Social Education 58(7), 1994, pp. 403-406
National Council for the Social Studies

The United Nations and the New Global Challenges

Boutros Boutros-Ghali
With the end of the Cold War, the world has entered a period of transition and turmoil. This situation requires new thinking, new actions, and new responses from the United Nations itself as it is increasingly called upon to meet the demands of change. As an educator who spent three decades teaching in colleges and universities in different parts of the world, I know how important it is for young people to learn of this great contemporary challenge and, through their reactions, contribute to the indispensable need for greater international cooperation.
Throughout history, powerful states have divided peoples and territories using power as the sole justification. With the creation of the World Organization, and the adoption of the United Nations Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the doctrine of "might makes right" was rejected. These documents provide a normative framework for cooperation between states, based on the rule of law, toward peace, justice, human rights, and development. In a world no longer torn by the great power conflict of the Cold War, these documents are more applicable and more needed than ever. The fundamental achievements reflected in these documents must be appreciated and reinforced within the new international context. To this end, teachers play an important role by ensuring that all citizens are familiar with UN activities under the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and by fostering greater understanding of the commitment the member states have made to the UN.

The challenge the UN is facing is of course no less than the challenge that our world is facing. As we who are committed to the UN understand, its capacities, achievements, shortcomings, and hopes are expressions of our joint achievements, failings, and ability to envision and promote new solutions as members of a shared international community. The UN represents us, in our global totality. We are more aware today than ever before that poverty, pollution, and disease affect all of humanity regardless of political differences. It is clear that the ills of our planet respect no borders. Multilateral cooperation is therefore necessary to find global solutions.

The Heads of State/Government at the Security Council Summit convened in January 1992 expressed optimism that-with the end of the Cold War and the relaxation of bilateral, ideological tensions within the World Organization-the member states could work together more freely to fulfill the original aims of the Charter. But expectations almost always carry the danger of turning into disillusions. We need to be patient in our expectations but rapid in our efforts toward progress. It is tragic, and I believe very serious, if criticism of the UN slows down the pace of reform or prevents mistakes from being transformed into constructive changes. The next Security Council Summit, scheduled for January 1995, can serve to maintain the momentum for positive change.

In this article, I would like to give you some examples of the achievements of the UN, of the difficulties that the UN faces in this new post-Cold War world, and of my efforts as Secretary-General to re-structure and reform the Organization. Please keep these three realities in mind when discussing or reading about the Organization: the comprehensive nature of the global challenge, the indispensability of the UN in the new international context, and the gap that has been revealed as the demands of member states on the Organization are not matched by the resources provided.

International Peace and Security
For millions of people, the end of the Cold War did not bring peace, but war and conflicts inside the boundaries of their own societies. The UN has increasingly been called upon to alleviate the suffering of civilians and negotiate peaceful solutions. At the Security Council Summit meeting convened in January 1992, the attending Heads of State/Government asked me to present a position paper suggesting measures and ideas to increase the capacity of the UN to meet the new threats to peace.

Preventive Diplomacy
Once an elusive and undefined concept, preventive diplomacy is a vital field for practical action. New forms of preventive diplomacy have evolved in the course of the past years. Preventive diplomacy now incorporates efforts designed to prevent the occurrence of armed conflict, such as fact-finding, good offices, and goodwill missions, the dispatch of special envoys to tense areas, and efforts to bring parties to a potential conflict to the negotiating table. Preventive diplomacy takes place continuously and can range from a brief telephone conversation to the movement of troops. Today, the variety of challenges faced by the UN has led to a more intensive and creative use of such familiar techniques. I find myself frequently engaged in preventive diplomacy. Because of the nature of this work, and the requirements of the parties, such diplomacy often takes place behind the scenes. When efforts fail, the results will be seen in public. When there is success, the story must often remain untold.

Peacekeeping is a UN invention. It was not envisaged by the founders of the Organization and is not mentioned in the Charter. Peacekeeping is, however, based on some fundamental principles such as the consent by all parties to a conflict, the neutrality of peacekeeping troops, and the use of force only in self-defense or to protect the mandate of the operation. The decision to deploy a peacekeeping operation rests within the Security Council. The Council determines the mandate and the size of the operation.

These fundamental principles of traditional peacekeeping have been challenged by recent developments on the ground in certain peacekeeping operations.

Today, peacekeepers perform a variety of complex tasks, such as protecting humanitarian aid convoys, supporting the supervision of elections, and monitoring human rights, in addition to their basic responsibility of keeping apart the warring parties. Keeping the peace is, therefore, only a step in the process of the peaceful resolution of conflicts. It should not be confused with conflict resolution. Putting a halt to armed hostilities is not in itself a solution to conflicts. Peacekeeping offers temporary respite from hostilities while the crisis is being resolved in the political, humanitarian, economic, and social spheres.

Peacekeeping operations today have a large civilian component, and attempt to address the underlying root causes of the conflict. The military, political, and humanitarian functions are integrated, and each component serves as a catalyst for the other. Just as political reconciliation is facilitated when people feel secure and have enough to eat, so security increases when political dialogue begins.

Peace Enforcement
UN peacekeepers have been sent to areas where there are frail cease-fire agreements, where governments do not exist or have limited effective authority, and where the consent and cooperation of the parties cannot be relied upon. All too frequently, the work of the peacekeepers is obstructed by well-armed irregular groups and warlords who defy both their national authorities, where these exist, and the international community.

Peace enforcement thus means using force when peaceful means fail. The Security Council defines what constitutes a threat to international peace and security and when to involve peace enforcement measures. In some recent cases such as in Somalia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Security Council has extended the original peacekeeping mandate to include certain peace enforcement tasks.

Humanitarian Assistance
Even in situations where peace operations are not underway, the UN provides large quantities of humanitarian relief. The UN is the major provider and coordinator of humanitarian assistance around the world. The number of displaced persons forced from their homes within their own countries is estimated to be more than 23 million today. The number of refugees fleeing across international borders is an additional 19 million people. In simple terms that means the UN has the responsibility to assist more than 40 million lives disrupted by war, repression, and natural disasters. And the number is increasing.

This places a huge demand on our resources and capacity to respond adequately. Increasingly, therefore, the UN has strengthened cooperation with other organizations. Today, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations cooperate with the UN as implementing partners in many humanitarian emergencies.

As the definition of security is expanding beyond questions of land and weapons to include economic well-being, environmental sustainability, and human rights protection, it has become especially clear that most of the root causes of conflicts and new threats to peace are underdevelopment and/or violations of human rights. Despite this undeniable relationship between development and international peace and security, many in the world community greet with indifference the shocking fact that the gap between the world's richest and poorest countries is widening. No task is greater or more urgent than to impress upon the economically leading nations that the world cannot ultimately prosper if the poorest continue to suffer and decline.

Furthermore, development is now understood to involve many dimensions: it is no longer merely a matter of economic policy and resources. Political, social, educational, and environmental factors must be part of an integrated approach to development. Without development on the widest scale, the young will be restless, resentful, and unproductive. People will understandably fight for resources, and creativity will be misdirected.

World Conferences
Having long been the special voice of the world's poorest nations, and encompassing all dimensions of the development challenge in both mission and mandate, the UN continues to serve as a forum for discussion and awareness-raising, as a tool for cooperation and decision-making, and as a vehicle for promoting multilateral action on development issues.

Another important area of work for the UN has been the organization of a series of landmark global conferences. Over the last decades, the UN has organized such conferences on topics ranging from the environment to human rights, social development, population, and the situation of women. It is perhaps difficult to fully measure the gains of these global conferences, but I will nevertheless offer some examples of their possible long- and short-term significance.

First of all, these conferences place global issues on the agenda of member states. They increase the pressure on them to give priority in their domestic policy to spending more on education and health facilities for their citizens and less on the military.

Second, international conferences usually lead to the adoption of conventions or plans of action. Both states that are parties to these agreements and states that remain outside of them find it increasingly difficult to justify actions that go against these agreements, particularly to their own citizens.

Third, major global conferences are not merely meetings. They provide a focal point for consensus-building and action. They are also occasions that can educate us all.

The UN Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992, challenged governments to adopt long-term policies on matters of the environment and sustainable development that affect human well-being and survival. It tested the willingness of nations to cooperate in developing global strategies for the sustainable use of resources. In the aftermath of the Rio Conference, it has become clear that Agenda 21 adopted at the Conference is the first international agreement expressing a global consensus and a political commitment at the highest levels to action on population, environment, and economic advance, encompassed in a program of sustainable development. The UN and its member states must work toward the full implementation of Agenda 21.

The World Conference on Human Rights, which was held in Vienna from 14 to 25 June 1993, was a turning point in UN activities for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Vienna Conference was worldwide, in terms both of the subjects dealt with and of participation. Long and careful exchanges of views revealed considerable common ground among the different participants. The Conference was therefore able to adopt, by consensus, a declaration and program of action for human rights of historic proportions, but of course differences of opinion were also candidly stated.

The Vienna Conference reaffirmed the universality of fundamental human rights and the principle that the human person is the central subject and the principal beneficiary of human rights. The Conference recognized the right to development as a human right, emphasized the mutually reinforcing interrelationship between democracy, development, and respect for human rights, and stressed the need to assist developing countries in their democratization process. The Conference also recognized the fundamental contribution from non-governmental organizations in the protection of human rights and stressed education as a crucial element in building future respect for human rights.

In the aftermath of the Vienna Conference, member states in the General Assembly decided to create a post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Under the direction and authority of the Secretary-General, the new High Commissioner will promote and protect the effective enjoyment by all of all civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights. These efforts on an international level will be enhanced and strengthened by local efforts in all countries to include human rights in teaching programs, both in schools and in non-school programs. These programs will help foster a greater understanding of human rights and the fundamental connections between human rights and peace, development, and democracy, thus laying the groundwork for future respect for human rights.

The International Conference on Population and Development was held in Cairo, Egypt, in September 1994. Its goal was to foresee a new international consensus that places population concerns at the center of all development activities. Global population growth has reached almost 100 million new people a year, placing a considerable social and economic burden on most developing countries. An envisioned twenty-year plan of action will address issues of rapid population growth, international migration, and urban expansion in the context of fostering human-centered, environmentally sustainable development. A commitment by developing countries to reduce population growth must of course be coupled with a commitment by developed countries to reduce the strain of consumption patterns on the global environment.

The World Summit for Social Development to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, from 6-12 March 1995 will bring together world leaders in an effort to put social issues at the center of the agenda of national governments and international organizations, and identify ways of promoting the economic and social advancement of all peoples. The Summit will consider three themes: enhancement of social integration, alleviation and reduction of poverty, and expansion of productive employment. It is expected to adopt a Declaration and a number of key documents on social development.

A broad array of issues related to the role of women in society will be the focus of the Fourth World Conference on Women, to be convened in Beijing in September 1995. The Conference will carry the spirit of the 1976-1985 UN Decade for Women into the next century and make proposals to overcome age-old barriers of gender discrimination. Women's rights, the impact of structural adjustment on women, and strategies to get more women into decision-making positions are among the topics for discussion.

Criticism of the United Nations
The events since the end of the Cold War impress upon us the need for a new realism. The UN, by undertaking a range of problems as wide as the globe itself, must be expected to achieve successes but also to experience failures. The failures cannot be put to one side; they require continuing commitment. And successes cannot be regarded as permanent; every positive outcome is likely to be a starting point for further effort.

International action that emerges from debate and decision in the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the other organs of the UN carries with it the full authority of the world community. The UN is now understood to be humanity's best hope in the pursuit of peace, development, and human rights.

Dedicated to the integrity of each individual, drawing legitimacy from all peoples, expressing the consensus of states, the UN Organization embodies, through its universality and dedication to life's basic tasks, a great potential for international peace and development. In a spirit of realism and new possibility, a synthesis of heretofore opposing concepts is conceivable: the UN as the instrument of the body of member states and the UN as more than the sum of its parts.

Let me end by inviting you to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the UN in 1995. History has bequeathed to us an Organization that is a proven instrument of international cooperation. I regard the anniversary as a milestone to be marked not only by celebration but also by programs of serious reflection, education, and communication. It coincides with a turning point in history, a time when the institutions of international relations are being re-thought and re-considered. The Fiftieth Anniversary will therefore be a time not only for reflection on what has been achieved, and for learning from the lessons of the past, but also for charting a course for the next century as the UN continues in its efforts to realize peace, justice, equality, and development as the highest aspirations of the world's peoples.

I believe that one of the fundamental changes in the relationship between states after the Cold War has been their increased capacity to engage in meaningful dialogue and to discuss the real issues regardless of ideological adherence. The Security Council Summit meeting convened in January 1992 is an example. The Summit gathered Heads of State who pledged their renewed commitment to the UN Charter and the Bill of Human Rights. I was asked to formulate an Agenda for Peace suggesting measures and ideas to increase the capacity of the UN to meet the new threats to peace.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali is Secretary-General of the United Nations.