The United Nations and the World Order

The frequent exhortations for countries to "do their fair share," play by "twenty-first-century rules" or be "responsible stakeholders" in a common system reflect the fact that there is no shared definition of the system or understanding of what a "fair" contribution would be... Thus, while "the international community" is invoked perhaps more insistently now than in any other era, it presents no clear or agreed set of goals, methods or limits. -- Henry Kissinger, World Order

In the last days of 2015, I read Henry Kissinger's World Order (Penguin Books, 2015). A legend and a titan of world diplomacy, Mr. Kissinger continues to inspire political leaders, foreign policy analysts and diplomats. His ideas are food for thought for those trying to shape a shared international order in spite of current divergences. World Order is a fascinating book about history, geopolitics and prospects for the future of our world, threatened today by violent conflicts, spread of weapons of mass destruction, disintegration of states, ideological extremism, mass migrations and environmental degradation. All these challenges were also on the UN agenda in 2015, and will continue to be in 2016.

The crises in the Middle East and North Africa have been the most heated topics on the agenda of the Security Council, with the deterioration of the security situation and humanitarian plight in the cases of Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq and the huge number of refugees. The UN was involved more than ever in bringing about solutions to these crises, with concrete results at the end of the year: on December 17th, in an unprecedented meeting at the level of finance ministers, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted resolution 2253 which expanded and strengthened its Al-Qaida sanctions framework to include a focus on the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh); on December 18th, the UNSC adopted the Peace Plan for Syria (resolution no. 2254); on December 23rd, the UNSC endorsed the political agreement for the future Libyan Government of National Accord (resolution no. 2259 - as penholder, the United Kingdom had a leading contribution to its adoption). This confirms the UN essential role in preserving peace and security, fighting terrorism, extremism and intolerance. The Security Council, presided in December by the United States, found the ability to act united in order to accomplish its purpose and to preserve its international weight and credibility.

Invited by Carnegie Council on June 7, 2006 to discuss UN reform, Jan Eliasson, then President of the General Assembly and Foreign Minister of Sweden (now UN Deputy Secretary General) launched a famous phrase:

There is no peace without development, there is no development without peace and there is neither lasting peace nor sustainable development without respect of human rights and the rule of law.

This formulation became axiom: for the international system to work, peace, development and respect for human rights and the rule of law have to coexist at the same time. The United Nations revival as the centerpiece of multilateral diplomacy has been confirmed by successful outcome of key events in 2015: the Third UN Conference on Financing for Development (Addis Ababa); the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, the Peacekeeping Operations Summit, and the Leaders' Summit to Counter ISIL and Violent Extremism (New York); the Climate Change Summit (Paris). All these have eventually produced an "agreed set of goals."

2015 will probably remain in history as a very good year for the UN and its lessons have to be used as a source of inspiration for future action. 2016 is not going to be less important because it marks the start of concrete implementation. The cornerstone is the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, composed of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets to wipe poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years. After the enthusiasm of 2015, the worst thing we could do would be to fail in its implementation.

Doing this is largely in the hands of States and depends on their ability to transpose political will into concrete measures. The process has to be inclusive and engage all stakeholders. It is about identifying the "agreed methods" mentioned in the motto above. A guidance from the UN would help the work at national level as the UN bodies could provide continuity, integration and coherence based on the universality of the Agenda 2030. For instance, the UN could organize peer reviews. But the UN bodies themselves do not implement anything, they could only facilitate the implementation. Therefore, the critical role in transposing into reality the Agenda 2030 is reserved for the national public administrations. National parliaments, civil society and mass media could mobilize public opinion, because public engagement will be critical during the SDGs' implementation. As for the "agreed limits," we need to continue building up mutual trust among countries.

Romania is a strong promoter of the UN and a net contributor to peace, development, human rights and rule of law. As a country having undergone fundamental social and economic reforms in the last 25 years, it is well positioned to make use of the best practices acquired in the transition process, to offer expertise in areas such as good governance, human rights protection, economic development, and to enhance the UN capacity to respond to emerging challenges to peace and security.

As the only global international organization, the UN is a place where its member states can identify solutions to global problems. The UN is part of the World Order. A possible way forward is suggested in Mr. Kissinger's book:

The goal of our era must be to achieve that equilibrium while restraining the dogs of war. And we have to do so among the rushing stream of history. The well-known metaphor for this is in the fragment conveying that one cannot step twice in the same river. History may be thought of as a river, but its waters will be ever changing. The history's meaning is a matter to be discovered, not declared... Each generation will be judged whether the greatest, most consequential issues of the human condition have been faced, and that decisions to meet these challenges must be taken by statesmen before it is possible to know what the outcome may be.