Speech by Minister at the UNITAR/IPS/NIRA Singapore Conference

I congratulate the Institute of Policy Studies of Singapore (IPS); the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and the National Institute for Research Advancement (NIRA) for organising this Conference, which is the third in the series of conferences on lessons learned in peace-keeping. These conferences are important occasions for the international peacekeeping community to reflect, take stock, and learn from the experiences gained over the years from the growing number of UN peace-keeping operations (UNPKOs).

Singapore is pleased to be associated with this series of conferences. We recognise the important role that UNPKOs have played in enabling the United Nations (UN) to fulfil its Charter objective of "maintaining international peace and security". Singapore has participated in UNPKOs in Namibia, Kuwait, Angola and Cambodia and will continue to support the UN in its peace-keeping efforts. More recently, a Singapore medical team has joined the UN Military Observer Mission in Guatemala.

To the man-in-the-street, the image most popularly associated with the UN is the "blue helmets" of UN peace-keepers which were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988. The success stories of UNPKOs in Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq, Namibia, Angola and Cambodia have enhanced the international prestige of the UN. However, there were also those UNPKOs which fell short of expectations. Under the full glare of the mass media, the setbacks in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia caused grievous harm to the UN''s image and have even come to overshadow the success stories. Because they are such high-profile activities, UNPKOs have, in the words of former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, "...distorted the UN''s image. One misinterpretation is that peacekeeping is all that we do." (US News & World Report, 26 Jun 95).

It is perhaps ironic that PKOs have, in recent years, overshadowed the other facets of the UN''s work. To begin with, peace-keeping operations are not mentioned, let alone described, in the Charter. UNPKOs as we know them today are a relatively new development. The Secretary-General''s 1992 "An Agenda for Peace" has rightly described peace-keeping as "...the invention of the UN". The end of the Cold War, coupled with the proliferation of new conflicts, both within and across international boundaries, caused an explosion of UNPKOs. Between 1948 and 1996, 41 UNPKOs were deployed. Of these, 28 or about two-thirds, were established after 1988. UNPKOs have also assumed a considerably broader, more activist, and multi-faceted character. They go beyond their traditional peacekeeping role and now involve a myriad of activities such as election monitoring and organisation, human rights protection, rehabilitation, repatriation and even the assistance or exercise of civil administration functions during transition to independence or democracy.

The financial costs of mounting and maintaining more and increasingly complex PKOs, place a tremendous strain on the UN''s budget. As of 1 May 96, the annual costs of financing the 16 UNPKOs currently in place, involving about 25,700 military personnel and civilian police personnel, amounted to approximately US$1.3 billion. Besides the financial pressures, the expanded mandates and growing complexities of many UNPKOs have also raised questions about the UN''s organisational capabilities to cope with the new demands.

The UN''s role in, and response to, humanitarian crises is one case in point. It is therefore timely and appropriate for this Conference to discuss the relationship between humanitarian intervention and UNPKOs in detail. I will just make two brief observations and flag three major challenges for the Conference''s consideration. My first observation is that there is no turning back in the UN''s involvement in humanitarian interventions. Since the end of the Cold War, humanitarian crises have proliferated as previously suppressed historical hostilities re-surfaced. Combined with popular pressure for the UN to intervene because of the "CNN effect", humanitarian interventions are likely to become a fixture in the UN''s peace-keeping agenda.

My second observation has to do with the proliferation of non-governmental humanitarian organisations. An interesting review essay in the current issue of "Foreign Affairs", which examined this phenomenon, is aptly entitled "Charity on the Rampage". According to the article, there were 144 humanitarian organisations registered with the US Agency for International Development (AID) in 1992. In 1994, this figure rose to 419. According to one estimate, the "emergency aid business" was worth 2,500 million sterling pounds in 1995.

The UN''s increasing involvement in humanitarian interventions has brought into sharp relief three major challenges which the UN must address. This was amply demonstrated in Somalia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. First, it revealed the existence of an underlying, fundamental tension in the twin roles of the UN as a peacekeeping organisation on the one hand, and as an impartial and neutral humanitarian organisation on the other. At another level, it also highlighted the need for humanitarian components of UNPKOs to maintain their independence and neutrality while at the same time, continuing to work with the military and police to provide humanitarian assistance.

Second, it is essential that the humanitarian and military components of UNPKOs are properly co-ordinated. As the number of humanitarian organisations increase, the need for co-ordination becomes all the more urgent. However, this is easier said than done. The competition to get a share of governmental aid and public sponsorship among humanitarian organisations has also intensified as their numbers increase. Therefore, many humanitarian organisations often have their own agendas which do not coincide with the objectives of UNPKOs. They may resent and even resist efforts at co-ordination in order to pursue their own interests. Some humanitarian organisations have also focused their attention on a few high-profile humanitarian disasters. This leads to duplication and makes co-ordination all the more difficult.

The difficulties of co-ordination are exacerbated by the ability of many humanitarian organisations to use the mass media to influence public opinion. As "people on the ground", humanitarian workers are an indispensable source of information and assistance to both print and television journalists. Their image as "do-gooders" also give their accounts and assessments of situations in humanitarian disaster areas a greater ring of truth. As a result, humanitarian organisations are able to add their own spin to many a story emanating from Goma, Mogadishu or Sarajevo. In many cases, the "CNN effect" has made Security Council decision-making more susceptible to domestic political factors and hence more idiosyncratic. The end result is a greater potential for conflicts to arise between the agendas of humanitarian organisations and UNPKOs.

Third, there is a need for member states to seriously consider what kind of peace-keeping role they want the UN to play. It is said that an organisation is as good as its members make it out to be. The effectiveness of the UN in performing its peacekeeping role, depends on what its member states are prepared, or not prepared, to do. For a start, the UN cannot remain a "financial cripple" if it is to perform its peacekeeping role properly. As at 31 January 1997, member states owed a total of US$3.2 billion to the UN. Consequently, the UN had to resort to internal borrowing from the peace-keeping accounts to finance the regular budget expenditure. This in turn has resulted in delayed reimbursement to countries contributing troops and equipment to UNPKOs. Therefore, it is imperative that UN member states take their financial obligations seriously. It is worthwhile repeating a point made many times before and that is: the only long-term solution to the UN''s present financial problems, is for member states to pay their dues in full, and on time.

In considering the UN''s peace-keeping role, member states must also ensure that UNPKOs should have clear and achievable goals. This is where the Security Council has a critical role. With the end of the Cold War, the Security Council, especially the Permanent Five members, have found it easier to agree on tougher issues. As a result, UN peace-keepers are being sent where bullets are still flying and where some of the parties do not even want their presence. Former UN Under-Secretary-General Sir Brian Urquhart has pointed out that the fact that the Security Council "...can easily agree on almost everything...is a major change and not necessarily a change for the better". For example, the UN was dragged into the former Yugoslavia as the result of public demands calling for the UN''s intervention and governments'' efforts to satisfy these demands by passing resolutions in the Security Council. The original mandate of UNPROFOR to protect humanitarian relief operations grew ! as domestic pressures on certain P ermanent Members of the Security Council increased. Consequently, the UN was unable to fully implement the Security Council''s resolutions which resulted in considerable harm to the UN''s reputation and image.

Besides the political and military factors, the UN''s humanitarian intervention in the former Yugoslavia was as much, if not more, a result of pressure from humanitarian organisations and public opinion on the Western countries, especially the Permanent Members of the Security Council. Television images of the emaciated prisoners, the dead and dying, especially children, were decisive. It is a fact that UN interventions have never been decided on the basis of objective criteria. Moreover, in today''s world, the demanding public is also a critical public. They want action but also seek explanation. They will even ask for justification. Therefore, it is important for the decision-making processes on UNPKOs within the Security Council to become more transparent. It is equally important that agreement among the permanent members must have the deeper support of the other members of the Security Council as well as widespread support from the general membership of the UN.

These are issues which must be addressed in the on-going discussions on reform of the Security Council. The very fact that the UN is discussing Security Council reform is a positive sign. There have also been some cosmetic gestures in the direction of greater transparency, such as more regular briefings by the President of the Security Council and notification of the Security Council''s Agenda in the UN''s Daily Journal. However, more needs to be done in this critical aspect of Security Council reform. Permanent Members must be prepared to guard their privileges less jealously in order to move the working methods of the Security Council in the direction of greater transparency and participation by the membership as a whole. The Security Council is, after all, the principal organ for the maintenance of international peace and security and every member has a stake in it.

UNPKOs have come a long way from the days when peace-keeping merely involved the positioning of forces between combatants with the objective of containing a conflict. The growing number and increasing complexity of UNPKOs necessitate a rigorous reassessment of the UN''s capacity to engage effectively in its new range of activities. The challenge is to learn from those PKOs which have been successful and to avoid repeating the mistakes of those which have failed. This is where Conferences such as this are extremely useful. The deliberations and outputs of this Conference can contribute greatly to strengthening the capability of the UN in fulfilling its peace-keeping role. Therefore, I wish you a fruitful conference.

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