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B. Boutros-Ghali: United Nations Renewal

Address to a UPF Global Peace Tour gathering
UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, France, May 23, 2009

Excellencies. Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a very great honor to be invited to speak on the United Nations and its future.

After the Napoleonic Wars, the Conference of Vienna was assembled in 1815 to develop new norms for governing relationships between States. After World War I, American President Woodrow Wilson contributed to the creation of a new organization, the League of Nations headquartered in Geneva, which tried, in turn, to regulate the relationships among States. After World War II, another American President, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill contributed to the creation of a new international organization, the United Nations.

After the Cold War, I would say that it was just as important as after World War I or World War II (if we want to analyze the number of victims and the damages caused in different parts of the world), we all thought, including President George Bush the father, that the moment had come to establish a new international organization or reform the United Nations. Unfortunately, that did not take place, and we find ourselves today before an extremely weakened international organization that has lost its importance. I would go further and say that it has lost the confidence of international public opinion.

Why? Because the United Nations is confronted with new phenomena that did not exist in 1945. Should I recall for you that the first and second atomic bombs were launched against Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the creation of the United Nations? In other words, the United Nations was established before the creation and use of atomic weapons.

The United Nations was established by about 50 States, and today there are three times as many States. This is an important structural change; moreover, the majority of these new members are less-developed States.

The third phenomenon, the end of the Cold War, created a new situation which should have permitted a radical reform of this international organization and taken into account the technological revolution and the problems of globalization.

We find ourselves facing new phenomena that will need new concepts and new rules for their guidance.

How to reform the United Nations? I published on December 15, 1996, a document without the agreement or express request of the General Assembly or Security Council. This document, titled Agenda for Democratization, explains that it is not just a matter of democratizing States but it is also necessary to democratize globalization. Otherwise, we risk finding ourselves facing a new authoritarian system that will impose rules on the majority of the States without our being able to participate in the development of these rules. National democracy will disappear in the face of a supranational power.

How can we democratize globalization? It is necessary to begin by democratizing the United Nations. Is one misled in wishing to discuss whether there is a need to increase the membership of the Security Council from 15 to 18 or perhaps 22? Is it more necessary for one country to have a permanent seat rather than another? Is it necessary to abolish the veto power, or should its use be limited to certain particular situations?

The real problem is to take into account a major evolution, which is the new role of civil society. Thus, if we want to democratize the United Nations, if we want to prepare the third generation of international organizations, it is necessary to obtain the participation of civil society in the heart of the new organization with a status similar to that of the State.

This is not a revolutionary idea. It is not new. The International Labor Organization has a tripartite representation: representatives of states, representatives of workers, and representatives of  employers, who do not necessarily vote the same way. The same State, then, could have three different points of view. This pluralism constitutes a form of democracy which could be adapted for the new world organization.

What I suggest is that non-state actors should be able to participate in the United Nations system. How would they participate? Mention has been made of non-governmental organizations. It seems important to me that these new actors participate in the work of the new international organization to the degree that they possess two qualities. First, that they grow out of civil society and receive the support of international public opinion. Second, that they have qualities that are not of the state; they will be in competition with State.

You will say to me, “But how will NGOs be represented? There are thousands of NGOs around the world.”

This is a technical problem. The legislators of tomorrow will find the solutions. One could imagine that NGOs which are concerned about protecting the women of the world will have one seat, and that NGOs which are concerned about the environment will have another seat. That is one formula. According to another formula, NGOs from Africa, Asia, Europe, and America would have two or three seats per continent. One could also combine functional representation with geographic representation.

But this is a secondary problem. The real problem is to accept the presence of NGOs in the heart of the new international organization.

I would add that other actors are very important: the multinational corporations which today have a greater power than the majority of small Sates. These multinational corporations profit from the resolutions adopted by the United Nations when they assume responsibility for putting these resolutions into practice. They should, therefore, participate in their formulation. Mention should be made of regional organizations, parliaments, and political parties.

If we really wish to prepare for a third-generation international organization, it is necessary for non-State actors to be able to participate in the development of new norms.

The factor of time has eliminated the concept of distance: today in one second you can reach New York or Buenos Aires or Chicago. Therefore, we find ourselves facing a mutation of international society, a mutation of the world, which requires a new international organization, and it is up to us to prepare for the formulation of this new organization.

Does one need a catastrophe such as World War I or World War II? Or a third catastrophe, such as the Cold War? Or a fourth catastrophe, which we are experiencing in this moment, which is the economic crisis, to incite us to reform the outdated and anachronistic international institutions?

It is necessary to prepare beginning now for this new international organization. It is up to you, this new generation, to think how to develop the necessary regulations so that this organization can better manage the problems of the world of tomorrow.

Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is former Secretary General of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie and president of the National Commission for Human Rights in Egypt.