08 November 1991 - 10 November 1991

World Wide Security: The Quest for a “New World Order”. Should it Embrace Social, Trading, Financial and Environmental Issues, and in What Form? The Position of the Existing Regional Organisations and Agencies. Implications for Sovereignty.

Chair: The Hon Donald F McHenry

This lengthy title, which came in for some mild ridicule, should probably have been reduced to “A new world order?”, though none of the participants liked the phrase. Perhaps in any case, the topic was too broad for one conference, though it seems inevitable to-day that security must be seen as embracing environmental, developmental and demographic concerns if it is to have real meaning. However, the breadth of the problem clearly caused participants difficulty: we tended to thrash around, despite a gallant attempt by one participant to give the discussion some intellectual and conceptual shape.

Faced with a flight from the working group allotted the specialised agencies, it was agreed to amalgamate it with the one allotted economic and environmental issues and this worked well. Unexpectedly the amalgamated group proved the more controversial, with a clear divide between those who saw a potentially terminal catastrophe, the end of the human experiment, if we did not act radically and fast to deal with the new challenges of environmental stress, exploding populations, poverty, disease, debt, etc., and others who believed that the dangers were more of degree than of kind and could be adequately dealt with by incremental measures, which alone lay within the scope of practical politics. Indeed the discussions were dogged by the recognition or acceptance that radical reform whether of the specialised agencies or of the UN Charter, was probably to be ruled out for the foreseeable future. The divide between the radicals and the incrementalists infected the approach to the whole system formed by the UN family and the non-UN bodies (notably the G7 and the G5 which, though effective within their remits, were seen as Western and elitist). Thus the radicals looked for much stronger co-ordination and for a body (perhaps ECOSOC if it could be made effective, which most doubted) to set strategy, while the incrementalists, while not rejecting on principle a possible role for ECOSOC as a forum for strategic thinking and for cajoling the agencies to pursue it, doubted if any central planning body could get things right, and argued for a “lean” system, embracing only those few areas where international action was essential, e.g. trade - the doctrine of subsidiarity in the international field. One interesting suggestion emerged, that the General Assembly might establish an ad hoc body to work out long term strategy under Article 22 of the UN Charter. Another more radical proposal, which would not require amendment of constitutions, was that contributors of voluntary funds to the agencies should channel their contributions through a grant-making body (perhaps a division of the World Bank which, with the IMF, was seen as performing effectively), and let countries bid for grants to enable them to contract for services in the relevant fields, whether from the agencies, private business or their own citizens, so that competition would compel efficiency. While the idea was noted, it cannot be said that it achieved widespread support. Finally, in this area, much attention in the group, but not in plenary, was paid to emergency or disaster relief and the contrast drawn between what governments were prepared to spend on war (e.g. in the Gulf) as compared with relief. The UN Disaster Relief Office came in for criticism, but no solution beyond greater political will emerged.

In the field of traditional security, where the new challenges arose from the release of tensions held in check by the balance of power established in the cold war, perhaps the most remarkable point to emerge was the apparent erosion in certain circumstances, as expressed in the last report of the UN Secretary-General, of the prohibition in Article 2.7 of the Charter of interference in the internal affairs of a member state. Thus the Security Council had without dissent addressed the situation in Haiti after the deposition of President Aristide. It was noted however that this erosion could still cause political difficulties and at least one participant suggested that that was an under-statement. The circumstances envisaged revolved round human rights. In that field much quiet progress has been made in the UN Human Rights Committee, before whose bar every member state appears. Pressure in the human rights area through the withholding of aid was increasingly seen as legitimate, though one participant, recalling the rejection, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at Harare, of such conditionality by the Prime Minister of India, argued that the objective must be the limitation of human suffering and that stability, even of imperfect regimes, might cause less suffering than the disorder which could follow pressures which de-stabilised the regime against which they were applied. Some argued that support for bad governments led only to collapse and disorder in the end cf. Zaire; and it was arrogant to assume that their peoples did not want democracy and the rule of law. However, it was pointed out that once disorder became endemic, as in Lebanon or Uganda, it was extraordinarily difficult to re-establish order and the rule of law. The conclusion seemed to be that while the pressures must be for democracy, not necessarily on the Westminster model, the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights, such pressures had to be tempered to the circumstances of each case, the risks of disorder being weighed against the defects of the existing order, no easy judgement

There was discussion of the need for early intelligence of developing crises, of the need for the Secretary-General (if he or she was of the necessary stature, which the member states might not welcome) to be ready to give a lead, of the possibility of what was termed trip-wires being established, prophylactic measures at the request of the threatened state, to deter would-be aggressors, and the possibility of standing UN forces being established or at least national forces ear-marked for UN action. Cost, and the reluctance of nations to hazard forces in ambiguous situations, would be major obstacles to any such developments (vide the delay in deploying the observer force in Cambodia). The Gulf War should not be taken as a precedent. It might be that conflict-resolution and peace-keeping could increasingly become the responsibility of regional organisations, e.g. the EC in Yugoslavia, or the OAU in Liberia, although there too the endorsement of the UN was invaluable. The CSCE, not a UN body, was praised. The Security Council, notably the permanent members, must resist the temptation to become too dictatorial, if it was to retain acceptance and credibility. Indeed there was a recurring theme that the smaller nations’ co-operation could only be secured if they felt themselves involved in some significant way; and the great realism and pragmatism of the General Assembly in recent years was noted.

A role was seen for the UN in establishing a register of arms sales, and in building on existing specialised agreements, e.g. the Non-Proliferation Treaty with its monitoring provisions (which however, even if strengthened, would not be proof against a determined cheat). General arms reductions however would have to be negotiated regionally.

There was an interesting discussion of the break up of states or federations, an area in which no international consensus on principles has yet evolved. Nobody seemed very willing to prescribe policy vis-à-vis Yugoslavia. However, there seemed to be agreement that units within a federation had the right to self-determination but that minorities within those units did not - an illogical, as it seems, though perhaps a pragmatic distinction which the conference on autonomy, held at Ditchley in April 1990, did not draw.

Finally as to institutions it was agreed that a political process had started which might eventually lead to reform of the Security Council so as more adequately to reflect political realities; and that, though some difficulties were perceived, there might be merit in establishing a situation in which states were held to accept the jurisdiction of the International Court, unless they specifically reserved their position.

In general, the conference accepted that in any system designed to manage the new challenges the world faces - the tensions released by the end of the cold war, environmental stress, population explosion, allocation of natural resources, the divide between the developed and the developing nations - the UN family was the necessary and only tool on which we had to build: we could not go back to the drawing-board. As so often, we were reminded that no organisation is better than its members want it to be, and where political will is lacking, the organisation will limp.

This Note reflects the Director's personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Chairman: The Hon Donald F McHenry
Research Professor, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University


Sir Ralf Dahrendorf KBE FBA

Warden, St Antony’s College, Oxford
Ms M Glynne Evans
Head, United Nations Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; on loan to UN Secretariat, New York
Sir Nicholas Henderson GCMG KCVO
Lord Warden of the Stannaries and Keeper of the Privy Seal of the Duke of Cornwall
Professor Rosalyn Higgins QC
Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics (LSE), University of London
Mr Christopher Jackson MEP
Spokesman on Foreign Affairs, European Parliament; Member (Conservative), Kent) East, European Parliament
Professor Alan M James
Professor of International Relations, Keele University, Staffordshire
Mr Peter Jenkins
Associate Editor, The Independent
The Rt Hon the Lord Judd of Portsea
Life Peer (Labour); Director, Oxfam; Chairman, International Council of Voluntary Agencies
Professor Elihu Lauterpacht CBE QC
Director, Research Centre for International Law, University of Cambridge; Fellow, Trinity College, Cambridge
Mr Jurek Martin
Foreign Editor, The Financial Times
Dr Edwina Moreton
Diplomatic Editor, The Economist
Mr Edward Mortimer
Assistant Foreign Editor, Financial Times
Mr Richard Mottram
Deputy Under Secretary of State (Policy), Ministry of Defence
Dr Gwyn Prins
Director, Global Security Programme, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Cambridge and Fellow in History, Emmanuel College
Mrs Rosemary Righter
Senior Leader Writer, The Times; journalist and writer on international affairs and international organisations
Professor Adam Roberts FBA
Montague Burton Professor of International Relations and Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford
Sir Brian Urquhart KCMG MBE
Scholar in Residence, The Ford Foundation New York

Dr David B Dewitt

Director, Centre for International and Strategic Studies
Ambassador L Yves Fortier CC QC
Canadian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in New York
Mr Grant L Reuber OC FRSC
President, Canadian Ditchley Foundation; Chancellor, University of Western Ontario

Mr Svatopluk Buchlovsk
Director, European Security Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Prague; currently on sabbatical at St Antony’s College, Oxford (Foreign Service Programme)    

M Jean-Marie Gu
Director, Centre d’Analyse et de Prévision, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, Paris

Dr Frank Lambach

Head of Division, Foreign Office, Bonn

Ambassador Olara A Otunnu

President, International Peace Academy (IPA)

ñor Bernardo Sepúlveda GCMG
Ambassador of Mexico to the Court of St James’s

Mr Bryce Harland

Visiting Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford

Dr Michael Clough

Senior Fellow for Africa, Council on Foreign Relations; member, board of directors, Africa Watch
Professor Alan K Henrikson
Director, The Fletcher Roundtable on a New World Order and Lecturer in American diplomatic history, contemporary US-European relations and international negotiation, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
Mr Christopher J Makins
Vice President, Policy Programs, Aspen Institute, Washington DC
The Hon Jonathan Moore
Ambassador and US Representative, Economic and Social Council of the United Nations
Dr Benjamin Rivlin
Director, Ralph Bunche Institute, United Nations; Professor Emeritus, Political Science, City University, New York, Graduate School and University Centre
Professor Richard H Ullman
Eastman Professor, Oxford University (1991-92); David K E Bruce Professor of International Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, New Jersey.