Ask the Minister
Lord Malloch-Brown has responded to the questions submitted in advance of his speech on international institution reform and the global economic climate at Queen Mary University.
What should be the role of NGOs in the context of (the reform of) international institutions such as the UN?
NGOs play an important role in the UN, as they do in other international institutions, whether as advocacy organisations lobbying for particular policies or on behalf of specific groups of people; providing expertise and policy advice; or as "implementing partners" helping to deliver assistance and development in the field. They can also play a useful role in providing support to international institutions and multilateralism more generally. While reform of international institutions ultimately rests with their Member States, we look to NGOs to help us identify the problems of the existing multilateral framework as well as proposing solutions.
In relation to the reform of the United Nations: do you think that the veto power of the permanent Security Council members should be sacred?
The veto privileges of the P5 are enshrined in Article 27 of the UN Charter. Since the UN's inception, the veto has helped to ensure continued Great Power engagement with the Security Council, although its use has significantly reduced over time. The UK has publicly committed itself to minimum use of the veto, and has not used it since 1989. The veto has been discussed in the context of reform of the Security Council, for example in the UN General Assembly's Open-Ended Working Group on Council reform. But few of the proposals for Council reform now under discussion advocate abolishing the veto entirely. The UK does not advocate a diminution of the P5's existing privileges and powers.
What are the circumstances that the UK will consider resigning from its permanent seat in the Security Council (which seems to achieve nothing on the public interest), or will it continue to cling on to this position (as well as its nuclear weapons) no matter what happens?
The UK plays a responsible and active role in the UNSC. Our global network of Posts, our professional and well established diplomatic service, and our highly effective Missions to the key UN bodies make us a significant player in multilateral politics. We would like to see an enlarged UNSC that is more representative of the modern world, but there is no viable discussion of existing members giving up their seats.
Why do you think it is important to give veto powers to non-democratic (China) and quasi-democratic (Russia) nations in the UN?
As members of the P5, China's and Russia's veto privileges are enshrined in the Charter of the UNSC. Notwithstanding their respective political systems, they are two leading global powers whose participation and engagement is required for the UN Security Council to operate as it was intended. The veto helps to maintain that engagement, although it is worth noting that China has used its veto the least of all the P5.
An academic once described the UN's strength as being its weakness. The views of its 192-strong membership are (necessarily) distilled down to the lowest common denominator - this, for many, does not include the reforms we desire. What are we doing to ensure that major developing countries such as South Africa, Brazil and India join us in pressing for a UN fit for purpose in the 21st Century?
The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, International Development Secretary and other Ministers all regularly impress upon key partners such as those listed the need for reform. We maintain a regular dialogue with them over the need to reform the UN - and other international institutions - to make it more reflective of the 21st century and able to face the challenges of the modern world.
India seeks a permanent seat in an expanded United Nations Security Council and reform of international financial institutions to reflect the ground realities of 2008. When will Britain and the world move the discourse about United Nations reform and United Nations Security Council expansion, from declaratory to implementation phase?
We welcome the President of the General Assembly's intention to commence intergovernmental negotiations over UNSC reform no later than by end February 2009. The UK has consistently championed the need for reform, but it is a decision that requires support from the broader UN membership, not just the UK. The negotiations will continue to be complex and difficult, but this second phase of process is an important step towards finding a formula that attracts broad support across the UN membership.
The UN has not been able to decide how to deal with a crucial issue like terrorism. It has not yet even been able to evolve a definition of terrorism. As a result, terrorists take advantage of the conflict--what may be ''freedom movement'' for one, is terrorism for another. How soon can we expect the UN to take a decision and how soon will the International Convention on Terrorism be passed?
UN provides a constructive forum for contributing to the spread of established international standards in countering aspects of the terrorist threat. Negotiations on a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism have been taking place since 2000 with the active support and involvement of the UK. We have made the case throughout for a clear text consistent with the thirteen existing sectoral counter terrorism conventions as well as with international humanitarian law. We will continue to work with our European allies and other international partners to try to reach agreement. A Comprehensive Convention could contribute to a more unified global response to terrorism but it is not the only way the UN can respond to the threat from terrorism.
Do you think the UN can be reformed in order to be a more effective nation builder in "failed sates" or countries emerging from civil war? Also to have an effective role in the reconstruction of places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yes. The international community through the UN needs to and can be much better at helping countries emerging from conflict to secure stability, build peace, revive economies, and to build a state's own capacity to do this. By demonstrating international leadership on developing a common strategy for better integrated political, security and development activities in support of national efforts; increasing national and international civilian capabilities; and through the provision of faster, more flexible and predictable funding for reconstruction efforts, increased effective is achievable. The UN's vital role remains in helping to ensure the implementation of peace agreements and in building national capacity to sustain political processes, maintain security, and lead national development efforts.
What kind of role do you see for the Commonwealth in the future? It is often criticised for having no teeth.
I see the Commonwealth as a key international organisation now and for the future. The Commonwealth's strength lies in the fact that it unique, the 53 members span four continents, representing almost a third of the world's population and they account for a fifth of all global trade. The Commonwealth provides an established forum that cuts across the traditional UN voting blocks and the developing/developed country divide. Within the organisation decisions are taken by consensus, and the smallest member states have an equal voice.
As most observers agree, the international institutional architecture founded following the Second World War is no longer fit for purpose. The Commonwealth has established strong credentials for developing the discussion on international institutional reform. However, the Commonwealth, like all other international institutions, must remain focused, relevant, and be in good shape to deal with the challenges of the twenty-first century; playing a role as a peer-review mechanism and multiplier on key global issues. In particular I see the Commonwealth continuing its role as a champion for democracy and good governance.
I disagree with the idea that the Commonwealth has no teeth. This is the organisation that played a pivotal role in ending apartheid and in paving the way for meaningful debt relief. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) is robust in dealing with members who violate the Commonwealth's fundamental political values. CMAG assesses the nature of the infringement and recommend measures for collective Commonwealth action aimed at the speedy restoration of democracy and constitutional rule. CMAG is most effective when efforts are linked to work being done in the UN and regional groups e.g. on Fiji where CMAG work is now closely aligned with initiatives by the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the UN, and the EU.
What would you say to a Commonwealth free trade area to encourage economic development in less developed member states?
I am not convinced by the idea of a separate Commonwealth free trade area, but I am convinced that the Commonwealth has a role in promoting development and free trade. The Commonwealth is growing in stature and is being increasingly recognised as having a force multiplier effect and capable of adding considerable value on key global issues.
With two G8 members, two 'plus five' members, a useful cross-section of G20 membership, and a host of G77 countries the Commonwealth transcends traditional blocks and regional groupings. The Commonwealth includes a host of economically significant countries as well as a number of oil and food producers. It offers a bridge between producers and importers and gives smaller economies a forum in which their concerns are heard. I witnessed at first hand, during the Commonwealth meetings in New York in September, members calling for the organisation to play a role in restarting the Doha Development Round. This strikes me as a good idea.
How serious is the World Bank, FAO, host countries, etc committed to the Food Security Program?
The international community is deeply concerned about the impact of rising food prices on developing countries. The World Bank has played a key role in the international food crisis response; responding quickly through its $1.2 billion Global Food Crisis Response Programme. Commitments to date total $359m for 24 countries. A further $541 million of support for 10 countries is in the pipeline. This assistance has provided fiscal support to help reduce the prices of basic goods, enable the procurement of seeds and fertilisers, provide macroeconomic stabilisation, extend social protection and school feeding programmes, and reduce duties and taxes. The World Bank has also committed to increase funding for agriculture from $4 billion in 2008 to $6 billion in 2009.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has also played an important role responding to the crisis. Through the FAO Initiative on Soaring Food Prices, some $69 million has been spent and a further $70 million committed by a range of donors to date. FAO has taken part in 27 interagency country missions along with the World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Programme and others and has responded to requests for policy and technical assistance, providing inputs on input distribution (seeds and fertilisers) in 71 countries.
A lasting solution to the food crisis requires long-term, coordinated action by a wide range of stakeholders. The UK is therefore calling for a Global Partnership for Agriculture and Food (GPAF), envisaged as a compact to bring together a broad range of partners behind nationally developed country plans and policies, to hold everyone to account, and help facilitate access to finance. The UK is particularly concerned about the food crisis in the Horn of Africa and has contributed £120 million to help alleviate the situation.
In situations of dire humanitarian need where there is a genocide or crimes against humanity being committed, where the UN Security Council is constrained from acting due to use or one might say abuse of the veto by one or more of the P5, would the UK be prepared to support unauthorised forcible intervention by the EU?
The UK is strongly committed to advancing respect for and adherence to international law, especially the protection of civilians. While we continue to advocate for reform of the UN including the Security Council, in our view it remains the best forum through which to ensure international peace and security. In the case of the EU, decisions on the appropriateness of intervention with EU forces are reached through consensus. We consider each situation on a case by case basis, taking into account the views and capabilities of other countries, relevant regional groups as well as existing security organisations. Above all, we believe strongly in the fundamental importance of seeking resolutions through diplomatic means in order to achieve lasting peace.
The world of Bretton Woods is not the world of today. Don't you agree?
Most international institutions, not just those which emerged from Bretton Woods, had their genesis in arrangements and agreements reached over 60 years ago. The world is a very different place now and is facing many new challenges that our predecessors could not have imagined. The Bretton Woods institutions were designed to implement rules governing just fifty economies. We now live in an interdependent world of some two-hundred States and where seismic shifts in economic, cultural and technological power have occurred. In our view, international institutions must be reformed to better reflect this new reality and retain their credibility.
Do you the think the idea of a "League of Democracies" (one of the policies of defeated US presidential candidate Senator John McCain) is realistic and necessary?
I understand why this concept has attracted such interest given that it was supported by Senator McCain during the recent US presidential elections but it worth noting that this idea is not in fact a new one. There has been a variety of proposals from think-tanks and others for a League or other grouping of democracies over the years. Any such proposal, would need to show how its aims and how it might complement existing multilateral organisations and democracy-based groupings such as the Community of Democracies. At this time we believe that international effort is best spent developing a programme of reforms for existing international institutions.Watch the ministers speech on international institution reform