On 22 September 2005, the President of the Republic of Poland, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, took part in an academic conference: ‘The United Nations: an Assessment and Prospects’.
Addressing the conference, the President of the Republic of Poland said, among other things:
The United Nations has reached the age of 60. I will allow myself to make a risky comparison, for I want to compare these 60 years of the UN to human age. Nowadays, a sixty-year-old is generally someone who still has quite a lot of strength and energy and, at the same time, has gained wide experience. He detects in himself an increased tendency towards reflection. He rather avoids rash judgements and, even more so, rash actions. He remains faithful to his ideals, but distances himself from his youthful visions. He rarely ever harbours an illusion that he will manage to change the word completely.
Naturally, international organisations live differently from people, and have a different sense of passage of time. You must admit nonetheless, Ladies and Gentlemen, that I have a point here in thinking about the United Nations as the sixty-year-old I have just described. And the question about his further vitality is at the same time a question about the future common fate of us all.
I am very pleased indeed to see that the Polish academia wants to discuss UN experiences, its accomplishments and its future. A debate like that is very much needed by the whole international community, and should not be limited to the political circles. It is a good thing that Poland is involved in this debate, that it engages the minds of such outstanding experts on the subject. Thank you for inviting me to this event; I wish to thank the Institute of International Relations of Warsaw University and the Foundation for International Studies for organising this Conference.
I am meeting you, Ladies and Gentlemen, virtually right back from New York, with fresh impressions of the jubilee UN Session. It was a very special event, not only in the UN biography, but also in history. 170 heads of state and government met in the building on the Hudson River, and I want to point out that there had never been so large a gathering of world leaders to date. For that reason alone, the New York World Summit went down in the annals of politics and diplomacy. I considered it my honour and satisfaction to represent Poland at the Summit and to chair, moreover, one of the four thematic ‘round tables’. I have a feeling that placing me in charge of a ‘round table’ bore testimony to Polish successes, and to our country’s rising position. Poland is a major player in the world, no matter how this may sound today, as the election campaign is in full swing, which for some reasons unknown to me tends to focus in Poland chiefly on demonstrating those dark sides, rather than successes. But it is worth noting that from the UN perspective, from the New York perspective, Poland is a major player and a role model for many others to follow, bearing testimony that one may succeed on the difficult road of transition.
Even though the New York debate failed to meet many expectations, it was nonetheless an instructive lesson. One could see there for oneself to what extent globalisation and interdependence have become the features of today’s world, and what a great deal follows from these challenges. Before I move on to comment on the results of the World Summit itself, let me offer some freer reflection on UN history and the UN phenomenon.
For the UN is an expression of mankind’s best intentions. It is the only global organisation to embody the ideal of an international order founded on law. It is a universal organisation, open to all. Today, following the dramatic changes that have taken place over the past fifteen years or so, it has 191 member states. Almost all nations of the world belong to it, and even those that are not UN members, for example the Vatican, closely cooperate with the Organisation. The UN brings together rich and poor, big and small countries, great powers and the so-called ‘failed states’. This is what makes the United Nations’ position so unique.
Over the centuries, various plans have been developed with an intention of establishing brotherhood and ‘eternal peace’ between the nations. It was only rarely, however, that any efforts were made to translate these plans into reality. The UN is the only structure to have become part of the political reality and stood the test of time. This phenomenon of the UN’s continued existence is well worth emphasizing. For the UN is rightly criticised for being anachronistic, for reflecting the old world that is drifting away into the past. Particularly we, the Polish people, and all the nations of Central and Eastern Europe find it difficult to forget about that. The UN idea dates back to 1943; to the meeting of the ‘Big Three’ in Tehran; to the illusions that Roosevelt harboured about Stalin, benevolently nicknamed ‘Uncle Joe’. As a result, the road to San Francisco led via Yalta. And even though Poland had made a major contribution to the victory which put an end to the Second World War, in June 1945 a representative of our country was not allowed to put his signature to the United Nations Charter. We remember that event when Artur Rubinstein, seeing that there was no Polish delegation at the concert to mark the signing of the Charter, decided to play the Dąbrowski Mazurka, Poland’s national anthem, to demonstrate that ‘Poland was not lost yet’, that Poland lived on. I am recalling this because I had a very touching moment a few days ago in the same San Francisco opera house, to which I was invited for the opening of the season. This time it was the orchestra that played the Dąbrowski Mazurka, and at that moment the memories of the great Artur Rubinstein and his performance came back with full force and it was very touching indeed for me. The UN is rooted in the Second World War and in the post-war situation; it reflects the balance of power of that era. But we need to appreciate the fact that the UN was built on solid foundations, that they were laid with intuition. If it had been otherwise, the Organisation would not have proven equal to the new challenges that it was dramatically faced with, such as the Cold War and the de-colonization process. It certainly did not cope with them perfectly, but neither did it fall apart under the pressure of the developments.
And this has been the case to this day. The UN mechanism has been creaking; it tends to get stuck on frightfully prolonged disputes and negotiations. On hundreds of occasions, the United Nations has been deadlocked after one of the permanent Security Council members chose to exercise its veto right. But the most important thing is that the Organisation has provided the necessary space for dialogue. This is what I want to underline very strongly, for this is a value in itself. It is truly a space for dialogue, and there is no serious alternative to it.
It is at the UN forum that those in sharp conflict which each other, those who would not meet anywhere else, can meet and articulate their positions. It is there that those persecuted, forced into silence in their own countries, have the right to speak out. It is precisely the UN that exerts pressure, feeble as it may be, on those nations that violate international law.
Even great powers must take the UN’s role into consideration. On a number of occasions, they have tried to advance their interests bypassing the UN, but ultimately such a course of action always turned out to be ill-advised in terms of prestige as well as in political terms. The Iraq issue, well known to us and indeed something that we are experiencing together, gives one a lot to think about in this respect.
The development of the whole UN legal and institutional infrastructure must be counted among the Organisation’s major successes. It ensures a lasting order in the life of the international community, both through its underlying system of values and through its rules and mechanisms. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, is among the greatest UN achievements. Experts say that probably at no later point would it have been possible to adopt this instrument in so explicit a form.
The impenetrable maze of regulations and institutions which have been set up by the UN or have mushroomed within it is enormous. Its New York and Geneva offices are leviathans, sometimes legitimately criticised for the red tape, overstaffing and corruption cases. And yet we must admit that it is difficult to imagine how contemporary civilization could function if we were to suspend, all of a sudden, all UN institutions and operations.
The UN was founded first and foremost to eliminate war from international relations. We could deride the UN for the way in which it has accomplished this mission, pointing out how many armed conflicts the world has seen over the past 60 years, and how many victims they have claimed. But we can also welcome UN work with appreciation and respect, noting that after the two world wars, never again have we experienced a global conflict, not to mention a conflict so terrible as to threaten to annihilate mankind as a whole. The disarmament process was set into motion. The UN has done incomparably better than its predecessor, the League of Nations.
The enormous work done by the United Nations, the day-to-day, laborious building of a lasting peace architecture through humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping missions and protection of cultural properties is indeed difficult to overestimate. These are fields in which, without a clang of arms, without spectacular manoeuvres, the greatest battles for peace are frequently won. Let us remember the importance of the sustainable growth policy designed to ensure access to basic services, education and jobs for all the inhabitants of our globe. There is hardly a need to add that such measures are of fundamental importance for conflict prevention and for combating terrorism and international crime.
We all feel that the UN needs to be reformed. The world has changed enormously; today we need to adjust the Organisation to the new challenges and new circumstances. We need to give new hope to mankind, based on genuine commitment to fundamental values such as freedom, security, democracy and solidarity.
The UN needs to intervene with greater determination wherever there is violence in international relations, wherever there are human rights violations. The tragedies of the recent years, such as those in Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda, East Timor and Darfur, are stains on the conscience of the international community. We are still unable to stand up to the challenge of striking the right balance between the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states and the protection of human rights. That there should be a law without effective sanctions to enforce it poses a threat to international relations, for it means that we are inevitably headed towards chaos.
Also, we need a set of instruments to help us meet the Millennium Development Goals set by the General Assembly in 2000. Yes, we all do subscribe to them. One cannot spread one’s arms helplessly as a billion people around the globe have no access to clean water, as 850 million people suffer from malnutrition, as 800 million people are illiterate, as malaria and AIDS are decimating African nations, as one billion people survive on one dollar per day while at the same time the world’s 500 richest people earn more than the 416 million poorest ones. It is no longer a matter of political views; it is first and foremost a matter of our humanity and of our solidarity with fellow human beings.
The UN jubilee World Summit had been expected to address all these challenges, to embark upon ambitious reforms. And in this sense, we feel disappointed. Some even say that ‘the mountain has brought forth a mouse’, that the UN has turned out to be incapable of any far-reaching change, that it is getting old and that it is time for the Organisation to retire. Even though I do agree with many of these critical opinions and have to admit that I, too, feel disappointed, I would like, nonetheless, to defend the UN and what was achieved in New York a few days ago.
One of the best pieces of news is the announcement that a Peacebuilding Commission will be established. We have been missing it. The UN should fulfil not only peacekeeping and peacemaking missions, but also stabilising missions to help to restore normality and promote growth. Another step in the right direction will be the replacement of the UN Commission on Human Rights, compromised on many occasions, by a Human Rights Council, with modified membership and operational rules. Only cosmetic changes are envisaged for the UN bureaucratic apparatus, where in-depth reform had been expected.
Regrettably, the World Summit also brought two obvious defeats. One is that no progress was made on arms control and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The other one is the failure to agree on one definition of terrorism. Therefore, as terrorism was unconditionally condemned in the outcome document, one might observe sarcastically that the UN members do not quite know what they condemn and what they would like to combat.
Despite the above criticism and comments, however, I would like to say that, as I see it, the results of the jubilee World Summit mark, first and foremost, an opening of a certain process of change that never--and particularly in as complex a body as the UN--occurs quickly. Most of those gathered in New York had preserved their faith in the UN. It does not make sense to give up on the United Nations. It is my belief that no other organisation is able to take over or play such a global role.
I also agree with Professor Roman Kuźniar’s opinion that the UN is often regarded as a ‘whipping boy’, on whom to blame all the mistakes and deficiencies, while it is in fact the member states that are at fault. It is not only this particular organisation that is responsible for what the world is like today: it is precisely like today’s world, like the nations making it up. Poland and the Polish people have a major role to play in the project of UN reform; just as has been the case all along in the Organisation’s 60-year-long history, in the evolution of the idea of close international co-operation for peace and security. Here, in this gathering, we know very well Jan Bloch, called the ‘spiritual father’ of the First Peace Conference at The Hague. The achievements of Raphael Lemkin, to whom we owe the definition of genocide and recognition of genocide as an international crime, are also well known. It was he who drew up the UN International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. We must recall here the great figure of Pope John Paul II, who accomplished so much for peace, for dialogue, for building bridges between people, civilizations and religions. We have to mention tens of thousands of Polish troops and officers who have taken part in UN peacekeeping and peacemaking missions on various continents. The achievements of Tadeusz Mazowiecki command the highest respect: as a UN envoy, he moved human consciences and brought about a successful intervention in defence of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Poland also made a major contribution to the drawing up of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to the initiative of peace education for societies, to drafting the Convention against Organised Crime, and recently, which is also worth noting, for a number of our proposals were reflected in the Summit documents, to drafting a New Political Act of the United Nations for the 21st century. It is this instrument that paves the way for major UN reform.
I would like, therefore, by going through this far from exhaustive list of our successes, our contributions to and examples of our concern for the United Nations, to offer to you--to the community of Polish experts on international law, political scientists and experts on security issues--to offer to you, Ladies and Gentlemen, my heartfelt thanks for your support, for your intellectual contribution to the efforts of Polish diplomacy, and to Poland’s overall activity in the UN arena. This Conference is another important event, and I am certain that it will bring interesting comments, opinions and reflection, which will allow Poland to find new arguments, new assets, so that Poland may participate in this great process of change in Europe and worldwide, so that her voice is heard. So that the political circles, the circles of political scientists, the intellectual and diplomatic circles working together--and one might get an impression that these are separate communities, while in fact these are frequently the same individuals--so that your common reflection on the subject may, I believe, produce many interesting ideas for the future.
While answering the questions asked by journalists in New York, I tried to be as brief as possible--for in today’s world a reply longer than a few seconds does not stand a chance of being reported in the electronic or written media anyway--so what I said was that, in my opinion, the message of the World Summit--which I believe should also become the message of this Conference--is that the UN needs reform. The UN needs reform, but, at the same time, the world needs the UN. These are two seemingly very obvious truths, but to acknowledge them means to admit that much effort is required, both political and intellectual effort, and I would like to encourage you to make that effort.