Address by Minister Cowen to the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, New York: Part 1
“Peace and Security: Ireland and the UN”
I am grateful to the National Committee on American Foreign Policy for your kind invitation to join you today. As always, it is good to be here among old friends. I would like to particularly thank the President, Dr George Schwab, for organising this event and our great friend, Bill Flynn, Chairman of the NCAFP. Could I also thank Tom Moran, President and CEO of Mutual, for hosting the lunch.
I am particularly pleased to be joined by a number of my Parliamentary colleagues - including the Chairman of our Joint Foreign Affairs Committee, former senior Government Minister Deputy Michael Woods, Deputy Michael Noonan, former Leader of the Opposition and Deputies Liz O'Donnell and Dan Wallace, former Ministers of State.
I would like to take this opportunity, as Ireland approaches the end of our two year term on the United Nations Security Council, to share with you - in a spirit of openness and frankness - some thoughts on the theme “Peace and Security: Ireland and the UN”.
Ireland and the UN: Membership of the Security Council: Playing a Role that Matters
Every member of the Security Council brings to the table its own history, its own view of the world, its own values, its own priorities for what actions the Council should take.
Ireland came to the Security Council two years ago as a strong and passionate supporter of multilateralism. We believe that it is through multilateralism that we can make certain that common threats and challenges receive a common response and effective international action. We also came to the Council as a joint sponsor and active participant in a peace process in Ireland which informs our approach and contribution to UN efforts at conflict resolution worldwide. Above all, we came as a strong supporter of the United Nations and its role in the world.
The United Nations was not created by appeasers. It was not conceived by unworldly or naive idealists. Its creators and founders consisted of a generation of world leaders who confronted tyranny and emerged victorious over it. The UN was forged in the crucible of the most destructive war in human history, by statesmen leading the world away from calamity and totally determined that such a catastrophe should never be revisited on mankind again.
The preamble to the UN's Charter, which famously begins with the words “We the peoples of the United Nations ...”, sets out in a succinct text of commendable clarity the raison d'être and necessity for the United Nations Organisation. In establishing for the first time a system of collective international security, world leaders assigned to the Security Council of the United Nations the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.
The contribution we make to the Security Council does not relate to our size as a country. Granted, we do not possess the traditional manifestation of power provided by countries such as the United States. But whether big or small, all States are sustained by deeper sources of strength - our spirit, our instinct and our self-comprehension as distinctive nations, committed to achieving a more peaceful world.
From that perspective, I strongly contend that in devising just and wise solutions to the problems of our time, those who question how power is used have a contribution to make, especially when that questioning is dispassionate and disinterested. Strength matters, but the spirit which informs and controls power matters just as much. I believe that in order to confront poverty, disease, violent conflict and to establish a more peaceful world, we must use the UN to build a future in which, to paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, we can match military strength with moral restraint, the world's wealth with our wisdom and power with our purpose.
In my view, the United States, engaging in this way with the international community, under the auspices of the United Nations and providing leadership within its framework, is an America that commands even greater respect throughout the world, not only for its strength, but for its civilised values as well.
The Security Council and How it Works: the UN and a World in Transition
The United States is a great and powerful nation, with enormous and unprecedented capacity to defend its interests. If necessary, it has the strength perhaps, unique in history, to stand alone against any combination of possible enemies. But it should never need to do so. Where a cause is just, that cause should never lack support. And I would argue that, however strong the US may be on its own, it is stronger still when it acts in mutual solidarity and support with the international community.
The evidence for this is, in my view, compelling. President Bush brought the issue of Iraq to the Security Council and the Security Council responded with the unanimous adoption of Resolution 1441. In the aftermath of 11 September, the Security Council adopted a series of resolutions aimed at defeating terrorism and facilitating the reconstruction of Afghanistan. On the Middle East, the Quartet - comprising the UN, US, EU and Russia - is now the main instrument of international efforts to resolve a situation fraught with menace and danger.
It is sometimes easy to forget the distance we have come in making a reality the dream of those who founded the UN. We have a system of international collective security which, although still incomplete and far from perfect, is firmly in place. The work of decolonisation is largely finished - an achievement which is all too often overlooked. But the work of bridging the global gap between the haves and have nots has only partially advanced. Human rights are still violated in many parts of the world. But they are also more protected than ever before and, where they are violated, a searchlight now shines.
The United Nations has, therefore, achieved a great deal. With the right leadership and support, it has the potential to do so much more. The United States clearly has a particular opportunity and responsibility in this regard.
There are two particular points I would now like to make on why all countries, including the United States, need a strong UN now more than ever before.
First, the old concept of the balance of power between great powers is largely a thing of the past. We live in a multipolar world with many centres of power - political, military, economic - and we live in a globalised economy where myriad ties bind us together. Tom Friedman's “electronic herd” of investors may be something of an exaggeration, but not by much, as many countries around the world have found to their cost. Who keeps order in such a jungle? It has to be the United Nations and its family of institutions, including the Bretton Woods institutions, responding as it must to the evolving challenges of a globalised world.
Second, the dogmas of containment and deterrence that maintained the peace during the Cold War mean less today - at least in their former configuration - in the face of any number of trouble spots around the world that could suddenly flare out of control. Prime Minister Blair made this point in a speech a few weeks ago when he talked of the imperative of the international community helping “failed states.” This is something that no one State could do alone: the only way forward is through regional cooperation allied to strong international will.
I do want to make one fundamental point in this regard. No one is going to argue that the UN should suddenly develop independent coercive armed might of its own, even though the Charter gives the Security Council extensive powers in this regard. However, I would strongly argue that the use of military force in international relations, other than the legitimate right to self defence as recognised in Article 51 of the UN Charter, requires the engagement of the United Nations and the Security Council if it is to be accepted as fully legitimate by the international community.
Let me highlight the points I have made by a number of examples: Iraq, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Africa and the international fight against terrorism. These are all areas where Ireland, as a Council member, has been an active participant in events. They are all fault lines of global risk and opportunity where, I believe, the United Nations and, especially, the Security Council has an indispensable role to play.Top