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Troubled waters

16 October 2005

he United Nations' 60th anniversary summit in New York had some positive results: it reaffirmed international principles and development goals, and established a peace-building commission. However, the summit was not a success with regard to some crucial issues, in particular the reform of the UN Security Council. The summit declaration mentions protection of the environment, the new role of regional organisations in crisis management and peacekeeping, and the reinforcement of the UN's human and financial resources, but does not ensure concrete measures to advance on those fronts.
The summit made the global governance gap more visible. In our globalised and interdependent world, we do not have adequate global institutions. Today the trend is to return to the nation state as the protagonist of international relations, and therefore promote bilateral and ad hoc solutions to international problems to the detriment of multilateral bodies and regimes. But the main task of individual governments is to advance the interests of their own citizens, not to look after collective interests. When governments decide to cooperate, some global challenges can be tackled; if they choose not to cooperate, those challenges continue to fester. More than ever, the endless series of national speeches delivered at the UN left us with the image of the incongruent pieces of a puzzle that do not fit together.
In contrast, global threats seem to be forming a perverse constellation. Fundamentalism, wars and protracted conflicts are fuelling terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Extreme inequality and diseases lead to failing states, illegal immigration and organised crime. In addition, a new generation of threats, including scarcity of resources, the possibility of oil crises and global warming, is gaining momentum. The Iraqi conundrum is perhaps the central star in this ominous constellation.
Faced with this undesirable situation, nation states are unable to give satisfactory responses. American global leadership is faltering, partly due to dubious management of the 'global war on terror', partly due to a genuine lack of interest in Washington. The Eurosceptic members of the EU favour individual responses, while the pro-European members fail to deliver the leadership required to tackle pressing challenges. In other parts of the world, emerging powers are, understandably enough, seeking to take advantage of this state of affairs.
The EU members are not using the potential of the European Union to the full. Despite their commitment to effective multilateralism and common action, they are creating and re-creating various groupings with countries from all regions in order to discuss UN reform. One would have expected that the 25 EU member states would have dealt with UN reform, and more specifically that of the Security Council, between themselves at the highest political level before discussing this issue outside the Union.
We urgently need a common European blueprint for the United Nations, its purposes and tasks, in the 21st Century, which can then be shared and negotiated with the EU's partners and friends. Agreement amongst the EU members on this vital issue might trigger global consensus, whereas disagreement within the EU announces troubled waters ahead.
The stalemate in the EU following the French and Dutch referendums should not cloud the fact that European citizens are calling for a more determined EU foreign and security policy. According to the Transatlantic Trends 2005 opinion poll, seventy percent of Europeans (interviewed in nine key countries) want the EU to become a 'superpower' like the United States. Forty-seven percent of Americans support an EU superpower - and eighty percent of those are in favour even if the EU would not always agree with US policies. A majority of sixty percent of Europeans (including 62 % of French and 64 % of German respondents) support a single EU seat on the UN Security Council.
In times of danger, bold initiatives are needed. The current lack of global vision leaves us perplexed - and worried. One of the main tasks of experts in security matters is to warn political leaders about impending risks. Many alarm signals can be heard, and yet nobody seems to want to pay attention. It's rather as though the night watch in a big transatlantic liner had seen icebergs looming on the horizon. But the first class passengers are dancing too merrily to pay any heed to the signals, while the third class passengers are too busy trying to emulate their first class counterparts. And the ship sails on …