Adviser to Annan touts recent U.N. accomplishments

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

United Nations reform is actually in the making, despite what the news media might portray, Stephen Stedman, special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general, told a full audience Monday in MacMillan 115. The research director and principal drafter for the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Changes spoke on “Reforming the U.N.: Progress and Pitfalls.”

The U.N. World Summit on Sept. 14-16 saw the largest gathering of the heads of state and national leaders ever, Stedman said. Held in New York City, the event was largely reported to be an unmitigated disaster. “I’m here to show you how it wasn’t,” Stedman said.

The summit reached an important agreement on nations’ “responsibility to protect” the victims of human rights abuses, he said. Nations essentially agreed to accept the obligation of helping the civilians of nations whose governments are either unable or unwilling to protect them in cases of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. For Sudan and other nations in similar situations, these pronouncements are great, Stedman said, but the consequential actions of nations will be more important.

“It’s our vision for the 21st century,” Stedman said, “to establish this new kind of collective security – to take the idea that a threat to one nation is a threat to all nations – and update it from (the United Nations’) creation in 1945 to now, to acknowledge the broader threats that exist today.”

A blanket statement of responsibility for other nations’ citizens “was, quite frankly, even up to three weeks ago, unbelieved to get into the document,” Stedman said. “There were too many supporters of sovereignty.”

“Another accomplishment of the summit was the unanimous, unqualified condemnation of terrorism,” Stedman said. Heads of state could not agree on a definition of terrorism, though encouraged to do so by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. “The lack of definition is not a legal problem,” Stedman contended. “It is, however, a political imperative.”

This condemnation was an important first step in developing a strategy to combat terrorism. Most nations agree that terrorism is a threat, though perhaps not the most salient one to their geographical location. Many nations are, however, highly critical of the United States’ war on terror and are looking to the high-level panel and Annan’s recommendations for an alternative strategy for combating terrorism detailed in Annan’s report, “In Larger Freedom.”

The summit also witnessed the creation of two new bodies: a peace-building commission and a new human rights council.

The peace-building commission will investigate ways for nations to remain stable and not fall back into violence, which has become an increasingly pressing concern, Stedman explained. “Within five years of signing a peace agreement, 50 percent of nations fall back into violence,” he said. The commission will be intergovernmental, with additional representation from world financial organizations, and will act as an advisory board to the Security Council.

The new human rights council was created to replace the current one in Geneva, whose performance never lived up to its creators’ aspirations of protecting and promoting individual rights, but was used by nations as a tool of political manipulation, Stedman said. Though plans are skeletal, the council’s budget is expected to be doubled. Stedman attributed the lack of details to distrust among member states.

Despite the many good outcomes of the summit, there were some “big silences” with particular regard to nuclear disarmament and arms proliferation. There was not a single sentence in the report about weapons, not even a reaffirmation of current obligations and agreements. Weapons will be a focal point of future negotiations, Stedman said. “It is a successful cornerstone of global security that is in trouble. Nations argue in corners saying stupid, untenable things – but there they are, and no one is willing to bring them out,” he said.

Additionally, Stedman fears that the lack of U.S. commitment to one of the three pillars of disarmament – that of the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons – is particularly troubling.

“Overall, we felt, coming out, that the summit report was a B+. Compared to others, though, an A+, because leaders actually did something,” Stedman said.

The talk was well received by audience members. “I thought the speech was very informative and useful. I learned a lot about the summit and what is going on behind the scenes at the U.N.,” said Lindsay French, an associate professor of anthropology at the Rhode Island School of Design.

“I thought that Stedman provided a good insider’s perspective on the summit and was surprised at the contrast that existed between what he said and the media’s account,” said Jacque Amoureux GS.

The speech was the first this year from the Watson Institute for International Studies’ Directors Lecture Series on Contemporary International Affairs.

The series, now in its fifth year, focuses on bringing scholars and practitioners of international studies to Brown, said Professor of Political Science Thomas Biersteker, director of the Watson Institute. As a friend for 20-some years, Biersteker persuaded Stedman to come to Brown for the lecture before returning to his position as a senior fellow at Stanford University in October.

The Directors series continues throughout the year. The next scheduled speaker is Larry Diamond, also a senior fellow at Stanford and an expert on affecting democracy abroad. Diamond will speak Oct. 11.

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