There are 67 days to the new Millennium. What better time to reiterate the strength of the British Government’s support for the United Nations and my own firm belief that, in a world confronting the challenges of globalisation, we need a stronger and more effective UN?
I want today to identify three main challenges for the UN system and to suggest that first, the UN’s authority and influence should be focused to mobilise the whole international system behind the international poverty eradication targets. Second, that the contribution the UN and its funds, programmes and agencies make to development could be very much more effective. And third, that the UN could improve its performance in tackling conflict prevention and post-conflict peace building in developing countries.
I believe that we as a generation face a major challenge – to re-focus the UN and increase its effectiveness so that it is able to play a leading role in shaping this globalising era.
The post-war generation laid down a new world order after the terrible suffering caused by the depression of the 1930s, the rise of fascism, the horrors of the Holocaust and of world war. That generation drew up the Universal Declaration of 1-luman Rights and established the United Nations to promote development and peace and the Bretton Wood institutions to better manage the world economy. They ushered in an era of de-colonisation, democracy and independence and a belief in active government committed to full employment and a welfare state for all their people.
Equally importantly, they managed to keep these values alive, despite the tension and conflict generated by the Cold War. But the practices that helped the UN survive the Cold War years – the division into blocs and slow and ponderous decision making – now, I fear, diminish the effectiveness of the UN at a time when we need its leadership more than ever before.
Globalisation is, in my view, an historical shift as great as that from feudalism to industrialisation. The growing interconnectedness and interdependence of economies and societies, driven by the revolution in information technology and by the increased mobility of capital, is bringing all of us closer together. There is no question that this process is generating new wealth, and that many millions of people are benefiting. Globalisation affords an unparalleled opportunity to bring about a huge advance in human development.
But there is no guarantee that it will do so. Greater economic integration also brings risks. The risk of further environmental degradation. The risk that instability in one part of the world will damage countries far away, as we saw with the financial crisis that began in East Asia and then spread to reduce economic growth rates world-wide.
Above all, the risk that the gap between rich and poor, within and between countries, will grow wider. We know that the proportion of the planet’s wealth enjoyed by the 20% of the world’s population living in richer countries increased massively between 1960 and 1995 and the gap between the richest and poorest countries widened. The wealth of the world’s 225 richest individuals now equals that of the poorest 47% of the world’s population. At the same time, 1.3 billion people – two-thirds of them women – live without access to adequate food, clean water, sanitation, essential healthcare, or basic education services. There is a clear moral imperative to act to tackle such poverty and inequality. There is also an irrefutable common interest in doing so, for many of today’s problems – war and conflict, mass migration, the violation of human rights, international crime and terrorism, environmental degradation and rapid population growth – are rooted in under-development and poverty.
Globalisation is not inherently good or bad – it is a reality which we must shape. The challenge of our age is to manage globalisation equitably and sustainably. To do this we need stronger and more effective international institutions and a massively strengthened international development effort in order to ensure that the world’s poor benefit from the wealth being generated by globalisation.
And this is why the UN is so vital. The UN is the world’s only genuinely global institution – bringing together all the nations of the world within a single forum. Its inclusiveness and its neutrality give it a special moral authority on the world stage. And it is the UN which has been at the forefront of the international development debate over the last decade.
The great UN conferences of this decade – Jomtien on Education, Rio on Environment, Copenhagen on Social Development, Cairo on Population, Beijing on Women’s Equality, Istanbul on Shelter and Rome on Food Security – laid down a radical agenda for progress which has been agreed by almost all the governments of the world and has been taken up and endorsed by the major international financial institutions.
The Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development framed its strategy for ‘Shaping the 21St Century’ around this agenda, distilling the agreed U N objectives into interim 2015 targets and pledging the donor countries to collaborate behind the leadership of developing country governments to meet them. These targets have also been endorsed by the G8, in Birmingham last year and in Cologne this year, and were a central focus of the agreement reached at last month’s annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
I hope you are all aware of the targets. They are:
• a reduction by one-half in the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015;
• the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005;
• universal primary education by 2015;
• a two thirds reduction in under fives mortality rates by 2015;
• a reduction by three fourths in maternal mortality by 2015;
• reproductive health services for all by 2015; and
• the implementation of national strategies for sustainable development in all countries by 2005, so as to ensure that current trends in the loss of environmental resources are effectively reversed at both global and national levels by 2015.
Meeting these targets would constitute the biggest advance that humanity has ever made. All the experts agree that they are achievable. What is needed now is the necessary leadership and political will.
And that leadership and will must be given here in the UN. I believe that the UN has not given nearly enough priority to driving forward implementation of this development agenda, which it originated. I am completely puzzled by this. It is time now for the UN system to move forward to give real leadership to the implementation of the strategy and to address the challenge of making year on year progress against these targets.
In order to do so, the UN must first do more to mobilise the international system behind the targets.
Obviously any international organisation can only be as good as its members want it to be. So it is our governments who bear the primary responsibility for building political momentum behind the achievement of the targets. But I fear that the inter-governmental forums which the UN has established are too often paralysed by the anachronistic rhetoric and short-term tactics of an era which has passed. All who care for the authority of the UN have an urgent interest in improving the quality and output of UN deliberations.
Of course, like-minded countries should co-ordinate their positions. That is an essential part of the process of finding agreement. The UK, for example, has gained much from its experience of working with partners in the European Union. But we must not get trapped in our blocs. We must ensure that the lines of communication are kept open and that we negotiate from a desire to reach agreement.
It can be done. At the International Conference on Population and Development’s five-year review we saw progressive countries from North and South come together across the blocs to reaffirm the advances made at Cairo and to establish a new global goal for action on HIV. We must approach the forthcoming reviews of the Copenhagen and Beijing Conferences in a similar spirit: resisting the siren voices of those who want to re-open questions settled five years ago and instead looking forward to what needs to be done to implement what we have already agreed. At the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) next year, we must bring new energy and purpose to our deliberations and identify ways of pulling together the separate threads of the Conference reviews in order to strengthen the effectiveness of the international development effort. I believe that the international poverty eradication strategy could generate that energy and focus in ECOSOC.
Let me also say a word here about the process which the [N has set in train to examine the different sources of Financing for Development.
We are committed to a high level event in 2001, involving the Bretton Woods Institutions, the private sector and civil society, to clarify our understanding of the role and inter-relationship of the different sources of financing for development. I hope it will agree practical steps to mobilise the full scale of resources – domestic, private and official development assistance – needed to achieve the international development targets. Sustained reduction of poverty requires all three sources working together.
The policy lead must come from the governments of developing countries. And those governments which are serious about reducing poverty must receive the development assistance necessary both to put in place conditions which will attract private investment and support the public sector reforms necessary for systematic poverty reduction.
I share the widespread concern about the worldwide drop in official development assistance (oda) and am pleased that the Labour Government in the UK has reversed the decline in our oda. But we must face the reality that people in the industrialised countries have become cynical about aid. They see corruption, waste and lack of results. They have not stopped caring about the world’s poor, as the massive campaign for debt relief has shown. But to win support for continuing increases in aid, we must show that it is an effective instrument in poverty reduction. Clear and measurable progress towards the poverty reduction targets would help to build this public support.
For the UN to mobilise the international campaign behind the targets, I we need better statistics. Developing countries need better statistics to plan and monitor the policies needed to reduce poverty. Donors need information to ensure they are providing support to effective reformers and to build public support for increasing oda. I am very pleased that the UN is making progress with the World Bank and the DAC on agreeing a core set of indicators which would measure progress against the targets.
We now need a clear strategy to ensure that these statistics are systematically collected. This requires support for statistical development and capacity building. I have offered the Director General of UNESCO a location at Birmingham University for the new UNESCO Institute for Statistics as a contribution towards this task. But much more is needed and the work needs not just more resources but more co-ordination and effectiveness.
Statistics may sound dry but I believe they are key to locking the international system into a determination to meet the targets and a capacity to increase development effectiveness. Nor should we underestimate the power of statistics to move the conscience. Just as the great British social surveys of the 19th century helped create the demand for the social reforms which civilised industrial Britain, so the UN may do the same for the world after the revolution of globalisation.
The second key challenge for the UN is to improve the effectiveness and poverty focus of its own development effort through its various programmes and funds.
I would like to address the following remarks to UN staff. I have seen your work across the world. I know that there is an enormous potential in the expertise, commitment and energy of the over 30,000 UN staff involved in work on international development and the more than $20 billion they will have to spend over the first two years of the new century.
This is a large resource and I am convinced that the UN’s development impact is well below its potential. It needs to move ‘beyond projects’ to truly lead and drive forward the international development goals, with each agency focusing on its core role and the whole working much more collaboratively.
I know that this will not be easy. But the time for vying between UN agencies is over. The UN has unrivalled authority and legitimacy in developing countries. Its role must be strengthened to help developing countries put in place the strategies needed to meet the targets and share them widely with civil society – so that governments and people in developing countries can give the lead behind which the World Bank, IMF and donor governments collaborate.
In Britain, our November 1997 White Paper began a comprehensive process of rethinking the purpose and application of our development policies in order to focus our efforts on more effective poverty reduction. We are currently developing a series of Target Strategy Papers, which will take a searching look at what needs to be done to achieve each of the targets. We intend to publish each in the six official languages of the UN and hope this will contribute to gearing up the international system behind the targets.
It is obvious that no individual donor or agency can ensure that the development targets are met. But the co-ordinated efforts of the international system, working with developing country governments on the basis of a shared commitment to the targets could do so.
This will mean a key role for the UN and its agencies. But the UN system has to embrace the targets and focus its efforts on them if together we are to achieve them. The modernisation of policy and organisation which has restored the credibility and begun to transform the effectiveness of UN agencies such as the World Health Organisation needs to be carried through in all the specialised agencies. We are strongly committed to providing increasing support to those agencies which modernise their management and organisation to increase their effectiveness in helping meet the international development targets.
Because management systems are only as good as their managers, we also hope the Secretary General will continue to develop more efficient recruitment procedures, able to secure top quality leaders and managers for the UN. We must have a UN whose staff and leadership represent all the countries of the world, but they must be recruited and promoted on the basis of their ability to do the job, not their nationality or political connections.
One of the ways to achieve this greater focus and co-ordination is to build quickly and positively on the pilot Common Country Assessments and UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAF). The thinking behind this parallels that behind the World Bank’s Comprehensive Development Framework and they should be taken forward together. For too long developing countries have been faced with multiple donors, each with their individual projects, agendas and accounting systems which create an obstacle to improving the governments’ own effectiveness. The Comprehensive Development Framework and UNDAF give us the chance to co-ordinate all our efforts behind developing country leadership. The only conditionality being a mutually agreed commitment to meet the targets in every country.
There is a third major challenge for the UN.
The great opportunity to reduce and finally eliminate poverty is threatened in many of the world’s poorest countries by destabilising conflicts. Twenty of the world’s 38 poorest countries are either in the midst of armed conflict or have only recently emerged from it. We will not achieve the targets without better use of all the tools at our disposal, including diplomacy and development, to prevent conflict where possible, resolve it quickly where we cannot prevent it and assist countries to recover once it has been brought to an end.
The UN – by virtue of its origins and mandate, its political neutrality and moral authority – is the only body able to lead and co-ordinate international action. But here again it is the collective will of Member States that must be mobilised if the UN is to achieve what we demand of it.
We must strengthen the UN’s early crisis response and preventive diplomacy functions. We have seen the world swing in recent months from a major concern with Kosovo and then to East Timor. I believe the action taken in both cases was just and right. But can we not move faster now to bolster the peace in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo? The international community through the UN has helped alleviate Sudan’s suffering, but can we not do more to end the war which is the root cause of that suffering? Why are we not more focused on supporting the Government of Nepal in resolving their incipient conflict? There are other long-standing conflicts in developing countries that deserve more international attention.
There is also much discussion of the importance of conflict resolution. But in countries like Rwanda and Sierra Leone, where such help is needed, most agencies hold back and are unwilling to take risks. Post conflict situations are by definition risky. If we try harder, we will fail sometimes, but will also succeed more often. We should ask ourselves why the international community is so unbalanced in giving high status and urgency to the handling of conflict when it has arisen and so little to development and conflict prevention. It is the development failures that end up in the Security Council.
The British Government is currently looking at how all our relevant policy instruments might be brought together to help in the search for lasting peace in conflict and conflict-prone countries. I would like to propose that all relevant departments of the UN similarly review their own contributions and that these various strands be brought together by the Office of the Secretary General with a view to designing a more comprehensive and coherent approach to conflict prevention. The UK would be happy to provide resources for such work.
Security sector reform must also figure high on this new agenda, both in order to prevent conflict and to rebuild in its aftermath. The poor across the world tell us that they see order and justice as essential to the improvement of their lives. Reforming the security sector, so that it is appropriately structured, sized and managed, and subject to proper democratic control, is crucial to the good governance needed for sustainable development. In the past those working in development have shied away from this task. But we can not build good government without effective and democratically accountable security sectors. I am pleased that the UK has been able to assist with the disarming, demobilisation and reintegration into society of former combatants and with the training of a new army in Sierra Leone. But I remain concerned that we are not making faster progress in Sierra Leone.
Finally, we must develop a more coherent approach to mitigate the effects of conflict. The Joint Assessment Mission to East Timor provides the opportunity for the international community to develop a co-ordinated approach to humanitarian and development needs in the aftermath of conflict. This approach will draw on the respective skills of different players – UN agencies, international financial institutions and bilateral donors – in order to assist the UN’s transitional authority fulfil its mandate. We all know that the plethora of separate agencies that rush into areas recovering from conflict often becomes an obstacle to local leadership. We must learn from the structures we have put in place in East Timor and try to do much better in East Timor and elsewhere.
I would like to end by looking ahead to next year’s Millennium Assembly and Summit – the first test of these ideas. By seizing the opportunity we now have to give a lead to the world in achieving the 2015 targets for international development, the UN could offer the world what its people are yearning for: a great advance for the whole of humanity.
We arc the children of the post-war generation. Their vision of a much better world gave us the UN, the Universal Declaration of human Rights, the Bretton Woods institutions and a commitment to the realisation of all human rights for all: that each and every human being deserves to live with dignity, to be well nourished, to be educated, to have health care, to have decent work, to be respected, to be consulted and to develop their talents and their creativity. Somehow these aspirations lived on throughout the Cold War years, inspiring millions in different countries and political systems.
When people’s power toppled the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Nelson Mandela walked to freedom in 1990 a new and better world order seemed possible. It is time now for our generation to rise to that challenge. A renewed, more focused and more effective UN is within our grasp. In the early years of the new millennium, the UN could lead the way on the delivery worldwide of the biggest advance humanity has every made. If we fail, succeeding generations will not forgive us. That is the true challenge for the United Nations.