Statement by Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern T.D., to the General Debate at the 58th General Assembly of the UN New York (1)
For the United Nations, and for the system of collective security that it
represents, the past year has been a traumatic one.
Our Organisation could ill-afford the loss of the dedicated and experienced
members of staff who were killed by an act of terrorism in Baghdad on the
19th of August. I do not diminish the contribution of each and every one
of those who lost their lives in the cause of humanity if I give individual
mention to Sergio Vieira de Mello. I would like to pay particular tribute
to his work in bringing to birth the new state of Timor Leste which has
become the latest member of the United Nations.
We are living in a period of great insecurity. We are stalked by fear ?
fear of war, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, famine, disease,
ethnic and religious hatred, organised crime. Governments are acting,
individually and in groups, to shield their people from these threats.
However, the nature of the challenge requires coordinated global action..
Fortunately, we have the United Nations Organisation, which brings together
the nations of the world in the service of international peace and
security. If we did not have already have such an organisation, we would
surely have to invent it. The tragedy for mankind is that we do not make
the most effective use of it. We are frequently told by commentators that
the United Nations has failed. All too often, it is difficult to disagree.
So, who is to blame? To answer that question we have to ask: what is the
United Nations? The answer is to be found in the Charter. This
Organisation was established in the name of the peoples of the United
Nations. When the United Nations fails it is because we, the governments
who represent the peoples of the United Nations, have failed, individually
or collectively, to meet our obligations.
Our most common failing, I would submit, is that we frequently overlook the
fact that this organisation was created to serve not just our own nation,
but all mankind. Too often, Members seek to use this organisation to
pursue their national interests; by seeking to have it adopt resolutions
that are partial or biased; by ignoring its resolutions when these do not
suit them; and by encouraging action on certain issues and conflicts while
blocking action, or even consideration, of others. All too many of us
have been guilty of such an approach.
We simply cannot afford to continue with this attitude. The world is fast
changing. Every day brings a new awareness of just how interdependent we
all are. The option of shutting ourselves safely away behind protective
walls no longer exists. We have to learn to live together, to share the
resources of this planet, and to look after each other. We can retain our
national, cultural and religious identities, but we need to recognise that
we are, first and foremost, all members of the human race and we must act
We need a viable system of global governance that can ensure international
peace and security. To be viable, such a system must possess two
essential qualities: effectiveness and legitimacy. To be effective, it
requires the unambiguous support of the entire community of nation states.
Its decisions must be respected and, where necessary, we must be ready and
able to act to secure such respect. To retain legitimacy, the system must
be seen to work in the interests of the entire international community.
I appeal, therefore, to the governments represented at this General
Assembly for a change in our attitude to the United Nations. Let us cease
treating it as a tool useful only to the extent that it can deliver our own
national agenda. Instead, let us use the United Nations to harness our
collective resources in the interests of each and every member of mankind.
To adapt the words of President John F. Kennedy, let us ask not what the
United Nations can do for us, but what we can do for the United Nations..
The United Nations needs reform. We all accept that. Our institutions
are not sufficiently effective and, in some instances, are not adequately
representative of today's membership. We have discussed these issues at
great length, but we have baulked from taking the hard decisions. The time
has come to put the interests of the wider international community before
narrow national concerns.
We are fortunate, at this moment, to have as Secretary-General a man of the
stature of Kofi Annan; a man who is held in universal regard and who is
seen to stand for the interests of the entire international community. He
has not shrunk from grasping the nettle of reform, and in his address to
this Assembly he called on the members of this organisation to grasp it
with him. We must find the courage and generosity to take up this
The past two years have been a particularly sombre period in the history of
mankind. There has been so much death and destruction across the globe.
How much of this might have been avoided if the United Nations had been
better able to fulfil the noble purposes set out in the Charter?
I do not claim that it is possible to eradicate man's capacity for evil or
to totally eliminate the tendency to seek to resolve disputes through
violence. But I do submit that a stronger, more resolute, more respected,
more active, UN might have prevented some of the suffering of the past two
The world today is very different from that which existed when the UN
Charter was drawn up. It is smaller, more crowded, more combustible.
Isolated pockets of human habitation have been brought together by a
population explosion, migration, faster and cheaper air travel, television,
the internet, the growth of free trade and the development of weapons of
mass destruction. What happens in one part of the world can increasingly
have an instant and dramatic effect in another part.
This evolution has raised questions concerning the interpretation of two
important provisions of the Charter. First, Article 2.7, which in effect
excludes the UN from intervening in matters that are essentially within the
domestic jurisdiction of any state. Yet the problem increasingly arises
in our global society as to whether and when a matter can be considered as
falling entirely within the domestic jurisdiction of a state. Some
situations are clearer than others.
In my view, when events within a country threaten international peace and
security, they become the legitimate interest of the international
community. Similarly, I cannot accept that the international community
should stand by and accept the large-scale flagrant and persistent
violation of individual human rights. We have received sharp lessons in
the past. The trigger for intervening to prevent an attempted genocide
should not be the moment that refugees begin to flood across the border..
At the same time, international intervention raises serious questions. It
can also pose very serious risks to the international regime. Clearly,
intervention is objectively called for in some extreme cases. But there is
a need to work carefully through this concept with a view to forging an
international consensus around it.
Another issue which has recently come to the fore, and which was
highlighted by the Secretary-General, is that of Article 51 of the Charter
and the conditions under which Member States have the right to act in
self-defence. The development of weapons of mass destruction in the
period since the signing of the Charter, and the appearance of non-state
actors with the capacity for mass destruction, raise serious questions as
to the point at which a State might consider it necessary to act in
self-defence. This is an issue which also requires serious reflection..
My Government would be deeply concerned at the widespread acceptance of a
doctrine of pre-emptive strike. Given the ever more lethal nature of
modern weapons, the risk of large scale death, destruction and escalation
More effective than striking pre-emptively, of course, is to pre-empt the
risk of conflict through a wide range of steps in the diplomatic, economic,
humanitarian and other areas.
We should devote more attention to dealing with the root causes of
conflict. We must seek to identify potential conflicts as early as
possible and to deal with them before they get out of hand. Where conflict
nevertheless becomes a possibility, we should act more assertively to head
it off. We simply cannot afford to accept the existence of so-called
forgotten or ignored conflicts. Any conflict which threatens international
peace and security is the UN's legitimate business and should be on the
agenda of the Security Council.
I would now like to touch briefly on a number of specific issues which are
of concern to my government.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people continues to pose a
serious threat to world peace. My own country's difficult national
experience shows that there is no such thing as a straight line to peace.
Our experience in Ireland clearly demonstrates that far-sighted leaders
cannot allow their efforts to be held hostage by terrorists and extremists.
They must have the wisdom to look beyond the politics of the last atrocity.
What is more, leaders must be prepared to deal with each other. As the
Nobel Laureate John Hume once said, "you make peace with your enemies, not
your friends". President Arafat has a responsibility to lead his people
away from violence and back to the negotiating table. It is a
responsibility which he must assume. Threats to expel or assassinate him
are deeply misguided and dangerous and can only further delay efforts to
achieve a settlement.
Lasting peace can only be achieved through negotiation. Palestinians must
realise that violence has failed. Terrorism is wrong and has brought
nothing but misery to both Israelis and Palestinians. It has made
compromise more difficult than ever.
Israel must see that repression and attempts at physical separation will
not deliver long- term security. The most effective means for Israel to
secure a peaceful future would be to accept the Palestinian people's right
to a viable state of their own on the basis of the 1967 borders. Israel
should immediately reverse its policy of building settlements, settler-only
roads and a security wall on Palestinian territory.
It is imperative that the parties re-engage in the task of implementing the
Road Map, leading to a two-state solution based on the vision enshrined in
Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 1397. They need the support of
the Quartet. But such mediation will not succeed if it is, or is perceived
to be, one-sided. We must be careful to ensure that our demands are
balanced and that we hold both sides equally to account.
The people of Iraq are suffering from events which in most cases are not of
their making. We want to see this suffering brought to an end as soon as
possible. The Iraqi people can play a part in that by rejecting those who
engage in violence and industrial sabotage. The occupying powers must be
scrupulous in meeting their obligations under international law.
The Iraqi people need, and deserve, the support of a united international
community in the political and economic reconstruction of their country..
The United Nations, with its unique experience and legitimacy, is essential
to efforts to help the Iraqi people recover their sovereignty as soon as
possible and to forge a new Iraq, at peace with itself and with its
neighbours. We look to the members of the Security Council at this crucial
moment to assume their responsibilities and to reach agreement on a new
resolution that reflects the interests of the people of Iraq and that can
enjoy the necessary support of the region and of the broad international
The proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons poses a
serious threat to international peace and security. We must recommit
ourselves to controlling the spread of such weapons, and working towards
their complete elimination. This can only be achieved through a
comprehensive and rigorous system of international treaties and obligations
that are verifiable and universal.
Ireland, with its partners in the New Agenda Coalition, will continue its
efforts in respect of nuclear disarmament during this year's General
Assembly. Ireland calls on all States who are concerned about the issue of
weapons of mass destruction to become constructively engaged in the
multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation process. There can be no
room for double standards.