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New Efforts for Peace
There will be new demands for conflict resolution and peacekeeping in the post-September 11 world. Afghanistan is just one example. Here my remarks at a conference of the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon on global issues.

Remarks by Mr Carl Bildt at the Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisboa, October 25, 2001

We are meeting at a time when we see the international system changing, and when the challenges of conflict resolution and peacemaking will enter into a new and more demanding phase.

In November 1989, as the wall come down in Berlin, we entered a new global era of optimism and confidence. We saw the end of that evil Soviet empire, and we left the world that for more than a generation had been dominated by the confrontation between the two systems.

Not only did we see Europe starting to come together again, and the European Union taking further important steps towards building a federation of nations to security the peace and improve the prospects for prosperity in this part of the world.

We saw democracy and open societies in ascendancy all over the world. In the late 1970’s, authoritarian regimes outnumbered democratic ones by two to one in the world. By the late 1990’s, this had been reversed, and we had twice as many more or less democratic regimes as we had more or less authoritarian regimes across the world.

Globalisation made strides all over the world, as the rapid increase in global trade made it possible for hundreds of millions of people fast developing nations to start to approach prosperity. From Shanghai to Sao Paulo, there was the emergence of a new global middle class.

We saw the dismantling of more than half of the nuclear weapons from the height of the years of confrontation.

There was a general belief that we were moving towards a more secure and a better world.

Since September 11, much of this looks very different. The optimism and confidence of the previous era is gone. We have entered an era of new insecurity, new instability and new uncertainty. And we see international relations being redefined almost on a daily basis.

But much as what happened in November 1989 was the culmination of developments that had been underway for a long time, the mass murder on Manhattan was a consequence of developments we have seen for a longer period in time.

As the confrontation between the Soviet empire and the different coalitions of the democracies of the West come to its end, we were relieved of the threat of a major war, which with the nuclear armouries of those days would have been more devastating than any other war in the history of mankind, but we entered into a period of proliferation of conflicts of another nature in different areas of the world.

You can easily see this if you study the history of the different peacekeeping operations of the United Nations.

When it was set up, 46 years and one day ago, peacekeeping operations was certainly not seen as a core function of the new world organisation. When the first decision to set up a peacekeeping operations was taken in 1948 – the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation in the Middle East; still there today – it was seen more as a temporary necessity than a new activity of the global organisation.

Gradually, the concept of peacekeeping developed, and blue helmets become an important part of the activities of the United Nations. But with the exception of the exceedingly complex operation in Congo in the early 1960’s, they tended to be of a fairly straightforward nature, mostly involving military observers and soldiers patrolling and monitoring lines of demarcations between opposing forces or states after they had concluded agreements to this effect.

But with the end of the Cold War, this all changed, we saw a rapid increase in the number of peacekeeping operations, and we saw an evolution from the more classical peace supervision operations to those far more complex tasks that have come to be called peace building.

Of the 54 UN peacekeeping operations that have been decided upon so far in the history of the UN, no less than two thirds have been decided since 1991, reflecting the increase not only in different conflicts since then, but also the increased reliance on the United Nations in trying to contain and solve them.

In the preceding periods, there was a tendency either to contain conflicts at an early stage in order to prevent them from upsetting the perceived balance between different interests in different areas, or to see them exclusive through the glasses of the confrontation between the systems, often causing the one or the other of the superpowers to take a direct interest in them.

But there is also another change of profound importance that we have seen.

While the vast majority of conflicts in the preceding period were conflicts between states, the vast majority of conflicts since then have been conflicts within states, or caused by states collapsing or failing in different ways. While the United Nations system was built up to deal with conflicts and issues between states, it has thus increasingly been forced to deal with conflicts originating within states.

This has not been an easy transition, and the 1990’s was certainly not an easy period for the United Nations in the area of peacekeeping.

A vast expansion during the early part of the 1990’s – with the missions in Yugoslavia and Somalia as the dominant ones – were followed by a period of retreat and rethinking. To this was then added the failure to avert the outright genocide in Rwanda.

For many, it was easy to criticize the United Nations for what was seen as major failures. But the lesson was really that the United Nations is the united nations, and that the organisation can’t do what the member states aren’t willing to do, not in terms of glorious resolutions in New York, but in term of hard commitments on the ground in the respective areas.

These were the years when there developed, primarily in the United States, the school of thought that said that so called nation building was not something that one should try to undertake. A much too ambitious approach in this respect was seen as the cause of the failure in Somalia. It become a article of faith that the so called Mogadishu line should not be crossed, when a peacekeeping force becomes involved on the one side or the other in the conflict one is trying to solve.

But history does move on, and in the last few years we have seen that the resources of the United Nations have again increasingly be called upon to undertake difficult peace-keeping missions around the world. And now, we might well be on the threshold of a further expansion of the role of the United Nations, now also resurrecting the previously so feared concept of so called nations building.

It is not difficult to see the reasons for this. Last year, the National Intelligence Council in the United States published a report where it tried to identify important global trends over the coming decade or two.

It noted the all to obvious fact, that “internal conflicts stemming from religious, ethnic, economic or political disputes will remain at present levels or even increase in number”, and went on to predict that “the United Nations and regional organisations will be called upon to manage such conflicts because major states – stressed by domestic concerns, perceived risk of failure, lack of political will or tight resources – will minimize their involvement.”

This is the new reality. We are likely to see continued conflict of a nature that is not state versus state, we will perceive the threat that these represents to larger regions or to the world as a whole as increasingly grave, but no state on its own, or even coalition of states, will in most cases be willing to take on the task of trying to contain or resolve these conflicts.

Accordingly, the United Nations will again be the world’s most indispensable organisation, being asked to do what no one else wants to do, but what everyone else knows must be done.

Kosovo and East Timor are too early examples of this renewed trend towards reliance on the United Nations. They are both highly complex and demanding missions.

In East Timor, there is a clear framework for what is to be done, preparing East Timor for independence, with the difficulties in the limited resources available for building a functioning state and a stable economy.

In Kosovo the difficulties are greater, with no peace agreement in place, and with an obvious reluctance of the key global players to try to settle the core issues concerning the future status of Kosovo, but with the advantage of greater resources for achieving the more narrow and immediate objectives set.

Since then, we have seen the Security Council deciding on a limited mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as a more classic peacekeeping operation after the cessation of hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea. And now, we only need to open the newspapers to see that there are discussions concerning the role the United Nations can play for the future of Afghanistan.

Thus, from having been a more marginal task in the beginning of the history of the United Nations, peace operations of different sorts have emerged as a core function of the organisations, and from being very classical and limited during earlier decades, and after the backlash of the 1990’s, there is now an increased interest in having the world organisations trying to rebuild states that have collapsed or in other ways failed.

The recent report of the panel to look at ways of improving the effectiveness of UN operations in these areas spoke about peace building, avoided the controversial concept of nation-building or the, in my opinion, more appropriate term of state-building.

The reasons for the renewed interest in peace building, not the least in order to handle the problem of failed states, are to be found not the least in what we were suddenly confronted with on September 11.

In a world with less and less of borders, and with better and better communications, we are all neighbours of chaos, wherever this appears, and will be affected by the consequences. In the more benevolent form, it can be in the form of streams of refugees coming to our countries, and in the more malign form in the form of the effects of the attacks of the terrorist groups that are able to establish safe havens, training grounds and base areas in such countries or areas.

We can also see, that one failed states risk causing other states in a region to fail as well. As these often are conflicts beyond states, we see them affecting entire regions.

This was certainly the case with the succession of wars and conflicts we had to handle in South East Europe from Slovenia in 1991 to Macedonia in 2001. But we are also seeing it in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, in the different conflicts on Africa’s Horn and now in the wider area of Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia.

Thus, we have become more and more aware of the wider consequences of failure when it comes to handling conflicts and wars of this nature. They risk spreading not only to wider regions, but also in a way that directly affects the security of far-away countries, with the mass terrorism we saw on September 11 as the so far by far worst example.

Afghanistan can serve as an example to illustrate the challenges we will be facing.

The first task is always to try to prevent an open conflict. If it always far more difficult to heal a nation or state that has already broken apart.

But conflict prevention is far easier said than done. This year has seen the failure to prevent an armed confrontation in Macedonia in spite of massive international presence in the area, and it has witnessed the failure in the case of Afghanistan.

There has been a UN mission in Afghanistan for a long time, with the Secretary-General reporting regularly to the Security Council. And it is worth reminding of what his latest report on the situation in the country three weeks prior to September 11 had to say.

He painted a rather gloomy picture of the political stalemate following the Security Council decision on certain sanctions against Afghanistan in December last year, and the subsequent break of political contacts between the UN representatives and the Taliban authorities.

But he also reported, that “it is a matter of particular concern that the number of foreigners fighting alongside the Taliban has not declined, but rather to the contrary, the presence of so called ‘guests’ is increasingly noticeable in the major urban centres.” This, said the Secretary-General, “adds to the suspicion that certain foreigners play a growing decision-making role within the Taliban leadership to the detriment of those Afghan elements within the Taliban who are considered more pragmatic and moderate.”

And it was against also this background that he suggested that the Security Council should consider “a comprehensive approach to the settlement of Afghanistan”, based on the premise “that no military solution to the Afghan conflict is possible, desirable or indeed acceptable.”

I am quoting this at some lengths to illustrate the value UN missions can have in identifying both problems and possibilities, thus making it possible for the Secretary General to alert the Security Council in order to try to pave the way for more concrete conflict prevention measures.

Now, the situation in and around Afghanistan is different. The Taliban authorities are continuing to protect the terrorist network of bin Laden. The United States is exercising its right of self-defence. Necessary as this is, we must not neglect the humanitarian consequences.

And the UN system is seen as crucial in a number of respects.

First, it is the Security Council and its resolutions that are the ultimate expression of the global coalition against terrorism.

Second, it is the different humanitarian arms and agencies of the UN system that is playing the leading role in coordinating and carrying out the massive humanitarian operations in the area.

Third, it is the UN that is seen by all as the main instrument to facilitate the necessary political agreement on the setting up of a broadly based new government of the country.

All of these tasks are highly challenging, and we have reason to remind ourselves of the lessons from the past decade. Afghanistan is a large country with proud traditions of independence, and is unlikely to take lightly to any attempt to impose some kind of rule on it.

The United Nations stands ready to help and assist in reaching political agreements on a new government, as well as to then help it and the country to recover from decades of ear and strife, but would be wise to refrain from too direct a role in trying to order the affairs of the country thereafter.

But even a more modest approach of this kind will require significant resources. And if we add these demands for resources to those already there, and try to conceive what might happen during coming years, it is obvious that more resources needs to be devoted to tasks like these.

In many peacekeeping operations, there is a need for military forces. In many cases, they would be an integral part of the UN mission, like we see in Sierra Leone today, while in other cases they could be separate although under a mandate from the Security Council, like we see in Kosovo.

The role of the military force varies in the different situations. But it is important to understand that military force is and must always be seen as an instrument of policy, and that use of it only makes sense as part of a clear political strategy. The mandate of the military forces must be an integral part of the mandate of the operation as a whole.

During the last few years, there has been increasing emphasis given to the role of police forces, and indeed to the need to address the entire question of a functioning system of law and order as part of a peace building strategy. Here, it is obvious that more must be done in order to secure the recruiting of sufficient number of police officers as well as others to make it possible for an operation to address the critical problems of law and order.

But when it comes to assisting in state building as part of peace building, many others skills will also be needed. The rebuilding of infrastructure is often an important task. There is often the need to review the way in which education is carried out. Basic social and health services might require help. A proper macroeconomic strategy must be put in place. When it comes to a full-scale protectorate as in Kosovo, the list can be very long.

For all these resources, the United Nations can only rely on its member states. And with a large number of ongoing operations, this is not something that can be taken for granted. But increasingly there will be the possibility to rely on the resources and abilities of regional organisations.

I consider it, to take one example, reasonable that the United Nations will gradually scale back its commitments in South Eastern Europe as the European Union and the OSCE build up their corresponding resources, thus making it possible for the UN to concentrate its resources on areas where no such alternatives exist. Remaining with the humanitarian tasks, the UN will increasingly see the European Union as the main instrument for conflict prevention and conflict resolution on the continent of Europe.

There is thus no doubt that we have entered an era where we must devote increased attention to conflict resolution and increased resources to different aspects of peace building.

It is no longer just a question of helping in those particular areas, important as that is, but increasingly also a question of limiting those areas of chaos and disorder that otherwise might harbour or fuel international terrorism of different sorts.

This will put new demands on all states.

It is for example doubtful if the military resources of the countries of the European Union are sufficient to support the different missions that the United Nations will be able to undertake.

But it will be increasingly important to see these tasks less from a purely military, and more from a wider political, social and economic perspective, and be ready to allocate the manpower and the money needed to address these wider issues of conflict prevention and peace building.

Many actors have important roles to play. But the United Nations is again seen as the world’s most indispensable organisation when it comes to these issues. And this has been vividly demonstrated by the decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee to give the Nobel Peace Price 2001 to the United Nations and to its Secretary General Kofi Annan.

It is a price well deserved – and it is a recognition much needed in view of the challenges ahead.

Bildt Blog Comments

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