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21 March 1996

Press Release


19960321 Following is the text of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's address, translated from the French, to the French Institute of International Relations, in Paris today:

I am well aware, as I address you today, that I am keeping a promise of long standing. Thierry de Montbrial kindly invited me a long time ago to visit his prestigious Institute. But my tight schedule and the ups and downs of world affairs seldom allow me to find moments, such as these, when I can indulge, before an audience of specialists, in the pleasure of academic reflection.

The reflection is not idle, far from it. But it is free from the worries of everyday life and from the many pressures of international life.

In saying this, I have the impression that I have already started on my subject and that I am already telling you, in a somewhat impressionistic manner, what it is to be Secretary-General of the United Nations today.

I know that it is not customary to speak about oneself in public. But I am none the less going to make a confession to you: it is not always easy to be Secretary-General of the United Nations. For the Charter of San Francisco has created a very singular post for its occupant.

If you are too cautious, the Member States begin to whisper and to ask each other whether they have made a wise choice. Conversely, if you engage in a diplomacy that is too active, they are quick to remind you that you are merely the humble servant of an organization consisting of sovereign States.

The States want you to be both self-effacing yet enterprising, quiet yet dynamic, disciplined yet to have imagination. As you see, that is quite a challenge for anyone to attempt to deal on a continuing basis with such contradictions. Particularly since there are, in addition, the contradictions of the present-day world and those of the world Organization.

For the world today is caught between two conflicting currents -- the trend towards globalization and the trend towards fragmentation.

It is clear, first, that we have entered the age of global society. Whether we are dealing with the movement of goods or capital, the dissemination of information, protection of the environment, population control, suppression of transnational crime or the fight against terrorism, it is, henceforth, clear that these issues exist on a global scale and can be grasped only very imperfectly at the level of the nation State.

But at the same time, the world is being torn asunder by new conflicts which are taking place not so much between States as within nations. Every day, the United Nations is having to deal with civil wars, secessions, partitions, ethnic confrontations and tribal battles.

This basic contradiction of the present-day world compels the United Nations to operate on two levels all the time. It is being asked not only to deal with the crises and conflicts that are springing up everywhere, but also, at the same time, to monitor on a long-term basis the major changes taking place in the world. In other words, the United Nations is having to act both in emergencies and over the long haul.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations is confronted with all these contradictions all the time. It is true that the principal responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security lies with the Security Council. It is true that decision-making power within the Organization rests with the Member States. But the Secretary-General, whether he likes it or not, is the embodiment of the world Organization. It is to him that international public opinion turns for explanations. It is at him that the international community directs its criticisms or vents its frustrations.

In recent years, I have often witnessed or been subjected to harsh judgements, including by those very people who were the main obstacles to the efficiency of the United Nations. I have also seen the Secretary-General take the blame for things that were due to the hesitations and contradictions of States and, strangely enough, the most powerful States. That the Secretary- General should thus become a scapegoat is not at all surprising. And I accept this role willingly if it can, in certain cases, be helpful to States in their policy. But I believe that the Secretary-General not only has a duty to execute, but also has a duty to be truthful and, in particular, to make States face up to their responsibilities and bring them round to taking the decisions which he believes to be in the general interest of the international community. It is in that spirit that I wish to carry out my functions. And this has prompted me, in recent years, not only to adapt the traditional responsibilities of the Secretary-General, but also to assume new functions. I should like to talk to you a little about these twin developments.

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I. Adaptation of Traditional Functions

The Charter of the United Nations, we all know, gives the Secretary- General two functions: one is diplomatic and is to promote peace and security; the other is administrative, as executive head of the Organization.

These traditional functions have expanded considerably in recent years.

A. Diplomatic Functions

In the field of peace-keeping, the Secretary-General acts in concert with the Security Council, there is no doubt about that.

However, in recent years, the practice of the Council has brought about great changes. Indeed, the end of the cold war has freed the Security Council's creativity.

For example, in 1987, the Security Council met only 49 times and adopted only 14 resolutions and nine declarations. In 1995, by contrast, it met more than 130 times and adopted 66 resolutions and 63 declarations.

This is not just a quantitative change, but also a qualitative one. In a few short years, the Security Council has embarked on many initiatives, it has entered into areas which, in the past, it had nothing to do with and it has adopted new measures and created original institutions. Within the space of five years, it has launched more peace-keeping operations than it did in the past 40 years, and the mandates entrusted to the "Blue Helmets" are being steadily expanded. It has also decreed coercive measures, which had never before been used.

The bustle of activity has prompted the Secretary-General and his administration to make unprecedented changes and to modify their relations with the Security Council substantially.

But is has also revealed many contradictions in the actions of the United Nations to promote peace.

It is clear that, in recent years, we have sent our Blue Helmets into several theatres of operation with the mission of keeping the peace when there was no peace to keep. Our soldiers, therefore, found themselves cast into the storm with a mandate that was not suited to the reality they were to encounter. They came thinking of peace and were confronted with a situation where everyone was thinking of war.

This, to a large extent, explains why the mandates of the Blue Helmets have constantly had to be modified.

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Through successive phases traversed under the pressure of events, of public opinion and of political strategies, the Security Council has sought not only to strengthen the original peace-keeping mandate of these missions, but also to add enforcement elements to it.

This has undoubtedly made the activity of the Blue Helmets more difficult, and even clouded their image. It has also greatly complicated the executive role assigned to the Secretary-General and his administration.

I should not want here to go into the details of the events, nor to insist on the complex modalities of the chain of command. It is clear, however, that we have today a vast field of activity to define, to perfect and to rethink. And it is the role of the Secretary-General to contribute to this reordering.

This is, moreover, something that States themselves implicitly recognized when, in 1992, the Security Council, meeting for the first time at the level of heads of State, requested me to draw up an agenda for peace.

I have, thus, had the opportunity, on a number of occasions, to stress what seems to me today to be a set of fundamental demands for conducting the maintenance of peace. It is essential, in the first place, that the political will of States should be clear and determined. It is also essential that the mandates assigned to the Blue Helmets should be realistic and coherent.

We must clarify the channels for the command and conduct of operations. And I had an opportunity to give my analysis of this aspect in the Supplement to the Agenda for Peace which I published last year.

The peace-keeping operations also need to be given the human and material resources required to carry them out. But above all, it is vital to be able to guarantee the solidity and sustainability of their financing. This is not the case today, given that States owe the Organization about $2 billion under this heading. This situation risks leading the United Nations, for purely financial reasons, to hold back from activities which would nevertheless be politically desirable. In a sense, each of our peace-keeping operations is conducted at the expense of the others. That means that the United Nations risks being compelled to choose its operations in the light of criteria or for reasons which run counter to the principles of universality and equality embodied in the Charter.

There is a risk that certain conflicts may be ignored by the international community, not because they do not create terrible suffering, but because they take place in regions which do not command the attention of the world.

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I believe that I have a primary responsibility constantly to draw the attention of the Security Council to what I have termed the orphan conflicts, those conflicts that are left in obscurity, but for whose resolution the United Nations is responsible none the less.

The relations between the Security Council and the Secretary-General have sometimes been described as being those of a stormy marriage. That is a gross overstatement. And for my part, in any case, it is above all the idea of a marriage I should like to retain; that is to say, the idea that the Security Council and the Secretary-General work for international peace in unison.

This is exemplified by the way in which the Secretary-General and his administration constantly assist the Security Council and, in particular through the reports I submit to it, help it take its decisions.

But it is also true that each of these organs embodies, in its own way, a particular understanding of the international community's best interests. The Security Council reflects this in the pragmatic form of political compromise. The Secretary-General tries to give it a more impartial and, I would also be tempted to say, sometimes more moral expression.

This idea is just as clearly apparent in the context of the administrative functions assigned to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

B. Administrative Functions

As you are aware, the Charter of the United Nations regards the Secretary-General as the chief administrative officer of the Organization. He is, thus, simultaneously the hierarchical superior of all United Nations staff and the person who runs the Organization. It is in that capacity, in particular, that he is required to draw up and execute the budget, as well as to direct the administration.

From the time that I first took the helm of the Organization, I was strongly receptive to the need not only to administer the United Nations, but also to manage it. For this reason, I carried out a vast restructuring of the Organization, notably by grouping 13 departments and offices into three main departments. I also reduced the number of high-level posts by 35 per cent. And I took steps to see that useless or redundant organs were done away with.

It is in the same desire to rationalize administrative operations and prevent waste and misappropriation of funds that I appointed a man with considerable experience in the business world and corporate culture to head the Department of Administration and Management. For the same reasons, I

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sought to establish the post of Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services.

I was, therefore, the first to be convinced of the need to lighten the heavy United Nations bureaucracy and adapted it to the demands and requirements of modern society.

Today, however, in view of the unprecedented financial difficulties which the United Nations is experiencing, I am unable to accept the tendentious talk that at times presents administrative reform as a prerequisite for resolving the serious financial crisis that is shaking the Organization.

This is a facile argument used for political or electoral purposes because denigrating the United Nations bureaucracy always finds receptive ears. Nevertheless, I wish to reaffirm that the problem should be forcefully stated the other way around. No administrative reform will be possible as long as the financial crisis continues.

One has to be clear in this regard. What is too vaguely or too imprecisely referred to as "the financial crisis of the United Nations" is not a crisis in terms of expenditures; it is a revenue crisis. This crisis unfortunately has one simple cause: too many Member States -- including the richest ones -- are not paying their contributions, in other words, what they owe to the Organization in accordance with statutory and legal obligations.

I should like once again to repeat figures which are self-explanatory. States owe the United Nations $3.2 billion. Forty per cent of the States are more than one year in arrears in their contributions. Only 94 States out of 185 have paid their total contributions for 1995.

No State or enterprise could function under such conditions. Especially since, at the same time, Member States continue to ask more and more of the United Nations and vote for new programmes or decide on new missions.

I am obliged, therefore, to engage in constant financial acrobatics, particularly in funding the Organization's regular budget, by drawing on the budget for peace-keeping operations.

This revenue crisis is all the more unacceptable since -- and I must remind you here of a fact that is frequently ignored -- the United Nations is not expensive. In view of the scope of the activities that it conducts, the services that it provides in many regions of the world, and its moral authority, the Organization's budget is derisory. Its annual regular budget of $1.3 billion does not represent even the annual budget of the Département des Hauts de Seine.

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In view of the seriousness of the situation, I have suggested, inter alia, revising the scale of assessments and, in particular, of setting a ceiling on each State's contribution at 20 per cent, even 15 per cent, of the regular budget in order to limit the United Nations dependence on a small group of States. The debate is open.

Nevertheless, I repeat, the remedy for the financial crisis of the United Nations is simple: Member States that are in arrears in their contributions must pay what they owe to the Organization immediately or on the basis of a clear-cut timetable. To date, only the Russian Federation has agreed to provide me with a precise timetable for reimbursing its debt.

I should like, furthermore, as part of these remarks, to salute the exemplary manner in which France has always paid its contributions. Last week, it paid its entire annual contribution to the regular budget of the Organization. It is the first permanent member of the Security Council to have done so for 1996.

I should like the French practice to serve as an example for other States. For this accounting burden and financial uncertainty are taking up a large part of my time and energy.

And this is all the more detrimental since the Secretary-General must also, at the present time, assume new functions which were not expressly provided for under the Charter.

II. Assumption of New Functions

As I said at the outset, the Secretary-General is faced today with a twofold task obliging him, on the one hand, to be on the watch for new hotbeds of tension brought about by the upheaval of the post-cold-war period and, on the other hand, to respond to the basic questions that the international community is asking itself with regard to the future of world society.

This is the reason why, in carrying out my functions, I have sought to develop both preventive action in order to be better able to cope with the present, and forward-looking action in order to respond better to the needs of the future.

A. Preventive Action

Preventive action by the Secretary-General is all the more indispensable since the new conflicts that the world must face today are not unforeseeable ones. On the contrary. Most of them smoulder for a long time before exploding. These latent tensions are known to everyone.

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Nevertheless, it must be recognized that the international community is mobilized only very rarely in order to contain conflicts while there would still be time to do so. Everyone can recall tragic examples of this. My main concern today, therefore, is this: how to prevent these new conflicts that are devastating the world?

In my view, preventive diplomacy must be practised within the United Nations in several ways. From the most visible to the most discreet.

We have already sent Blue Helmets into the field for preventive purposes. This is the case, inter alia, in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in order to prevent the conflict from spreading throughout the southern Balkans. This operation is, at the current time, a success that is not mentioned enough.

Nevertheless, I feel every day how difficult it is to involve States in this preventive diplomacy. Most of them, already reluctant to send troops when a conflict ravages a country, hesitate even more when a conflict has not yet broken out. And it is difficult to convince them that, in all respects, prevention costs less than the cure.

But the preventive diplomacy that I intend to conduct takes other forms as well. It may be a question of fact-finding missions, or missions of good offices or mediation. I also consider that it is essential to obtain as soon as possible the best information on the areas of crisis in order to institute anticipatory policies for preventing conflicts. It is with this in mind that I have appointed several special representatives and envoys in different areas of tension throughout the world. In keeping with this same approach, I myself am constantly dealing with States because preventive diplomacy often assumes the most discreet, if not to say the most secret, forms.

But, I should like, in this regard, to go further and say that we shall be able truly to prevent the new conflicts that are arising everywhere on the international scene only if we have a broader and more global concept of the notion itself of security.

In this context, I consider action for disarmament to be an integral part of my security policy.

Only a few days ago, in Geneva, I had an opportunity to address the representatives of the Conference on Disarmament. Once again, I stressed to them the link between disarmament and conflict prevention. Thus, for example, what I have termed micro-disarmament must be implemented more effectively. In particular, we must eradicate the illicit trade in conventional weapons, whose proliferation is in itself a cause of war, and often in the poorest countries of the world. I have also launched an appeal for the total prohibition of

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anti-personnel land mines, which strike indiscriminately, and often long after the end of hostilities, thereby preventing any return to normal life.

Lastly, I am constantly striving to convince States that the international community will not be able to deal properly with the new international conflicts unless we eliminate their deep-seated causes. And these causes are largely economic and social in nature. Poverty, endemic underdevelopment, weak or non-existent institutions, dependence and insecurity are the main sources of these conflicts.

I, therefore, want everyone to be fully aware that the development of the poorest countries is also a prerequisite for conflict prevention.

I should like, lastly, to stress the importance I attach to the work of democratization which is being carried out by the United Nations with a view to the prevention of international conflicts.

It was for that reason that I wanted to establish the Electoral Assistance Division in the Department of Political Affairs of my Secretariat. To date, almost a hundred requests have been made to us. And, since 1992, we have organized, conducted, monitored, coordinated and verified elections in some 60 countries.

This function of prevention in all its aspects is no doubt the function that, in the future, will give the Secretary-General of the United Nations the most effective basis for trying to bring under control the disruptions of the international political order. But it is a function which, once again, requires patience, persuasion and discretion, and that is sometimes poorly understood by public opinion and often neglected by States. But, in my view, it is the political responsibility of the Secretary-General to implement and develop it.

B. Forward-looking Action

I should like lastly to stress what I have termed the forward-looking role of the Secretary-General. For it seems to me that this role is essential in order to gain control of the global society in which we will be living from now on.

We know that most of the major issues which the international community will have to resolve tomorrow are barely in evidence today. In the years to come, mankind will have to take up questions which it has not yet managed even to formulate.

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Already, the United Nations is conducting wide-ranging collective reflections in the economic and social sphere by organizing a whole series of international conferences on transnational problems which will determine the future, or even the fate of mankind.

It is in this spirit that one should view the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It is in the same context that the International Conference on Population and Development, in Cairo, the Heads of Government Summit on AIDS, in Paris, the World Ministerial Conference on Organized Transnational Crime, in Naples, the World Summit for Social Development, in Copenhagen, and the Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing, were convened. It is with the same objective that the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) will meet in Istanbul in a few months' time.

On each occasion, I have urged the international community to mobilize against social injustice, exclusion and poverty. For it is intolerable that a society which is advancing towards progress with ever-lengthening strides should leave by the wayside and in absolute despair more than a billion and a half men, women and children. It is, I feel, the role of the Secretary- General to keep States constantly alert to this intolerable division in the world and all the risks it entails.

It is also part of my concept of my role that I should encourage all States to mobilize around the problems of the future. Because, in my view, the role of the Secretary-General of the United Nations is not only to impart momentum to the multilateral activity of States, but also to suggest principles for action.

That is all the more important in that in taking up issues concerning our global future, the United Nations is demonstrating its determination to make a smooth transition from inter-State consultations to transnational cooperation and thereby institute a true world community.

In my view, this progression also requires the participation of private actors, that is to say, in particular, transnational corporations and non-governmental organizations.

On many occasions, I have welcomed them within the United Nations and involved them in the major activities of the world Organization.

I see in this the achievement of the global democracy to which I ardently aspire and without which the world Organization risks being deprived not only of its values, but also of its legitimacy.

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I am well aware that, this evening, I have merely touched upon the problems which face the Secretary-General of the United Nations today. And I have no doubt left a number of your questions unanswered.

But I have sought above all to convey to you the unique nature of this role. I also wished to share my reflections with you.

Indeed, we must now envisage a new world. We have to take charge of our civilization, jointly. For the first time in history, the world is becoming the common heritage of mankind.

Of course, the international community still has to confront many upheavals and is experiencing many tragedies.

However, I should like to say that only a few years ago, when the cold war was casting an ideological pall on the world, such occurrences would have given rise only to formal indignation and empty protests. We can all remember tragic examples of this.

Today, despite national egotisms which are still tenacious, despite isolationist trends in the most powerful States, despite the forces of fanaticism and intolerance, the world is beginning to feel every war as a crime and every inequality as an injustice.

There is, therefore, I do not hesitate to say, an undeniable lifting of the universal moral conscience. Even if that does not mean that the political will of the international community is always commensurate with this conscience. Alas, I am all too often a witness of this.

I wish, however, to reiterate strongly to you that the United Nations, whatever the uncertainties and obstacles of the present, is, from now on, for all States and all peoples, an irreplaceable instrument of international solidarity.

I thank you for your kind attention this evening.

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For information media. Not an official record.