekeeping forces should not be asked to undertake and many places they should not go,” the report said. Its suggestions call for speeding up response time so that a simple peacekeeping operation could be launched in 30 days rather than after several months. It describes the UN peacekeeping as understaffed, not sufficiently professional, a department with an ad hoc atmosphere about it, whose every move is micro-managed by the 189 member General Assembly.

The leadership of Europe can be decisive in forcing the implementation of these recommendations. The essential wisdom for the UN is to take on only those assignments for which the UN is equipped—and the EU is in a position to either insist that the reorganization be carried out and financed—or else it should block the Security Council when it orders missions for which it refuses to provide the resources. Prime Minister Blair stated the problem superbly when he said: “…We need UN forces composed of units appropriate for peacekeeping that can be inserted quickly, rather than whatever the Secretary-General’s staff has been able to gather from reluctant member states. This means a new contract between the UN and its members. We must be prepared to commit our forces to UN operations. The UN must alter radically its planning, intelligence and analysis, and develop a far more substantial professional military staff. When the moment comes, the field headquarters must be ready to move, with an operational communications system up and running, and running immediately rather than weeks into the deployment. The Brahimi Report is right. We should implement it, and do so within a twelve month timescale…”

Nothing more important was said at the Millennial Summit.

An ability to intervene effectively through a rapid deployment force is an indispensable component for any serious UN capacity for peacekeeping. Recent events in Sierra Leone show its meaning. Badly trained UN peacekeepers bravely tried to protect innocent civilians from massacre and mutilation by gangster insurgents. Five hundred UN personnel were taken hostage and the media were quick to report another humiliating failure by the UN. And so it would have been except for Great Britain which dispatched 1,000 superbly trained soldiers to the scene and transformed the situation. Not without cost. To rescue seven of their own troops taken hostage, the British had to conduct a lightening raid where a heroic paratrooper was killed and several wounded. Prime Minister Blair’s decisive intervention illuminated a dark path and showed what could be done if there is political will.

The Foreign Minister of France, Hubert Vedrine, a man of wisdom and vision, told the General Assembly on September 12th that the European Union would have 60,000 troops and 5,000 police officers ready by the year 2003 to send into international crises. Former President Weizacker of Germany has recently performed another great service for his country in reviewing its military establishment and recommending changes that will make it capable of meeting the challenges of the new century. First and foremost, the Weizacker commission proposed that German armed forces be reorganized to have rapid deployment effectiveness so that it can participate in European and international missions. The Dutch, the Italians, the Scandinavians, the Canadians are all prepared to give the UN this rapid deployment capacity—professionally led, professionally trained military forces—not a UN army but rather national forces—perhaps in this decade a European force—available to the Security Council and the Secretary-General as decisions relating to peace and security are made.

Germany has a special responsibility and opportunity in helping the EU meet this challenge. Whatever the difficulties of unification—and they are many—the Cold War is over and Germany is no longer divided. The restraint in exercising its political influence, its economic weight, the energy of its successful democracy, the potential of its military assistance must be tempered by the need for its leadership both in the European Union and the United Nations. Over and over again we read that Europeans want respect. They want to be treated as partners rather than satellites. They do not want to be left to pay the bills for the cost of the Gulf War and Kosovo without being consulted and involved in decisions. Filling the vacuum of leadership at the UN will earn Europeans that respect. The enemies of the EU are looking forward to a negative vote on the Euro in Denmark in the September 28th election. They may win that skirmish.* The greater danger is the price of oil, inflation, and the continuing weakness of the Euro. In other words, difficult days are ahead, but dangers have to be transformed into opportunities. When written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity. That is what leadership is about. The EU and the United States must be steadfast allies. Nothing I have said diminishes that crucial relationship—but that relationship will be stronger if truth speaks to power. And if the UN is made truly effective because Europe responded to its need, we may be able to welcome the new century with greater confidence that civilization and humanity—endangered by the wars of the 20th century—have now advanced to a new plateau of hope and possibility.**


*Editor’s Note: According to The New York Times of September 29, 2000, Denmark voted not to join Europe’s common currency, the euro. Final results “showed 53.1 percent of the electorate voting ‘No’ to the euro and 46.9 in favor.”

**Editor’s Note: This text is edited from remarks presented by Ambassador vanden Heuvel to the American Academy in Berlin on September 25, 2000.

Issue Date

Author(s)

Deputy US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 1979-1981;
United States Ambassador to the United Nations European Office, 1977-1979