Podium: No such thing as regional conflict

TONY BLAIR: From a speech delivered by the Prime Minister to the United Nations General Assembly in New York
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The Independent Culture
TODAY'S WORLD offers one clear lesson. To survive and prosper, we have to work together better. The challenges we face can be met in no other way. We share a global environment. We depend on each other for development and prosperity. Regional conflicts affect us all.

Our peoples suffer together under the shadow of drugs and terrorism. We can no longer separate what we want to achieve within our borders from what we face across our borders.

If our finance, trade, media, communications and even our culture is, day by day, more and more transitional, it would be strange and politically dangerous if our politics remained in compartments built just after the Second World War. The challenge is international. The response must be international. We must launch a new era of international partnership in which we modernise those institutions that allow us to co-operate and work together.

So I believe in the United Nations. But I also believe it must modernise urgently. All parts of the UN need proper accountability, to go with secure funding, better management and more effective co-ordination in all their activities.

The world has high expectations of the UN as the guardian of global peace and security. The UN should not get involved if regional organisations are better able to tackle a local conflict. But sometimes we must demonstrate a collective global will. And if we act, we must act decisively. We need clear principles, not inadequate commitment and muddled objectives. Let me set out four:

First, prevention is always better than cure. Resources spent on averting conflict are tiny compared to the expense of peace-keeping once the guns fire.

Second, where we do have to send in the blue helmets, they should be given a clear and achievable task. There must be no repeat of Bosnia. Peace-keepers were inserted into a live conflict, and told to make "safe areas" safe. But they were not given the means to do so. UN peace-keepers need a way out as well as a way in. They must have the tools to do the job, and clear and effective command and control.

Third, the UN needs to be able to act fast. Fast action can prevent conflict escalating, underpin a fragile truce, save lives. This is not a question of pious wishes but of practical readiness. I announce today that within six months we [the UK] will conclude a specific agreement with the UN to ensure that it can make rapid use of what we have to offer when it's needed - the first such by a permanent member.

Fourth, peace-keeping must be accompanied from the start by peace-building, to restore justice, democratic institutions, prosperity, and human rights. Too often the Security Council deals with the symptoms of conflict but not with its causes. It needs to work with the rest of the UN, the World Bank and the IMF if it is to have lasting impact. I will be asking the Secretary-General to put to us new proposals to make this a reality.

Too many conflicts still rage. There are few higher priorities than restoring peace to the Great Lakes region [of Africa]. I am convinced the UN can play a crucial role in support of regional efforts and strongly encourage it to do so.

The Middle East remains profoundly worrying. I believe even seemingly intractable conflicts can be tackled successfully. We [in the UK] have made progress in Northern Ireland - and I thank all those around the world who have supported us and encouraged us in this. Now is the time for a further move forward in the Middle East peace process too. We are ready to play our part in bringing this about.

But I want to mention today another area of urgent concern: Kosovo. It almost defies belief that the security forces of President Milosevic are ignoring the clear will of the international community and inflicting brutality and repression on those they claim to see as their fellow citizens. nothing can justify scorched earth tactics and the forcible creation of hundreds of thousands of refugees. We propose a new Security Council Resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and demanding an urgent end to the trampling on the rights of the inhabitants of Kosovo.

I have ranged widely but my point is simple: we face multiple new challenges as we approach a new century. Our only hope of tackling them successfully is tackling them together. We need political will and a sense of urgency. The problems of our modern world are too pressing, their consequences too immediate, their impact too far reaching, for us to hesitate or to look away any longer. We are being given a warning: to act, to give purpose and direction. And the time to do it is now.