Part 1 - Challenges to Liberal Internationalism
It gives me great pleasure to deliver the opening address on the theme of “Challenges to Liberal Internationalism”. In many ways the history of the century just ended can be seen as a struggle between the liberal internationalist and the “realist” schools of international relations. Liberal internationalists would tend to see the 20th century as their century. Over the course of the 20th century great progress was made in the development of a framework of international law, treaties and human rights conventions to govern international relations. In particular the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrined the vision and idealism of liberal internationalist for a global order based on the rule of law, the peaceful settlement of disputes and the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms.
On the other hand, the realist interpretation of international relations can make a persuasive case as a more accurate picture of the century just ended. Two World Wars, hundreds of smaller scale conflicts, nuclear confrontation that threatened the very future of the globe, holocausts, genocides, gross violations of human rights and famines in many parts of the world - this list should give pause to any exaggerated claims about the triumph of the liberal internationalist version of history. The realist school would claim that the interests of great powers, the conflict between civilisations and the competing self interests of sovereign nation States always were, and always will be, the major determining factors in international events.
As I understand the current state of the debate, the tendency over the last few years in particular is to see the end of the Cold War and the subsequent spread of democracy and the liberal economic model across much of the globe as confirmation that liberal internationalism is again in the ascendent and may have won the day. Globalisation and mass communications are seen as final, inescapable, proof that all the peoples and nations of the world are interdependent and do indeed comprise “the international community” and that therefore, we should be on the threshold of an era of enlightened multilateralism.
Where does Ireland stand in this debate? As a small State, for so long in the shadow of a large former great power with which we have a long and complicated history, on the periphery of the continent that was the cradle of two world wars, we have an acute practical understanding of this apparent dichotomy. Ireland, like most small nations, has always known that a multilateral, rules based international order is in our national interest. We would like to think, and I believe with much justification that we have demonstrated this, that our commitment to liberal internationalism is also based on principle.
The old chestnut about Irish foreign policy being a competition between our interests and our principles can best be answered with a “both/and” rather than an “either/or”. The phrase “enlightened self interest” is a reasonably accurate, if not totally inspiring, description of this reality. In today's world no State, large or small, is immune from the effects of war, poverty and lack of development, environmental or natural disasters in any corner of the globe. Enlightened self interest is the acknowledgment that whether we like it or not our security is indivisible and “we the peoples” of the United Nations share a common destiny. A commitment to multilateralism and the rule of law in international affairs is not just common decency, it is also common sense.
The other thought that occurred to me when I saw the title “Challenges to Liberal Internationalism” was the absence of a question mark. What are the challenges that can prevent or undermine the achievement of an era of enlightened multilateralism?
The first and most important challenge is one of political will. Those States and those who advocate an international order based on the rule of law, human rights, development and justice across the globe, have to give concrete, active and ongoing expression to these beliefs. Let me outline a few examples of how Ireland is doing just that.
The first is our strong commitment to the United Nations, that indispensable organisation that is the embodiment of the best hopes and intentions of the international community. Following our extraordinary success in being elected to the Security Council, we will commence our two year term in a few weeks on 1 January 2001. Ireland sought this honour not for its own sake but because we are committed to the realisation of the goals and ideals of the UN Charter. I think the high vote we received from the UN membership was due to our long record of commitment and service to the UN, year in and year out, across the spectrum of issues, organisations and bodies of the UN system. In particular the role that Ireland has played in UN peacekeeping, where since 1958 Irish soldiers and police have served over 48,000 individual tours in over thirty UN operations in all corners of the world, demonstrates that we have always been prepared to give practical and concrete expression of our support for the UN's core role on international peace and security.
If you were to ask me if we have a theme or motto for our Security Council membership, it would be dedicated service to the goals and ideals of the UN Charter. We are determined to make an effective and realistic contribution to the work of the Security Council. We are under no illusions about the difficult and some would say intractable nature of many of the issues on the Security Council agenda. The Government invested much time and effort in the campaign and have put the necessary resources in place to manage our responsibilities on the Security Council. There are those commentators and analysts, no doubt some of you here today even, who questioned the wisdom of a small country like Ireland deciding to seek a term on the Security Council. Was it really in our interests, they ask.
No doubt over the course of our two year term Ireland may face some difficult policy choices. There may even be public debate and criticism of position we may adopt on issues that come before the Council. It goes without saying that the other members of the Council, permanent and non-permanent, and also the wider membership of the UN, will impress on us from time to time the need to support their particular perspective on issues. At the same time individual citizens and the active and vocal lobbies in Ireland on the whole range of international issues will make known their views and concerns on a whole host of issues. We welcome active and informed debate of the issues before the Security Council. All I can do is assure you that our approach will be constructive and engaged and we will be guided by the principles and concerns that have always informed our foreign policy.
On the Security Council, Ireland will be making decision on issues of international peace and security that come before the Council. Critical to all these decisions will be the ongoing ability of the international community through the UN and through its cooperation with relevant regional organisations, to deploy resources for conflict prevention, peacekeeping and crisis management, including for humanitarian operations. Over recent years we have seen too many examples of the international community standing aside as hapless witnesses, seemingly overwhelmed by a sense of moral defeat, hesitating to become involved while innocent people suffer. Sometimes the failure to act is a failure of political will, other times it is because the capabilities are not there. For a long time Ireland has shared the concerns of successive UN Secretary's-General, and many like minded member States, about the need to ensure that the UN's capabilities in these core areas of its responsibilities are strengthened.Top