Hard road ahead for reform of UN

The Nation, Regional - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Keeping reform at the United Nations practical and forcing the organisation to become more autonomous and less vulnerable to a small number of large and powerful countries would be 'a hell of a difficult task', former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans said yesterday.

Evans was in Bangkok to speak at an ongoing series of lectures and dialogues dubbed 'Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace' organised by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation.

While here Evans will discuss the UN's role in maintaining world peace. He is a member of the UN secretary-general's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenge and Change, which is chaired by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun.

Evans said proposed future reforms of the UN to make it more autonomous and less swayed by a handful of large powers would not be easy.

'We've got a hell of a difficult task to pull all the stuff together,' Evans told local human rights activists and the media yesterday.

Change in the membership and role of the Security Council is an 'enormously difficult issue', said Evans. 'If I talked about this with my colleagues in Britain or France they would regard it as a bad joke.'

Evans said things would be difficult be if one or two powerful nations were not committed to a multilateral world. He singled out the United States as an example of how the world's sole superpower was in favour of tough new environmental laws, but did not want to be bound by the regulations itself.

He said issues such as the environment, and the US refusal to commit itself to a world court was leading to 'palpable' tension between the US and the rest of the globe.

Evans took a more practical stance when asked by former foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan about America's doctrine of unilateralism, which led America to strike Iraq in a pre-emptive war, despite UN opposition.

'It's easy to say, now come on guys it's going too far . . . [but] it may well be perfectly defensible in the classic sense,' he said, adding that it depended on the quality of intelligence.

At an address at the Asian Institute of Technology yesterday, Evans said the September 11 attacks in the US had created a question - on which there is no global consensus - about how far a state should be allowed to go in capturing and punishing terrorists.

'When was it permissible to engage in pre-emptive, or preventive, attacks against states supporting terrorism, or acquiring weapons of mass destruction, or both?' he said.

Evans is currently president of the International Crisis Group (ICG), a private multinational, not-for-profit organisation.

He believes the consequence of US action in Iraq will not be instantly clear.

'We cannot finally answer [what the consequences are] until we know how long Iraq's post-war misery will last.

Pravit Rojanaphruk