A discussion about the past, present, and future of the United Nations with Paul Kennedy, J. Richardson Dilworth professor of history at Yale University; Stephen C. Schlesinger, author of Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations; and James Traub, contributing writer to New York Times Magazine. Warren M. Hoge, foreign affairs correspondent at the United Nations for the New York Times, presides.
Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that individual and corporate members, as well as policymakers, journalists, students, and interested citizens in the United States and other countries, can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments.
Warren M. Hoge
Warren M. Hoge is the foreign affairs correspondent at the United Nations for the New York Times.
Paul Kennedy is the J. Richardson Dilworth professor of history at Yale University. Professor Kennedy is internationally known for his writings and commentaries on global political, economic, and strategic issues.
He is the author and editor of 13 books, including Strategy and Diplomacy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, The War Plans of the Great Powers, and The Realities Behind Diplomacy.
Professor Kennedy's best-known work is The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, which provoked an immense debate in 1988 and has been translated into more than 20 languages.
Stephen C. Schlesinger
Stephen C. Schlesinger is currently on leave from the New School in New York City. He served as the universityâ€™s director of the World Policy Institute from 1997 to 2006 and was publisher and contributor to the quarterly magazine, World Policy Journal. Mr. Schlesinger received his BA from Harvard University and his JD from Harvard Law School. He spent four years as a staff writer at TIME Magazine and for twelve years served as Governor Mario Cuomoâ€™s speechwriter and foreign policy advisor.
Mr. Schlesinger is the author of three books, including "Act of Creation: The Founding of The United Nations," for which he won the 2004 Harry S. Truman Book Award; "Bitter Fruit: The Story of the U.S. Coup in Guatemala" (with Stephen Kinzer), cited as one of the New York Timesâ€™ â€œnotable booksâ€ for 1982; and "The New Reformers." He is a specialist on the foreign policy of the Clinton and Bush administrations and a frequent contributor to magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Nation, and New York Observer.
James Traub has been a contributing writer for New York Times Magazine since 1998 where he writes about international affairs, U.S. foreign policy, and national political issues. Mr. Traub has written three books, including "City on a Hill," "The Devilâ€™s Playground," and "The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power."
I think the need of reforming the UN still an emergency cause of this kind of debate wich make a lot suspucions about a general and common agreement regardng the utility of this institution some extrimist ideas and suggestions could destory the builiding with all the consquences that would occur so to find the commonn key points and real and fair blances will surely reduce the pressure and make sense
And on my left is Paul Kennedy, the J. Richardson Dilworth professor of history from Yale Universityand author of The Parliament of Man, a book about the United Nations, which is one reason we're here tonight.Stephen Schlesinger on his left, author of Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations.And at the far end, Jim Traub, contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and author of TheBest Intentions: Kofi Annan and the U.N. in the Era of American World Power.Now, I've rushed ahead here without telling you a couple of things I was supposed to tell you. One ofthem is that participants around the nation and the world are participating in this meeting via a livewebcast on the council's website. Also, I have to remind you to turn off all electronic devices.BlackBerries, phones, that sort of thingnd finally to tell you that this meeting is on the record.Just one additional thing to tell you before we begin. it's a matter of full disclosure. I have a personalbias towards all three of these speakers. Jim and Steve are personal friends. It's been decades since Igraduated in New Haven, but I still have a built-in indicator in my body that makes me always seek thefavor of professors from Yale University. (Laughter.)This is not going to get you much more than a B minus. (Laughter.)We're going to talk here for 20, 30 minutes and then let you all get involved. And the subject isthe future of the United Nations, but I wanted to begin with the present for a moment. And I'd first ofall wanted to start with a question that everyone is asking me, particularly right now. And that is, whatabout Kofi Annan? What's the verdict on his secretary-generalship? What will be the legacy?And I thought I would start with asking Jim Traub. After all, Kofi Annan's name is in the title of hisbook. And Jim, if you would tackle that question and then maybe, Paul Kennedy, if you would pick itup afterwards, and Steve, bring up the rear, and then we'll go to another question.I'd be glad to.Also, I just want to thank everyone. Given how terrible the weather was, I assumed that the four of uswould be talking to each other. So I'm really delighted, and it shows what incredible enthusiasm for theU.N. you must all have.So this would be my answer, Warren. There probably hasn't been a secretary-general who has servedtwo terms in which the first term is so immensely successful and highly admired and the second termnot. Now that's, I think, an obvious sort of truism in the case of Kofi Annan, but the interesting thing isthat he wasn't a different person in the second term. He did not run out of political capital or someother kind of miraculous substance in the second term. It is rather that what tends to determine thesuccess or failure of a secretary-general is, to some extent, his own gift, but even more the geopoliticalsituation that he happens to inherit.In the first term, he inherited a relatively sympathetic one, because the Clinton administration wasin office, and they were relatively multilaterally inclined; and, it's very important to add, he seized thatmoment in several important ways, I would say: one, by speaking about human rights and humanitarianvalues in a way that had not been done before, and two, by bringing in the United States, which wasstill quite leery about the United Nations. And he won the Nobel Peace Prize for good reason in 2001.The second term has been so painful that it's extremely hard to remember that he won the Nobel PeacePrize for what he did in the first term. And that's not because he stopped doing what he had donebefore. It's because, in short. Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. I mean, it's because of the incredibledifficulties posed by the Iraq situation and more broadly by the Bush administration.So the broad point is that our judgment of his performance reminds us of how constrained that job isand how profoundly dependent it is on the setting created by the major powers of the institution.Paul, could you expand on that?Well, I think Brian Urquhart put it best in his piece on the next secretary-general inForeign Affairs in April, where he says it is the world's most impossible job description. I tend to agreewith that. You can look at the charter, if you want, to see the job description, but it doesn't give youany sense, other than it is more than being a mere secretary, which is what the secretary to the Leagueof Nations was for Eric Drummond. But it's less than being a CEO by a long way. It's somewhere inthe middle. And if you get too political and too involved and too ideological, you're going to getsmacked from certain parts of a global spectrum, and if you are too modest and do not speak as a sortof world voice in a way that Hammarskjold thought the secretary-general should, you're going to getsmacked from the other side.So the secretary-general's office is akin, in my view, to the Chinese aphorism about man who sit inmiddle of road get hit by traffic going in both directions. If you lean too much towards the views ofAmerican conservativesnd every secretary-general is quickly made aware that you are in the UnitedStates, that it was basically an American creation, it continues to be heavily, heavily dominated by theUnited States, whatever folks in the Michigan Militia think about black helicopters. then you'll suffer.If you don't pay attention to what's happening on Capitol Hill, you will suffer.You will get hit in all directions.There's one consolation, which I think historically every secretary-general, on leaving the office, hassaid something about the utility of being the scapegoat; that is to say, in a bizarre way. which(maybe ?) sounds like a justification for the office at all. in a bizarre way, if we didn't have thesecretary-general to blame or the U.N. to blame, the big powers would be pointing at each other andblaming each other. So you have a function of being the lightning rod in certain ways.The new secretary-general will have to be an extraordinary person, adept at being all things to all mento bring us out of the present, rather sad state that James has just described.By the way, you, the historian, you can correct me, but I believe the phrase "this is the mostimpossible job in the world" was uttered by Trygve Lie as he gave the job to the second secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjold.This is trueBut I. on Kofi Annan, I think he probably is the finest secretary-general we've had since DagHammarskjold. It is true that his time in office has been, particularly in his second term, disrupted bythe oil-for-food scandal and other malfunctions at the organizational level. But remember DagHammarskjold himself had fights with the Soviets and had problems. even though he is nowremembered as this great moral figure. with other countries when he presided over the organization,but people remember him today as a highly intelligent, moral, sensitive and supple leader who broughtthe U.N. to the highest level it had ever achieved.I feel the same way about Kofi Annan. I think that he, if anything, has exemplified the most importantvirtue of the organization of the United Nations, which is to be a kind of moral body, a moralexpression of the best in humankind. And he articulated it in his commitment to defeating povertythrough the Millennium Development Goals. He was willing to fight vested interests on the issue ofhumanitarian intervention, which obviously many of the small countries opposed. And actually in thecharter itself there's a provision which does not allow the U.N. to meddle in the domestic affairs of asovereign country. He was willing to bring in the business community, which was something that hadbeen very absent in a glaring way from the U.N. for the first four or five decades.He was a man who again and again talked about human rights in a way that probably in some ways,particularly in the American government, was seen as a kind of weakness because he seemed sopreoccupied by it. And he took on the Bush administration, which obviously diminished him as the ways far as the American media dealt with him, but nonetheless gave him a certain authority with therest of the world as somebody who was not going to be pushed around and did represent the highestideals of the U.N.So given his track record, I think he's going to be remembered, irregardless of the scars and nicks thathe accumulated in 10 years, as one of the greatest secretary-generals, along with Dag Hammarskjold.Could I just offer a footnote to that, because it's striking that when we talk about theaccomplishments. Kofi Annan's accomplishments, we don't say he brought peace between this oneand that one, we don't say he did this, he did that; we talk about the words he spoke and the ideas hestood for. It's very easy to ridicule the notion that these words matter, because after all, he speaks abouthumanitarian intervention; the U.N. passes something which says we are all in favor of humanitarianintervention; and then Darfur continues as it is.So why shouldn't we view this all as hot air and hypocrisy?But the fact is that ideas, norms, matter and they only advance when, in part, people in this kind ofposition see those ideas in the world and then things happen to them that you can't control. But the roleof the secretary-general in advancing norms and seeding ideas like that, for all that it's evanescent, itarguably is the most important thing, I think, as Steve was saying, the most important thing that he does.Paul would like to.I'm putting a footnote on a footnote, which is, of course, what professors are paid to do.I couldn't agree more. And I would suggest that the single most significant utterance and idea whichKofi developed was that. which he borrowed from the Canadians, admittedly, but it's called theresponsibility to protect. And that is to say that both the nation-state members of the United Nations,but also the world organization itself has a moral duty grounded in the preamble to the charter as wellas the universal declaration to protect. Now we've seen so many transgressions about responsibility toprotect, we might think that it is indeed hot air. But it is in fact a deliberate challenge by the secretary-general and his speechwriters to Chapter II, Article 7. nothing in this charter shall be deemed toinvolve the internal affairs of a member state. Because the responsibility to protect speech and the ideawhich keeps bubbling up and will not ever go away again is one which says what happens inside yourcountry is of concern to the world organization.And of course, that beautiful phrase became a contentious one at the United Nations because thedeveloping world saw it as justification for humanitarian intervention.Exactly.Suspicious of it. (Inaudible).Let me just make one last point.Which has a footnote and a footnote and a footnote.. (laughs). right. which is that. in fact, James is the one who introduced me to thisphrase. to be a successful secretary-general you have to be what James has phrased a kind of secularpope. You have to be the embodiment of all the great, wonderful dreams of human kind, and that to meis a testament, because, after all, we know that the secretary-general has no military troops, he has nofinancial resources, he has no, you know, state that he can apply to for help. He has only the ideas andhis moral vision that kind of galvanize the community. And to the extent that Mr. Ban can fulfill thatrole, which Kofi did so brilliantly, of being the secular pope, I think he will. it will certainly acceleratehis possibilities of being a success in the job.All three of these books point out the extraordinary American origins of the United Nations.Steve's booknd I'm going to ask him to answer the question first. I remember it's a list, it's apantheon of basically all the great sort of partician leaders of America who devoted themselves toforeign affairs like Nelson Rockefeller and Averell Harriman.That said, why then has the relationship between the United States and the United Nations been sofraught? I mean, it's particularly fraught right now, but this is not the first time. What's going on there?Well, you have to remember, before the U.S. joined the U.N., itbasically had never joined an international organization of this sort in its entire history. We had been anisolationist country for many years. We'd also been a unilateralist country for also many years. And wedidn't like the idea of being in a sense pinned down by global rules. So in joining the U.N., it was abreak with historic tradition, and it took a certain amount of wrenching of the American psyche to bewilling to conform to kind of global regiment that was put together not just by the U.S. alone, but byother countries together.Harry Truman, when he gave his final speech to the San (Francisco ?) Conference at the very last day,brought up the point and warning his own country people that we were going to have to learn not toalways get our own way. And that has been a hard lesson for us to have learned, and certainly in theensuing 61 years there have been times when we have adhered to it, and other times when we'vebasically dissed it. Most American presidents have come in with a certain ambivalence towards theUnited Nations. On the one hand they see it in kind of the realpolitik, that it can advance the nationalgoals of our own security demands. On the other hand, they don't want to be sort of prevented fromacting, particularly in a unilateral way, by an organization that is going to get in the way. And so thatambivalence means that there's always been a certain amount of reserve that presidents have had. I willsay with the exception. the last president I can think of who really embraced the United Nations wasPresident Kennedy. But since then, there have been a certain amount of toing and froing about what theU.N. is all about. And of course, even under President Clinton there's been ambivalence, and he was,after all, a Democratic president who believed in multilateralism. But he ended up blaming the U.N. forwhat happened in Somalia, and he prevented the U.S. from going into Rwanda. prevented the U.N.from going to Rwanda in 1994 because he didn't want to have U.S. troops committed to an expeditionthat he felt might be equally disastrous as Somalia.The point being that in our most. the current administration, of course, has been even more herky-jerky about its relationship with the U.N. On the one hand, when it first came in, it pulled away from alot of global treaties and regarded the U.N. as sort of a beleaguered League of Nations. Then when 9/11happened, it suddenly turned around and embraced the U.N. But then, shortly after that, the U.S.invaded Iraq and circumvented the U.N. Security Council, once again, in a sense, dissing theorganization. And then, finally, came back again to get the U.N.'s endorsement of its occupation ofIraq. Thinking at that point. my own view. was maybe the U.S. had grown up and was going toendorse the U.N., it then appointed John Bolton as ambassador to the organization, a man who hasexpressed open contempt for it. But once again it's now again using the U.N. to get Syrian troops out ofLebanon, to bring. to provide a cease-fire between Lebanon and Israel.So I think that kind of ambivalence has pretty much been the tone of American presidents and suggeststhe psychological difficulty that Americans have had joining an international organization, and it goesback for 200 years.Any footnotes?Yeah. I mean, I think it would be probably better for the world if, let's say, Denmark werethe global hegemon, not the United States. On the other hand, I think most states, if they happen to findthemselves in the role of a global hegemon, would probably be about as unilateralist at the United States is.So some part of this. I mean, I think as Steve said, there was a historically profoundly ambivalentrelationship between the institution and the United States, in part because of the sense of Americanexceptionalism, and so on. But the French have a very exceptionalist sense themselves in a way. So ithas something to do with that, but a lot to do with the fact that nations that do not need to beconstrained take a lot of persuading to constrain themselves. And I suspect that in the coming years, theUnited States will be a better citizen of the U.N. than it has been in the past years, in part because it hasnow been forced to recognize the limits of its power to act autonomously. And so there's nothing like agood solid two-by-four across the face to make you realize that you were making a mistake.So what we'll never know, in a way, is how much of this current situation was the maybe aberrational,hyper-unilateralist, deeply hostile Bush administration ideology; and how much of it was in the natureof the position of the United States and the consequences of 9/11. But it will be interesting to see ifthere is a kind of baseline to which the U.S. returns post-2008.Paul.Well, here's the big problem: it's been there since '43, '44, when British and Americandiplomats were drafting early parts of the charter. What do you do when you have a power which is sogreat, so powerful that it has voluntarily to agree to restrain itself, because it cannot be restrained unlessthere's a third world war, another big war. And we're not talking here just about the United States,though it may be on our mind. It was true of the Soviet Union, and it's true of the People's Republic ofChina, and I imagine it could be increasingly true of India in the decades to come.Well, if you're so big that you could, if you want, just ignore a U.N. sanction or U.N. resolution. So itdoes involves Truman, and especially as Eisenhower recognized voluntary session of yoursovereignty. And there's a difference between the United States and Russia and China and Denmark.The Danes know that they have a limited freedom of action. The Senate Foreign Relations Committeedoes not believe it has any limitations on its freedom of action if it so chooses. And this is why, ofcourse, we have built into that interesting sub-clause of Chapter V on the processes and votingprivileges of the Security Council. built in and drafted by the British. the veto clause, though theword is never used, because the British were dead scared in '43, '44, '45 that American isolationists onthe one hand, and Uncle Joe and Brzezinski and Molotov on the other hand, would pull out, would noteven be part of a world organization; and therefore you would be left with some sort of replay of thedisastrously abandoned League of Nations. So you had to give these big guys. to keep the elephants inthe tent, you had to give them that negative, delaying vetoing power, and just realize that theconsequence of not giving it to them was worse than the consequence of giving it to them, because ifthey walked out you would be back to a League of Nations circa 1937 or something.Now we'll talk about the future, which was what we're supposed to be doing here. (Laughter.)A lot of people, particularly in this country, posit the idea of an alternative to the United Nations. JohnBolton, the ambassador, has actually suggested on a number of occasions that if the Americans find theUnited Nations to be ineffective, that Americans will find their way to creating a new organization thatwill be more responsive.A favorite ideand this is one that Paul Kennedy brings up in his booknd like a good professor,brings it up and then shoots it down. is this idea of that why can't we have an organization ofdemocracies; no more dictators and despots, just be with our own kind?And what's the best way, Paul Kennedy, to get this new and improved U.N.? You suggest a number ofthem. You even hint which one you think is the best.Well, as some of you know, I was asked in 1993 by the Ford Foundation and thesecretary-general's office to create a group with Yale which would be the secretariat for a long-termreport on the future of United Nations. I knew very little about it, and I'm not sure that I know muchmore 12 or 13 years later. I learned a lot from Jim Sutherland sitting there, and I learned a lot fromCharlie Hill when he was advising Boutros-Ghali.And as I asked questions, as we spent three years preparing our Ford Foundation-Yale Universityreport on the next 50 years, one word kept coming up, which was the most elusive word of all, and it'scalled "U.N. reform." And I discovered when I would go down to Washington, go on the Hill, talk toNGOs, talk to ambassadors, that people meant entirely different things by the phrase "U.N. reform."So briefly, before I pass the torch on, it seemed to me that some people regard U.N. reform as cleaningthe stables. It's what I call the Jesse Helms version of U.N. reform. You close down overlappingagencies. You get rid of high-paid corrupt diplomats on the shores of Lake Geneva. You do this, youdo that. It's a small organization. It's tighter and trimmer. And those voices have come again,unsurprisingly, because of the mismanagements of oil-for-food. But that's a kind of negative view ofU.N. reform. It would be a smaller organization probably doing less, but it would satisfy the conservatives.At the far end, when I talked to the Indian ambassador, for example, U.N. reform means nothing lessthan the constitutional charter amendment such that the Security Council permanent membership wouldbe widened, and in particular include India. And if I talk to, say, smaller articulate nations like KishoreMahbubani, the permanent rep for many years from Singapore, it's to try to get rid of the vetoaltogether. So they regard U.N. reform as being constitutional charter amendments with all of thehurdles which that requires. hurdles which, by the way, are even larger than getting a constitutionalamendment to the American Constitution.But in the middle are a group of people like Jim Sutherland, like Brian Urquhartnd this is where Iended up. thinking, well, what do we do in terms of practical reform proposals, which don'tnecessarily call for charter amendment, but nonetheless would enhance the efficiency and theoperational effectiveness of the world body, whether it's in terms of prearranged, readily trained troopunits, police units; whether it's in the training of judges and civil servants in the developing countries;whether it's pre-positioning for disaster relief on the one hand; whether it's a better organization of themultitude of bodies dealing with either development or women or children. there are 10 U.N. bodiesdealing with the status of women in the world; whether it is an advanced intelligence unit which wouldbe able to get the information coming out of the field, not usually from U.N. agencies, but the firstindicators that something is going wrong is probably from the churches, the Quaker Relief services orDoctors Without Frontiers? How do you get the information back to New York, which would then givethe secretary-general's office the chance to go along to the Security Council and say, "We have badsignals coming out of Cote d'Ivoire"?Now, you can see where I'm going because a set of practical advances, and the idea that the U.N. canwork effectively and intelligently, could do a lot, I would argue, to restore its name, its reputation andits authority without the big hurdle of going for charter amendment.Jim?Yeah, I actually also have a chapter of my book, which I raise and then dispose of this idea.And so I'll try to give a super freeze-dried version of it, because in my case, the initial draft of achapter, I explained why we should have something like an alliance for democracies, and then Iconvinced myself that I was wrong.Now my premise. like that of most people who favored this idea of some such body. is the problem,the most important problem with the U.N., is it cannot bring the requisite force to bear in the face ofgenuine catastrophes, whether it's Darfur or other situations like that, and thus the notion of let us getthose countries that are committed to these principles, and that should be the institution.So these are the problems I ran into. One, the democracies you would have in the organization wouldconsist largely of countries that don't believe in that kind of action. That is to say, it is almost entirelythe Western democracies that believe deeply in these kinds of responsibility-to-protect-type issues.Countries like India are profoundly protective of sovereignty issues. So first you wouldn't even getwhere you wanted to go.Two, in order to have this institution you'd have to exclude, certainly, China and Russia.If you excluded China from the organization, then about 40 countries would refuse to join it, because Chinawould make their lives miserable if they joined. And it wouldn't just be Singapore and Malaysia.Australia would say, "We can't afford to alienate the Chinese." So you have to let the Chinese in, inwhich case you wouldn't get where you were trying to go.Exclude all the Arab countries also.What's that?You'd have to exclude all Arab countries.As that's so. this goes to the third problem.After this we can add all of Africa.This goes to the third problem. So what you're then doing is you wind up acting in places thatare not members of the organization, because it's the members who have the more or less stabledemocracy. They don't have the turmoil. So you're only intervening in countries that are not members.And so this whole crucial legitimacy question really becomes problematic, the Middle East being theworst example. The only member from the Middle East would be Israel. What kind of action could youpossibly take in the Middle East if none of those countries were members and only Israel was?So I came to the conclusion that for all of the profound structuralnd I think kind of incurable flawsof the U.N.. the cure would be worse than the disease.Well, it reminds of. I don't know if you all know The Onion, the humor magazine,which once had a headline last year, which was "U.S. to Create Its Own U.N." And this was the notionthat they had gleaned from the Bush administration, that they'll just put together all the nations that areallies of one sort or another and the hell with the rest of the world. It sort of gets to the point that Jimwas making that.I was saying that only the U.S. would be a member.Well, in fact, that may end up the way that it could workBut to me, having seen how difficult it was to get the organization put together in 1945, it seems to meabsolutely impossible to even imagine trying to get another organization together in the year 2006. Itwas remarkable. It was a miracle that that moment in history brought together these 50 nations toactually come together with a common framework and common goals, and produce this charter, whichfor the last 61 years has survived through turmoil and conflict to be, still today, the place wherecountries go. whether it be Israel and Lebanon just a few months ago to settle for a cease-fire, or manyother countries that have used the U.N. to stop conflicts of one sort or another; or the organization thatprovides the basis for international law through its conferences and through its general meetings thathappen on a regular basis, whether it's airline safety or maritime laws or whatever.It just seems to me that given the nature of what the U.N. has done over the last six decades, it's almostimpossible to image something like this being developed again of this sort in our present era.The Alliance for Democracy allows airline safety to stay with the U.N. as its current.Oh, I see. Okay.But I do think Madeleine Albright had an idea, which was to bring the alliance of democracies,working within the United Nations, as a kind of pressure point for getting changes in the organization.That certainly, it seemed to me, is a viable proposition and something that could be pursued. It has notbeen pursued under this Bush administration that makes such a big fetish of democratization. Youwould have thought that they might have promoted such a concept.But by and large. I'm not sure exactly where this question began, but I think that's where I'll end.We all had the floor.We've used a bit too much time. I had one other question I wanted to ask and if one of you wants to askit, I'd be very grateful. I wanted to know what they thought about the choice of Ban Ki-Moon.Anyway, please raise your hands; it's your turn to speak.