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High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change

Time (GMT +01) 12:00 13:00


Lord David Hannay


Sir Marrack Goulding - St Anthony's College, Oxford University

1. The third meeting in the series was on the subject of The High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. The meeting was chaired by Sir Marrack Goulding, Warden of St Anthony's College, Oxford; and the speaker was Lord David Hannay, a member of the High Level Panel.

2. Lord Hannay began by setting out the background within which the High Level Panel had been set up, referring specifically to the note of alarm sounded by Kofi Anan at the opening of the General Assembly in September 2003. It was true that 2003 had been a bad year, particularly because of Security Council paralysis around Iraq and the jousting between members of the Security Council. The UN's momentum had also been badly disrupted by the blowing up of the UN mission in Baghdad and the murder of Sergio de Mello. However, there were deeper concerns informing the Secretary General's statement, not purely related to Iraq. Nor was it necessary to solve the Iraq problem in order to do something constructive about the problems facing the UN.

3. Until the late 1980s, the UN had been dominated by the Cold War and the two power rivalry that characterised it. A major change had come about with the end of the Cold War: unthinkable things had become both thinkable and doable in the Security Council - for example the first Gulf War. However, there had been no sustained attempt to think through the institutional architecture. On the whole, member states had opted for muddling through. And this had had consequences: there had been fewer successes than there might have been, and more failures. The UN needed to change if it were to avoid being marginalised.

4. Lord Hannay said that there were two main problems facing the UN. Despite some successes during the muddling through period (for example, East Timor), there was a real problem of effectiveness, demonstrated by the UN failures in Rwanda, Bosnia and Somalia. In particular, the UN was not able to mount enforcement operations and had to rely on coalitions of the willing. The second problem was to do with the conceptual framework that might underlie effectiveness, in particular the question of how to build a consensus for new forms of action. This was particularly hard.

5. The panel had been set up to consider these questions. It was about halfway through its work, had completed its analysis of threats and challenges, and was now beginning to work on prescriptions. Its report would be submitted by 1 December 2004.

6. Already, a number of points were clear. The Panel could not take a narrow, 'western' view of threats, focusing only on issues like weapons of mass destruction and security. It was necessary to treat poverty, environmental hazards, disease and other issues on an equal footing. By the same token, the Panel had rejected the idea of establishing a hierarchy of threats.

7. It was also clear that security threats as understood during the Cold War had largely disappeared. Some old threats remained, for example, the Palestine question and Kashmir, but there were many new problems and these were often intractable and difficult. Among these were the problem of state failure, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, peace-keeping, and also the new social and economic threats, for example, HIV/AIDS.

8. The problem of state failure could be approached in terms of diagnosis, prevention, intervention and rehabilitation. The Panel was likely to focus on the first two of these. In terms of diagnosis, data collection and analysis needed to be systematised, and the Secretary-General needed an independent remit to bring issues connected to state failure directly to the Security Council. Prevention was hideously difficult, but Lord Hannay thought there needed to be a discussion about the role of the Bretton Woods institutions, and needed to be brought more centrally into the debate.

9. With regard to intervention, there were important discussions still to have about whether or not there should be rules. Lord Hannay was attracted by the "duty to protect" discussed in the recent Canadian report.

10. Finally, on rehabilitation, it was clear that there needed to be a long-term commitment.

11. With regard to other issues, Lord Hannay noted the importance of revisiting the conclusions of the Brahimi Report on Peace Keeping, both picking up parts of the report that had not yet been implemented, but also identifying some new issues. One of these, he suggested, was the idea of "double-hatting" the military advice to the Secretary-General, so that it was also available as a matter of right to members of the Security Council. He also had some specific suggestions on weapons of mass destruction, involving the strengthening of the IAEA and the biological weapons convention.

12. Turning to institutional aspects of the reform, Lord Hannay said that he thought that it was important to remember that the response to threats and challenges should be driven by policy, not by the institutional reform agenda. It was important not to play institutional tiddly-winks in New York.

13. Nevertheless, institutional reform was needed, though some would be difficult to achieve. Lord Hannay thought that Security Council enlargement would eventually happen, but would be difficult. He doubted that there was a new role for the Trusteeship Council. He was not sanguine about the need for or the prospect of an Economic and Social Security Council, or even of a stronger Executive Committee for ECOSOC. He thought there was important work to do on sanctions, especially in finding a middle ground between exhortation and force. The most important point, however, was that it would be necessary to build consensus among the Security Council permanent members and the wider constituency. In this connection, it was essential to engage with the US.

14. As far as the UK was concerned, Lord Hannay thought that we needed to engage with this agenda. He emphasised particularly the UK's role with the EU, and reminded the audience both of the EU's paper commitment to "effective multilateralism", as well as its support to specific initiatives like African peace-keeping.

15. A number of points were made in the discussion:

·         There was quite a discussion about the role of the US in UN reform. Some couched this in terms of finding ways to draw the US more firmly into a multilateral network. Lord Hannay questioned the value of a "multi-polar" model. He doubted whether this would be stable and suggested that there needed to be a strong balance at the centre. Lord Hannay did not think it would be a good strategy to try to bind the US against its will into multilateral arrangements. He described this as the "Gulliver Strategy".

·         A number of comments were made about the importance of civil society participation in and G77 ownership of the work of the High Level Panel. Lord Hannay agreed with these points. He reminded the audience that the majority of the members of the High Level Panel were from G77 states. He also described the efforts the High Level Panel was making to consult, with seminars and meetings around the world. It also had an active website (http://www.un-globalsecurity.org/panel.htm)

·         On G77 participation, Lord Hannay had a particular suggestion, which was to enlarge the G8 in order to bring in the larger developing countries, including (but not only) China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa.

·         Finally, there was a discussion about how to achieve change. Was it a question of leadership? Of creating a change coalition? Of providing quick wins? Lord Hannay thought that there was no template, and that an ad hoc approach would be necessary. He said that the High Level Panel would produce a number of ideas which could then be tested out by the Secretary-General to see if there was a consensus. This would provide the basis for moving forward. He thought the most important factor inducing change would be convincing demonstration that collective action added value to unilateral action by powerful member states.


This meeting, the third in the UN reform: Why? What? How? series, saw Lord David Hannay discuss the UN's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. He described the context around which the panel was created and what some of the findings in it's analysis report may be.

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