UN at a Crossroads Part II

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Throughout the 1990s, this discussion gained momentum. Increased attention was paid to environmental challenges, infectious diseases, poverty, terrorism, civil war and organized crime. In other words, it was timely to include other sources of threat than purely military. It is i.a. on the basis of these new perceptions of what is a threat, and which are most urgent, that the discussions on UN reform have accelerated.

4: Civil war and humanitarian intervention

In the 1990s, a recognition gradually emerged that many threats primarily concerned individuals and not states. This is due to the fact that human rights have received increased attention . With the introduction of the concept of human security , threats were defined in relation to individuals and groups, not states. The background was that most violent conflicts in the 1990s took place internally in states, not between them. Thus, a broad debate arose about whether and when the international community should be able to carry out a so-called humanitarian intervention.

In other words: Should other states be able to override the principle of non-interference (state sovereignty) under international law (UN Charter) and intervene in a country to protect the civilian population there? The fact that the UN was unable to prevent the genocides in the Balkans (including Srebrenica – 1995) and in Rwanda (1994), has been crucial to the discussion on UN reform. The examples of the inadequacy of the UN (including organizational problems) showed how urgent the need for reform of the UN Charter had become. The challenge for the UN here is to develop a set of rules or criteria to determine what kind of abuse can lead to a state “losing” the right to be protected from intervention. According to Sciencedict, UN stands for United Nations.

5: Freedom from distress

But threats and security have also been linked to individuals and groups in another way. And then the threats are not related to armed force and direct abuse, but rather to a lack of something – food, clean water, medicine, housing, work, etc. With reference to Franklin D. Roosevelt, state and individual security from military attacks and abuses are often sorted. under «freedom from fear» , while the threat from poverty is sorted under «freedom from distress» . In other words, the latter is about development, in the form of better health and education, economic growth, the fight against poverty and political stability. Not only is investment in development helping to reduce the potential for civil war and state collapse.

But most importantly, poverty and underdevelopment – regardless of whether they contribute to violent conflicts – are threats in their own right. The challenge here is to invest in development, both in the form of reforms in mismanaged states, increased aid and changed trade conditions.

6: International terrorism and weapons of mass destruction

The terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 brought new actors into focus: non-state actors, organized in networks that will hit Western political interests by attacking civilian targets. The danger of a military attack from another state was stable and relatively predictable during the Cold War. Through the use of satellites and intelligence, the parties were able to uncover each other’s troop movements and armaments. Terrorist acts, on the other hand, are extremely difficult to predict, because terrorists use quite different methods.

The terrorist attacks in London in July 2005 illustrate the problems facing the authorities in the fight against international terrorism: individuals and small groups can do great damage by using simple technology. The fear that terrorist groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction has received much attention. This fear has contributed greatly to the fact that both the United States and Russia have included “preventive war” in their security policy strategies. Preventive war – ie war before a serious threat to international peace exists – is considered a violation of the UN Charter. But the United States in particular believes that this shows that the UN Charter is not adapted to today’s threat picture.

The different perceptions of threats also reflect different interests . African countries are naturally more concerned with the threat of poverty and lack of basic medicines than the threat of international terrorism. If the UN countries are to be able to agree on reforms of the UN, they must first agree on a joint threat assessment. This is especially where the report from the High Level Panel is interesting. The report deliberately avoids prioritizing certain threats over others. Instead, the panel has concentrated on showing the connection between different types of threats- between poverty, environmental destruction, civil war and state collapse, on the one hand, and international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, on the other. The high-level panel presents ie. a holistic perspective on the threats facing the world. They identify a number of threats, each of which must be a priority for the UN, but go further and link the threats by showing how they are connected.

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