Speech by Minister Cowen to the Royal Irish Academy (Part III)


A further challenging question is whether states have the right to take pre-emptive action if they believe they are at risk of attack. In his address to the UN General Assembly in September, the Taoiseach signalled his concern that a doctrine of pre-emptive action could become accepted on a widespread basis. At the same time, he acknowledged that the increased possession of weapons of mass destruction raised questions as to the point at which a state might consider it necessary to act in self-defence. This needs serious reflection. The starting point for this reflection, I would suggest, has to return to, and be based on, the capacity of the multilateral system to respond effectively to such threats. A collective security system that cannot address such issues is almost certainly doomed to fail.

We have also to consider how the international community should react when events within a country threaten international peace and security, or when large-scale flagrant and persistent violations of human rights are involved. At present, Article 2.7 of the Charter excludes the UN from intervening in matters that are essentially within the jurisdiction of any state. Is this a sustainable position in today's increasingly interdependent world - in which events in one part of the world can have an instant effect in another part? Can we find a way that balances the rights of sovereign states with an imperative to take action when international security or individual human rights are in jeopardy?

All this is directly relevant also to the role of regional organisations under the UN umbrella. Chapter 8 of the UN Charter envisages a role for regional organisations in a range of areas, including in relation to the maintenance of international peace and security. This is an under-used aspect of the Charter which, I believe, offers the potential for broadly-based groups of countries to support much more actively the work of the UN. The Secretary General has indicated there is scope for such a development. I believe that the EU, through its crisis management capabilities, offers a very good example of how this might be delivered on.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, we must be prepared to have the political will and determination to make the multilateral system work. We cannot on the one hand denounce unilateralism and, on the other, refuse to take the action necessary to make the United Nations system a more effective instrument for addressing threats to peace and security, including those posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

As Presidency, Ireland will be responsible for guiding the EU input to UN reform. We will work with our partners to prepare an EU contribution for the consideration of the High Level Panel. It is time for the EU, as one of the most ardent supporters of the UN system, to help build momentum in support of UN reform. To that end, we will also include effective multilateralism and UN reform in all of our political dialogue with other regions and third countries.

The Union's activities in this area mesh fully with support for the UN. The CFSP is based on values, chief among which is support for the international system based on the UN Charter. Kofi Annan has welcomed the Union's developing capabilities for civil and military crisis management. Increasingly, also, the UN has recourse to regional organisations to assist it in carrying out its important peace-keeping and conflict resolution functions. This is a growing area for cooperation between the Union and the UN. In September last, the EU signed a declaration with the UN on cooperation between the two organisations on crisis management. Experience to date bodes well for future cooperation. I look forward to taking forward implementation of this agreement next year in as practical and value-adding a manner as possible.

In doing so, we will work with all countries of good will who share our objective of a strong and functioning multilateral system. In particular we will work to develop the relationship in this area with the United States. It is a false analysis to suggest that all US policy is anti-multilateral. Opinion polls consistently show that US public opinion remains committed to the UN and international cooperation to tackle global issues and crises. And I know from my own ongoing relationship with the Administration, and in particular with Secretary of State Colin Powell, that the United States is committed to a strong and effective United Nations.

There is also a tendency to play up differences between the EU and the US. Of course there were serious differences over Iraq and these – let us be very frank – existed within the Union as well. But with the unanimous adoption of Resolution 1511 last month, the international community has come together in support of the reconstruction of Iraq. Ireland has consistently advocated a central role for the UN in the reconstruction of that tragic country. As part of this process, I wish to see the earliest possible restoration of sovereignty to the Iraqi people under a representative government. This is vital for the Iraqi people, for the wider region and for the entire international community.

It has long been my view that a strong EU-US relationship is an essential element of a policy triangle for the EU. The other sides of that triangle are a firm commitment to the UN and a coherent and effective EU common foreign and security policy. We can achieve infinitely more by working together – the evidence is there to be seen in the Western Balkans, in cooperation on global terrorism, and in Afghanistan. On these and very many other issues, Europeans and Americans have a shared view and a common desire to achieve progress. But, and I want to emphasise this, for each of these issues the role of the UN is central if good progress is to be secured.

The transatlantic partnership will be a key dimension for our Presidency. This relationship, which is central to the security and prosperity of both Europe and the United States, is strong, long-standing and secure. It is not a question of building bridges between Europe and America – the ties of friendship and cooperation that bind us are too strong for that to be necessary. And while we may not always see eye-to-eye on every issue, I am determined to find ways to further develop and deepen the already close cooperation between the EU and the United States.

One issue where the United States has a lead role to play is in the search for peace in the Middle East. The long running conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours presents particular challenges. This running sore of international relations has defied the efforts of statesmen and soldiers to find either a military or a political solution for almost sixty years. The Quartet's Roadmap for peace sets out the steps towards a lasting settlement based on two states living side by side in peace and security. Unfortunately, it has not to date been implemented in good faith by either of the parties. Next week I will meet the Israeli Foreign Minister when I will urge the Israeli Government to meet its obligations under the Roadmap. I delivered a similar message to President Arafat when I visited the region in June.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The roots of conflict are often complex and deep. If we are serious about ridding our world of the scourge of conflict, then we must tackle the causes of conflict – injustice, oppression, poverty and lack of development.

A key concern is the protection and promotion of human rights. We must have the courage to recognise injustice when and where we see it and take the appropriate action. Human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal but they can all too easily be lost through inaction. In defending the rights of others, we expand and secure our own; if we choose to look the other way when faced with human rights abuses, we are ourselves diminished. The Commission on Human Rights in Geneva provides a forum in which to address international human rights issues and to take the necessary steps to reinforce a global culture in which human rights are respected. Ireland will be a member of the Commission until 2005 and, as EU Presidency, will play a key role in coordinating EU activity across a broad range of human rights issues. The Council of Europe and the OSCE are also key instruments for monitoring and raising human rights standards in their area. The International Criminal Court likewise represents an important signal that the international community will not tolerate flagrant abuses of human rights.

Perhaps just as fundamentally, many conflicts have their origins in, or are fuelled by, levels of such extreme poverty that desperate people are driven to take desperate measures. This is why the Millennium Development Goals, the development targets that are a key element of the UN Millennium Declaration, are so important. The over-arching target of reducing by half, by 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty is fundamental to our concept of an internationally just order, an order which should underpin international peace and security.

This is also why the EU is the world's largest donor of development assistance. The internal concept of social solidarity between the peoples of Europe is reflected in an external aid programme, which promotes Europe's solidarity with the poor and oppressed. The EU Commission and the Member States collectively contribute over 50% of global ODA, or over €25 billion per year. The EU is the largest donor to multilateral debt relief. It is the largest donor to AIDS programmes. It is, by far, the biggest donor to Africa.

And this concept of solidarity, with its focus on poverty reduction, is also fundamental to Europe's future security strategy. The EU believes that action to help reduce internal tensions and overcome conflicts in divided societies, must include external financial support for poverty reduction. The promotion of economic and social justice, which is so central to conflict prevention, requires strong and effective multilateral institutions. The UN Funds, Programmes and specialised agencies are the unsung heroes of the current international order.

Creating a fairer trade environment is also an important element in building a more stable and secure world. Ultimately, fair trade is to the advantage of all. We have a responsibility to ensure a just and equitable outcome while remaining mindful of our own interests. The Least Developed Countries must be supported toward full participation, on an equal and fair basis, in the global market if the Millennium Development Goals of combating poverty are to be achieved by 2015. It is a source of regret that the WTO talks at Cancun were unsuccessful. I can accept that a period of reflection is needed, but this should not deflect us from efforts to get back to negotiations as soon as possible. The EU and its partners need to respond as positively as possible to the recent statements from representatives of the developing countries. Next month's WTO Council meeting in Geneva offers the prospect of renewing consensus and making the Doha Development Agenda a reality. In our Presidency we will be active, together with the Commission, in exploring ways to further this process. If there is a general will to get the multilateral negotiations back on track, the EU for its part will not be found wanting.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have perhaps raised more questions than I have answered. But I hope, as I intended, that my remarks would contribute to your further deliberations today. We are faced with a range of challenges and threats which do not lend themselves to traditional forms of diplomacy or international action. They cannot be met by simple shows of force or by retreating behind barriers. Fortresses are not an answer, and never will be. We must, if we are to succeed, address the underlying causes and symptoms of an unfair world. And these can only be addressed by seeking solutions to the inequality, the injustice and the poverty which mark the daily lot of so many of our fellow men and women.

My fundamental and core belief is that the only real path to a secure and stable world is through an effective multilateral system, based on the UN and with a reformed Organisation at its heart. We need the will and the determination to undertake the necessary reform and action so that multilateralism can take on, vigorously and effectively, the challenges of the 21st century. As responsible political leaders, we have absolutely no option but to take on the challenge that Kofi Annan has set us. This is the new world order that we have to achieve.

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