25 October 2012
Global Governance in an Era of Transformation:
a United Nations Perspective
Lecture by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
“Global Governance in an Era of Transformation:
a United Nations Perspective”
University of Geneva, UNI-MAIL
Thursday, 25 October 2012 at 18:00
First of all, I would like to express my appreciation for the warm welcome. It is a privilege and an honour to address students and professors of this distinguished and well-known University. The United Nations enjoys a strong partnership with the University of Geneva.
The theme of my lecture today is global governance in an era of transformation from a United Nations perspective. We live in a complicated world, facing many challenges. This brings up the need to address global governance, which is one of the most complex tasks before us. In this connection, I should like to make special mention of the role of Switzerland, which as a Host Country and as a Member State plays a leading role in discussions on global governance today. It is not coincidence that Mr. Joseph Deiss was elected President of the 65th session of the General Assembly and was so successful in his mission, reflecting the importance of Switzerland.
Yesterday, we celebrated United Nations Day – our birthday. I am very happy to be with you tonight to celebrate that special Day with you also. The United Nations is a unique Organization that belongs to all of humankind. And in response to Rector Vassalli’s opening remarks and the quote from my earlier book, let me stress that I have not changed my view on the importance of the United Nations since I joined.
This year, we mark the 67th anniversary of the entry into force of our Charter. The changes that we experience today are as far-reaching as the developments that took place in the immediate post-World War II period when the United Nations came into being – economically, politically and culturally. So, tonight, I would like to outline what I consider four major trends which will shape our societies in the years to come:
First trend: economic and political diversity. The global economy has never been as fragmented as it is currently, with a combination of deflation, inflation, recession and growth across countries and regions. We are all concerned by the financial crisis in Europe. We carefully follow the economic development of China – the second powerhouse in the world – and the economic situation in the US is a matter of primary interest and concern to people around the world.
A new “South-South” bloc is forming, with significant resources such as population, money and brands. For example, in 2011, 56% of Chinese exports went to other “South countries”, which illustrates this trend. The rise of the BRICs, consisting of Brazil, the Russian Federation, India and China, the formation of the G-20, which is familiar to you, and limitations in the ability of the international financial institutions to control the economic crisis challenge our understanding of what multilateralism is and what it can achieve.
We see the emergence of governance and power structures that cut across traditional regional contexts, security and economic spheres of interest and link countries in new ways. In general, the whole world is becoming increasingly multidimensional, controversial and less secure.
Second trend: growing inequality. We live in a world of contradictions and discrepancies. A world where 2.3 billion people are connected to the Internet and where 1.5 billion do not have access to electricity. A world where global military expenditure has topped 1.7 trillion US dollars but where more than a billion people still live in poverty. A world where today’s generation of youth is the largest we have ever known, while it is projected that by 2050 the number of people over 60 will reach 2 billion, exceeding the number of children. A world where the top 20 percent of the population enjoys more than 70 percent of total income. This translates into a world of growing disparities – within and across different groups. This has the potential to entrench divisions and create new fault lines.
Third trend: greater connectivity. According to the International Telecommunication Union, the world had 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions at the end of last year, an increase of some 600 million from 2010. One billion of these are in China, and India is expected to hit the one billion mark this year.
The change in pace and extent of communication is a defining feature of our era. When I was a young student in Moscow, I had go to the post office and wait for an hour to be connected for a phone call to my hometown of Almaty. Today, we can reach people around the world instantly with our messages. This is what happened over just 30 years. Who could have predicted then that the world would change so radically in such a short period of time?
But this is also an area where we see the discrepancies most starkly. Most of us could not imagine daily life without the Internet. Yet, two-thirds of the world’s population is not yet online. This includes three-quarters of the population in the developing world. At the same time, the most dynamic performers in the ITU’s ICT Development Index are primarily from developing countries. I believe that how we manage and facilitate access to ICTs will determine how successful we are in meeting today’s development challenges.
Fourth trend: interconnected challenges and new threats. Prolonged economic crisis. Unemployment. A rise in intolerance. Social instability. Poverty. Climate change. Illegal drug trade. Human trafficking. Proliferation of nuclear materials. None of these issues can be seen or solved in isolation. This is our common challenge and we should address this challenge collectively.
We need comprehensive solutions. From my point of view, the United Nations has not yet played the role it is expected to by peoples around the world. Certainly, there are visible achievements but there are also evident setbacks. We face a challenge in narrowing the gap between expectations and results.
Connectivity brings opportunities. And new vulnerabilities. Cyber security has emerged as one our key challenges. Cyber attacks against transportation systems, electricity networks, or chemical or nuclear facilities are quite possible. If carried out, they would result in high numbers of civilian casualties and cause extensive material damage. We cannot afford to be complacent.
What do these complex – and sometimes contradictory –trends mean for the United Nations? Is multilateralism really in crisis?
If we want to look ahead, I think it is instructive first to look back, to consider the lessons of the United Nations’ predecessor, the League of Nations. In Geneva, we are reminded of the legacy of the League of Nations on a daily basis because of the presence of the Palais des Nations, which served as its headquarters. But, the lessons of the League of Nations transcend Geneva and they transcend time.
While being justifiably critical of the League of Nations and its legacy, we should, however, also admit that without the League of Nations, the United Nations would not have been possible.
First lesson from this assessment: institutional structures cannot make up for lack of political will or principled action. In a speech to youth in Zurich in 1946, Winston Churchill famously said of the League that it “did not fail because of its principles or conceptions. It failed because these principles were deserted by those States who had brought it into being. It failed because the governments of those days feared to face the facts, and act while time remained”. The same is true of the United Nations. Whenever we allow the United Nations to turn a blind eye to abuses of human rights, to indiscriminate attacks on civilians, to denial of opportunities to fellow human beings, we run the risk of undermining our common Organization.
Second lesson: institutional design must be flexible. I believe that the United Nations has principally stood the test of time due to the enduring relevance and universality of its values. At the same time, the institutional design has been sufficiently flexible to allow adaptation and adjustment to new challenges. Innovation is possible. As an example, to address the challenges of failed States, United Nations peacekeeping has developed in scope and breadth of mandates, based on an ongoing review process. In line with the need to address recurring conflict situations in fragile States, the Peacebuilding Commission which was established in 2005 includes members drawn from three principal organs of the Organization as well as international financial and regional organizations, in a unique institutional format. The Commission responds both to a new substantive need – peacebuilding – and to a need for an inclusive approach.
Third lesson: real results are built over time. Key components of the United Nations such as the High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization and the Regional Commissions trace their roots to the League of Nations. They have built up expertise, networks, credibility and legitimacy over years.
We now live in a world where reporting in real-time creates expectations for solutions in real-time. But substantive, lasting institutional change and changes in attitude take time. It is often not a linear process. We face a very significant challenge, as policy makers and global citizens, in managing expectations.
Together, these lessons can help guide our work, to allow the United Nations to fulfil its role in our transforming world. Let me highlight four key areas where I believe we must place emphasis as the international community and where the United Nations can play a uniquely valuable role, in policy-making, in norm-setting and at an operational level, in line with the Secretary-General’s vision for a central role for the United Nations in global governance.
First, we need to strengthen processes for democratization and empowerment of citizens. The uprisings in the Middle East showed that people everywhere aspire to democracy, in whatever form that may take, even when they have lived long without it. The Arab Spring has generated much writing about the causes and implications, and about the role of social media in shaping current events. One of the more thoughtful analyses can be found in Philip Seib’s book “Real-Time Diplomacy” where he argues that “media do not create revolutions; people with courage do”. Our challenge is to ensure that the courageous women and men are supported by processes and structures that ensure lasting change.
The Arab Spring is part of a natural evolution towards more freedom and more inclusive governance. But it is a fragile process that must be nurtured, with a focus on promotion and protection of human rights and strengthening of the rule of law.
We should always keep in mind the need to generate an economic build-up in countries in transition to democracy. Otherwise, democracy itself will be compromised. Slogans and ideas have limited effect for the people who seek real change. Democracy has a chance to be durable if it is grounded in concrete economic achievements.
The empowerment of women and youth must be at the centre of these efforts. And it is a key priority for the Secretary-General in his strategy to enhance the role of the United Nations. Half of the world’s population are women. And half are under 25 years of age.
We need to include women in decision-making processes, in political institutions and in the private sector.
We must never lose sight of the tragic statistics according to which 10 million underage girls have to become wives each year – and more than half of them dying while giving birth because they are underage and are not physically prepared.
A brave girl from Pakistan has inspired us all by courageously standing up to the Taliban, demanding the right of girls to go to school. Her name is Malala. I personally tweeted to wish her a speedy recovery and I admire her courage. In difficult circumstances and against a complicated political background, she demanded the right for herself and for others to go to school.
We must also create conditions that allow youth to contribute meaningfully to their societies, not least through decent work. Global youth unemployment rates are at record levels at 40%, with 75 million young people looking for work. Young people are three times as likely to be unemployed as adults. Economic empowerment and political empowerment must go hand-in-hand.
Above all, democracy must be based on respect for the rule of law, which is the key basic element of long-term stability. The Charter of the United Nations, which we celebrate today, provides a central framework in this respect. The highest standards of the rule of law must be upheld in political decision-making as well as in implementation of policy and in judicial systems.
Second, we must advance sustainable development. We currently use 50% more resources than our planet can provide. This is not sustainable, and it cannot be our choice. We have made significant progress towards realizing the Millennium Development Goals. Global targets on poverty, slums and parity between girls and boys in primary education have already been met, ahead of the 2015 deadline. But challenges remain. 2.5 billion people do not have access to sanitation. This means that 37% of the global population does not have access to toilets. 780 million people do not have access to clean water. Some 3,000 children die every day of preventable causes such as diarrhoea, cholera and other diseases.
As you know, the deadline for the MDGs is 2015, and now we focus on the period after 2015. Despite the success of the MDGs in focusing political attention and practical efforts on development, we will need to continue the work beyond 2015, based on lessons learned. There is a need to address aspects of development, such as democracy, political inclusion and security that are not reflected in the current framework. We need Sustainable Development Goals that take into account the need for green growth, which is extremely important, the potential of ICTs and the importance of the rule of law. The entire United Nations Secretariat is considering what to do after 2015, and the Secretary-General has established a panel of eminent persons, which will study the post-2015 scenario and provide recommendations.
We must pay particular attention to food security. This goal must become our top priority. It is expected that food prices will increase across the world already over the next four to five months. This could lead to social unrest, inflationary pressures and even starvation in many countries. The Secretary-General has appointed the prominent former Italian Prime Minister and European Commission President Roman Prodi as his Special Envoy for the Sahel to highlight these challenges.
Sustainable development also requires us to strengthen efforts for disarmament and non-proliferation. Disarmament and non-proliferation are truly global and uniquely existential challenges. The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded, as Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon has recently reminded us. Global military spending now reportedly exceeds 1.7 trillion US dollars – I repeat, 1.7 trillion dollars. This is more than 4.6 billion dollars a day – almost twice what the United Nations’ regular budget is for one year. This is a neither a sustainable nor a credible use of resources in today’s world.
Third, we need to engage all stakeholders. Sometimes when you look across Lake Leman, the Palais des Nations can look a little like an ivory tower or a fortress. But, this is not the United Nations of today. We need to – and we do – engage regional organizations, civil society, and the private sector.
Research and academia is also a privileged partner. In an era of complex, interconnected challenges, we need independent research that can ask critical questions, alert us to new trends, and provide ideas and innovation. Geneva’s traditions in this area are a strength for the United Nations system globally. I believe that there is scope for enhancing the relations between our communities, not least when it comes to the natural sciences. Climate change, cyber security, food security – these are all challenges where science needs to be part of the solution.
Fourth, we need to recommit to our shared values and priorities. The economic crisis, challenges to our security, growing demands from people across world for a stake in their future have unleashed a necessary debate about the principles on which we base our societies.
Here again, young people often lead the way. A survey this summer by Net Impact showed that more than 70% of college graduates and 50% of workers are looking for jobs with a social impact. Nearly 60% of students were willing to take a pay cut in order to work for a company that represents their values. We can all be inspired by this readiness to combine activism with professional pursuits, by the commitment to working for a better world on a daily basis. It is the same commitment, the same social conscience and sense of responsibility that has driven many of the developments in the Arab Spring, even if the circumstances were different. This is the basis for the sustained and principled action that we need to build an equitable, prosperous and sustainable international community.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Representing the United Nations, I am firmly committed to bolstering the Organization to allow it to play its role. I hope that we can rely on all of you to believe in it and to fight for it. We have no alternative to the United Nations, even it is often the subject of criticism. It is not a world Government, but an indispensable Organization. The United Nations is a powerful body, but also a precious instrument that belongs to all of us.
I am increasingly hopeful about youth, which I believe will play a central role. I wish you every success in our studies and beyond, as global citizens.
Once again, I would like to express my deep appreciation for the invitation to speak to you this evening, and I hope to have another opportunity in the future.
Thank you for your attention.