Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Future Role of the United Nations Within the Framework of Global Security - Feb. 13, 2005

Hillary Rodham Clinton
February 13, 2005— Munich, Germany
Munich Conference on Security Policy
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I want to thank the Munich Conference for promoting 41 years of dialogue about peace and security and for this opportunity to briefly speak about the Role of the United Nations in Global Security, and I want to thank the Conference for putting together such a distinguished and diverse panel.

I also want to thank Secretary-General Annan, for his remarks at this morning's introductory session and especially for his leadership at the United Nations for the last eight years and his service to the organization over the last 40 years. He has in many ways an unenviable job, but an indispensable one. He has brought tremendous grace and quiet fortitude to his position, and I thank him for working so hard on behalf of so many.

The Secretary General has recently given my husband a new job as the United Nations Special Envoy for Tsunami-affected Countries. My husband is deeply grateful for the opportunity to work with the former President Bush and with the U.N. on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of people suffering from the devastation of the tsunami. Let me follow up on the U.N. Secretary General's remarks with a few comments from my perspective as a long-time supporter and frequent visitor to the U.N.

My own participation in the historic U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing exactly ten years ago was one of the highlights of my own life. My first observation is simple but it must govern all that we do: The United Nations is an indispensable organization to all of us—despite its flaws and inefficiencies.

This means quite simply, that everyone here today, and governments everywhere, must decide that our global interests are best served by strengthening the U.N., by reforming it, by cleaning up its obvious bureaucratic and managerial shortcomings, and by improving its responsiveness to crises, from humanitarian to political.

This is, of course, precisely what Kofi Annan has sought to do with his Millennium Development goals, with his recent High-Level Panel on Threat, Challenges & Change, and recent personnel changes. But the Secretary General's authority is limited, and real power rests, according to the U.N. charter, with the member states.

At its founding in San Francisco sixty years ago, fifty members signed the Charter. Today, the U.N. has 191 members, and, quite frankly, many of them sometimes act against the interests of a stronger U.N., whether consciously or not, with alarming regularity.

Since the U.N. is not, in the final analysis, an independent hierarchical organization, like for example a sports team or a corporation, but no more—or less—than a collection of its members, the U.N. becomes progressively weakened by such action.

Ironically, "the U.N."—an abstraction that everyone from journalists to those of us in this room use in common discussions—is often blamed for the actions (or inactions) of its members. This is the case with the meaningless and outrageous anti-Israel resolutions routinely passed by large majorities in the General Assembly. They carry no weight at all, and, if you think about it, every U.N. ambassador is simply following instructions from his or her home capital. But it is the U.N.—not the home capitals—that gets blamed.

This was also the case in the dramatic diplomatic train wreck that took place in 2003 in the Security Council over Iraq. While the Administration and its conservative allies denounced in violent terms the U.N., the decisions taken to deny authority for military action in Iraq were in fact made in capitals. The U.N. was simply where those positions were made manifest.

To blame the U.N. was like blaming a building for what happens inside it. In fact, the U.N. system worked as it was conceived by its founders—only its outcome was not the one sought by two of the three nations—the U.S. and the U.K., who played the biggest roles in creating the organization.

My second point is equally simple, but directed primarily at my own nation: The U.S. benefits from a stronger, more effective U.N. As the founding nation, the host nation, and the largest contributor, the United States has far more to gain than to lose by insisting on reform, transparency and performance.

In the humanitarian and peacekeeping fields, we pay roughly one-quarter of the overall costs, and we pay 22% of the regular budget. Thus, if the U.N. is effective, our investment is highly leveraged. If it is weak, our money—along with yours—is worth less, and more of the burden will fall directly on us, the richer nations represented here today. Thus, I fully support the Secretary General's reform efforts, and urge him to do even more.

I have elsewhere deplored people in my own nation who have sought to weaken, undermine and underfund the U.N. There are many in the U.S. who feel the U.N. is too strong, but the truth is quite the opposite: it is far too weak to serve the great causes that are its calling: fighting poverty, conflicts and disease, and promoting equal human rights for all.

There are those in America who fear that the U.N. wishes to be a "world government," but of course this is ill informed. It was precisely to address this fear that Presidents Roosevelt and Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill created the Security Council veto for the "P-5"—the five permanent members of the Security Council. Without that veto power, the U.N. would have been as weak as the old League of Nations; without that veto the U.S. Senate would have rejected the U.N. charter as it had the League.

And without the U.N., the world would be an even more dangerous place.

This brings me to my third point: peacekeeping, post-conflict reconstruction and the U.N. This was always seen by the founders as the U.N.'s core function, and thus they created the Security Council with that all-important veto I just mentioned for the P-5.

But the world has changed dramatically in ways that no one could have foreseen in 1945. Most conflicts today are not simply caused by one nation invading another. They arise within the boundaries of a single state, as in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Sudan/Darfur, the Congo and Afghanistan. Each present a different set of circumstances and conditions, but all require the world's attention, and thus they all end up in the U.N. Security Council for action—or inaction.

I support many of the Secretary-General's High Level Panel proposals for finding ways to deal with the challenges of a 21st century world of failed states and terrorists, but I must say, quite frankly, that Security Council Reform, while justifiable in principle, will be immensely difficult to achieve. I also should note the presence here today of one of that panel's members—my friend, Brent Scowcroft.

A brief word is in order here about the relationship between the United Nations and NATO. By inviting a U.N. secretary general to this NATO-centered conference for the first time, you have already made the point here in Munich. But it needs to be more widely understood: in the post-Cold War world, NATO, and other multi-national military forces, can and should play important roles in peacekeeping operations in support of U.N. mandates. This is something very new, and we are still feeling our way.

Bosnia after the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995 was our first such venture. It succeeded, and ten years later, Bosnia is still at peace, with NATO replaced by an EU force. Kosovo provided a more complicated model: the 1999 NATO military action was not authorized by the U.N. because Russian threatened a veto. But after the war, U.N. Security Resolution 1244 authorized the NATO force, Russians joined it, and today a joint NATO-UN military civilian presence controls Kosovo pending resolution of its final status. In East Timor in 1999, when a U.N. peacekeeping force would have taken months to assemble, the Security Council authorized an Australian-led multi-lateral force to go to East Timor. 96 hours later they were in Dili, and the massacre of innocent Timorese stopped immediately, never to resume.

These are real success stories, to be balanced against the tragic failures in Rwanda, early Bosnia, and up to now, the inadequate response in Darfur. What can we learn from this decade of successes and failures?

For me, the first lesson is the U.N. Security Council must meet its obligations. It did not do so, for example, in Rwanda. The second is that it cannot succeed through the old, failed system of slowly assembling peacekeeping forces from around the world. These are often weak, poorly equipped, and poorly led.

This is where NATO- the best peacetime military alliance in history—can play a role. In Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and now, I hope, Iraq, they play a vital role. Why not, if it is appropriate—and with the full consent of all NATO members—elsewhere? Why not, for example, at least a limited NATO role in logistics, communication and transportation in Darfur in support of the African Union?

I am not advocating that NATO do all things in all places, but we should learn from the past and keep an open mind on future NATO assignments in implementation of Security Council mandates. This is fully consistent with the remarks we have just heard from the Secretary General.

One thing I must regrettably predict: There will be other Bosnias, other Darfurs in the world, and we cannot continue to say "Never again" as it happens again before our eyes!

Finally, I want to close by emphasizing my core point: we need a better U.N., not a weaker one. America must take the lead, or else this will not be possible. But all of the other nations at this great conference have roles to play.

Our main speaker today, who has devoted his life to the organization, who is our friend as well as a world figure of great stature, cannot do it alone. The lofty ideals of the 1945 founders may not have yet been realized but they are still valid, and we owe it to the world to redouble our efforts to achieve them.

Thank you.