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Making Multilateralism Effective

Featuring:Mark Malloch BrownFormer Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations; Visiting Fellow, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

Date & Time

May. 7, 2007
2:00pm – 3:00pm ET


Speaker: Mark Malloch Brown, Former Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations; Visiting Fellow, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

Moderator: David Birenbaum, Senior Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center; Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations for UN Management and Reform

Opening Remarks: A. Edward Elmendorf, President, United Nations Association of the National Capital Area

On May 7, 2007, the Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (WWICS) partnered with the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) to discuss the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine in a panel discussion entitled Making Multilateralism Effective: Implementing the Responsibility to Protect. The event, which marked the final in a three-meeting series on United Nations (UN) reform, examined the challenges faced by the United Nations and its institutions in their efforts to implement R2P, as well as the importance of effective multilateralism and a mobilized civil society to support the R2P doctrine.

Mark Malloch Brown introduced the topic of multilateralism and its relevance to the R2P doctrine. Recognizing that the world is now more integrated than ever, he emphasized the growing need for international governance. He noted that the ability of nation states to deal with global issues is proving insufficient, and as a result, efforts to impose an outside order on nation states have increased. In fact, the international community has witnessed a dramatic shift towards a new consensus on the establishment of a global regime capable of addressing transnational issues such as environmental sustainability, among others.

The R2P doctrine emerged out of the growing recognition that the international community has a responsibility to intervene in the face of egregious human rights abuses such as the devastation that took place in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. However, the international community is often hesitant to interfere in the sovereignty of individual nations, and consequently, effective implementation of R2P has become the primary challenge. While the situation in Darfur has given vision and momentum to the R2P doctrine, Malloch Brown noted that the lack of action has proved to be a huge embarrassment for the champions of the doctrine and has highlighted the difficulties of effectively implementing R2P.

Speaking specifically about Darfur, Malloch Brown noted that the UN mission lacked a clear doctrine for intervention, and even when the international community finally came to an agreement on the deployment of forces, he explained that the mission lacked the sustained and steady diplomatic pressure necessary to support such a force. Explaining that the current government of Sudan is less interested in peace, stability, and long-term democracy than in short-term oil wealth, Malloch Brown applauded the renewed efforts by the Bush administration to apply a more effective set of financial sanctions on the Sudanese government. Financial sanctions intended to disrupt the oil industry and criminal indictments by the International Criminal Court, he explained, are the most realistic means of protecting civilians.

Specifically, the potential disruption of Sudanese oil exports is a real threat to China, and financial sanctions could be an effective way to convince China that its interests will be severely jeopardized if it chooses not to act as a forceful partner in bringing the conflict in Darfur to an end. Malloch Brown suggested that civil society efforts and celebrity diplomacy, citing in particular UNICEF's Goodwill Ambassadors, should be utilized to put pressure on China. For example, he noted that the upcoming Olympics could be used as leverage to bring China into the resolution effort. Speaking more broadly, Malloch Brown indicated that civil society will play a critical role in making R2P a living doctrine, and ultimately, effective implementation of the doctrine depends on civil society championship as much as on government support.

The capacity of the United Nations to support R2P, Malloch Brown observed, is currently fragile. The institution is fragmented and its members are focused on the achievement of their own short-term interests. In addition, he noted the lack of transparency in the selection process of key leadership positions that inevitably has resulted in a lack of faith in the legitimacy and effectiveness of the leadership of the United Nations as an international institution. It is vitally important, he concluded, that the ownership structures of international institutions remain legitimate and transparent. Equally, as the search for an effective global regime continues, it is important to recognize that as yet, no single institution speaks with the necessary global moral authority and legitimacy.

When asked about the responsibility to implement R2P, Malloch Brown noted that individual member states tend to shuffle this responsibility onto the Secretariat, despite the fact that member states have troops and the United Nations does not. He attributed this fact to the steady decline in the acceptance of peacekeeping as a global priority and the general hesitancy of Western states to contribute troops. Looking specifically at Sudan, Malloch Brown explained that the responsibility to contribute troops must be globally shared. In addition, he emphasized the importance of professionalizing the UN forces. He advocated for the establishment of a standing arrangement supported by a stand-by logistical capability. He recommended establishing a stand-by police force, which he believed would be more palatable and less threatening than a stand-by peacekeeping force. In conclusion, Malloch Brown reiterated that any military force in Darfur must first be backed by financial sanctions and criminal indictments.

A lively question and answer session between members of the audience and panelists followed.

On the topics of disarmament and nuclear proliferation, audience members were skeptical that progress could be made under the current US administration. In response, Malloch Brown agreed that the controversy over disarmament versus non-proliferation has stalled the process, but explained that the international community does not need to wait for a change in US leadership before it can act. Rather, he emphasized the importance of engaging the powers that have chosen not to join the nuclear club.

In addition, audience members asked Malloch Brown to comment on the topic of public health, in particular whether it should be included within the parameters of R2P. Malloch Brown agreed with the audience that public health is conceptually the same as R2P, noting however, that public health initiatives within an R2P framework would be met with significantly more resistance.

Audience members inquired about the response of Muslim nations towards Darfur. Malloch Brown responded that he was very disappointed with the lack of action on their part. He concluded that very few of these nations have the open civil society or freedom of action that is expected in the United States and other Western nations, and as a result, they were not able to mobilize public opinion around Darfur.


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