Creating a More Effective United Nations


Alright… so Jane says (paraphrasing 🙂 ) “Who cares who it was! The UN is bloody infuriating”

You’re right… and I think this guy, Prime Minister Paul Martin agrees with you.
Though he can’t use the same language in the world of Diplomacy (wish he could).

At the UN General Assembly, Paul Martin introduced his idea to start reforming how the UN deals with situations like Rwanda, Darfur, and Bosnia. He calls it the “Responsibility to Protect”.

Read on to here more… and we’ll see what we think of it.

Prime Minister Martin is flogging this idea on behalf of Canada. A Commission was set up in 2001, after the September 11 attacks, to deal with one of the major problems with the UN. That is, it’s inability to act quickly in the face of obvious, and ongoing, humanitarian disasters.

A Report was created with recommendations, but, in true UN style… nothing has come of it. Paul Martin is attempting to raise the profile of this report, and rally support.

It was the focus of his address to the UN this year, and he brought up again at the APEC Summit last weekend.

From the Canadian Foreign Affairs Site

This report is about the so-called “right of humanitarian intervention”: the question of when, if ever, it is appropriate for states to take coercive – and in particular military – action, against another state for the purpose of protecting people at risk in that other state. At least until the horrifying events of 11 September 2001 brought to center stage the international response to terrorism, the issue of intervention for human protection purposes has been seen as one of the most controversial and difficult of all international relations questions. With the end of the Cold War, it became a live issue as never before. Many calls for intervention have been made over the last decade – some of them answered and some of them ignored. But there continues to be disagreement as to whether, if there is a right of intervention, how and when it should be exercised, and under whose authority.


The report which we now present has been unanimously agreed by the twelve Commissioners. Its central theme, reflected in the title, is “The Responsibility to Protect”, the idea that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe – from mass murder and rape, from starvation – but that when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states. The nature and dimensions of that responsibility are argued out, as are all the questions that must be answered about who should exercise it, under whose authority, and when, where and how. We hope very much that the report will break new ground in a way that helps generate a new international consensus on these issues. It is desperately needed.

Here are the Basic Principles:

Basic Principles

  1. State sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself.
  2. Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.

The Biggest issue in Iraq, and I gather in Kosovo as well, was the VETO of the 5 permanent members. This is where this document really starts to get interesting, and break new ground.

# The Permanent Five members of the Security Council should agree not to apply their veto power, in matters where their vital state interests are not involved, to obstruct the passage of resolutions authorizing military intervention for human protection purposes for which there is otherwise majority support.

# If the Security Council rejects a proposal or fails to deal with it in a reasonable time, alternative options are:

  1. consideration of the matter by the General Assembly in Emergency Special Session under the “Uniting for Peace” procedure; and
  2. action within area of jurisdiction by regional or sub-regional organizations under Chapter VIII of the Charter, subject to their seeking subsequent authorization from the Security Council.

So that is what Paul Martin is trying to garner support for. I ask you to read through the report, it’s not very big. And share what you think.

Personally, I don’t think it goes far enough… but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Especially on the matter of waving the VETO of the permanent members in times of humanitarian crisis since that, invariably, is what stops the Security Council from ever doing anything.

I have my doubts on whether Mr Martin will be succesful in his campaign… and it doesn’t help that the media seems completely ignorant of the initiative and it’s possible effect on the operation of the UN.

But.. all we can do is talk anyway right? Maybe our little effort will start a wider discussion that might actually go somewhere.

UPDATE: Oops.. I copy/pasted the wrong link. 🙂

7 replies on “Creating a More Effective United Nations”

  1. What do I think of this quote? Infuriating. How long will it take to define genocide? How many committee meetings at the UN? How many agreements signed by the killing Sudanese machine will it take to start saving lives? aaarrgghhhh.

    I don’t care who said it. It’s crap.

  2. Chris

    I wasn’t able to get to the Canadian site you linked and I don’t see the original mystery quote you posted so I can only comment on what you’ve reproduced in this post. I think it would be absolutely great if the UN would remedy this problem with in action in the face of dire and massive threats to life in troubled regions on the planet.

    I’m pretty fed up with the way the UN has NOT been working when it should. And this Oil-For_food scandal has brought me to the level of infuriation – bloody infuriating, to give it the Canadian and UK idiom. The UN needs to reinvent itself and look at how nothing has happened since 9/11/2001 – three bloody years.

    Personally, I think the majority of countries just want to talk, talk, talk, while they are bribed, bribed, bribed and corrupted, corrupted, corrupted. The problems of this planet need more than committee meetings and meaningless unenforced or unenforceable agreements from every tin-horn dictator or banana republic sitting at the UN in the company of nations.

    Well, thanks for letting me vent but as usual I don’t know the answer. Maybe Mr Martin will succeed where others haven’t. I’m rooting for him.

  3. Oops…

    Sorry, I had the wrong link in there. It’s fixed now.

    I don’t think this document will fix things really… but it certainly doesn’t seem so drastic a change that it would be unpalatable to the Permanent Members of the UNSC.

    Like you said, there are too many instances where the UN acts in totally ineffective, or corrupt manner.

  4. This is OT but please read the entire piece at this site. It’s quite an interesting and thought provoking take on the Arafat legacy.

    If Yasser Arafat had died at birth a Palestinian state would today likely be living side by side with a Jewish state, in peace. The Palestinian state would be called Jordan, which claimed and governed with West Bank from the end of the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948 to the Six Day War of 1967.

    I know Thanksgiving is over in your world, but Happy TG anyway.

    After that, Arafat took over the Palestine Liberation Organization and quickly began attacking noncombatants. In an era of shattered pride born of humiliating military setback, hijacking airplanes and murdering children in their schools suddenly seemed a worthy national enterprise. By 1974 an Arab League summit proclaimed the PLO “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

    From then on, the Palestinian community bore at least some of the characteristics of nationhood This was the sole political accomplishment Arafat could reasonably attribute to terrorism. Both before and after this “achievement” terrorism hurt the Palestinian cause, blinded its adherents to reality and, in the end, doomed its mentor to irrelevance. Drafters of “land for peace” plans, roadmaps, election schemes and political reforms all knew nothing could happen with Arafat in control. So they spent their time in frivolity, waiting for him to die.

  5. Oooops. I inserted my TG wishes right in the middle of the article. :(. I didn’t reprint the whole thing. Anyway very busy today so will try to read the link you gave regarding Martin/UN reform effort this weekend. Out of town for the holiday.

  6. I have this lingering doubt about Paul Martin’s altruism. He gets Bono to endorse his actions (Bono, Hmmmmm!), shows up at a club and shoulders a guitar (Bill Clinton and the sax), says many feelgood things, and transfers wealth to his cronies. Could his new scheme (!) for dealing with international crises be something of an end-run around the UN which represents most all of the nations of the world, and puts the decision-making power in the hands of those nations most likely to be pursuing their own interests through crisis (read Balkans 1998=extended American influence and bases)? Think about all the Martin has accomplished as opposed to what he has said: it may cause you to rethink any lofty sentiments related to this “new” proposal.

  7. Very True.

    The problem with Paul Martin is he’s still a politician, so you know he has to be in it for something.

    That said, after reading the report itself I am encouraged by what it proposes. There has to be a way to stop the UNSC from becoming cogged down under its’ own veto. The permanent members too often use their veto to ensure their own interests are met… regardless of the severity of the situation.

    Just look at the number of resolutions against Israel that have been vetoed by the US.

    Indeed, the only reason France threatened to use its’ veto against Iraq was because of its’ established oil interests in Iraq.

    I think they should get rid of the veto altogether, expand the UNSC, and make all the positions on the Council non-permanent, and/or rotating.

    But that is a much bigger and drastic reform… this report is just a step in that direction perhaps.

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