David Hannay: Reasons to be optimistic for the United Nations

From a speech at the Royal Institute of International Affairs by Britain's former ambassador to the UN
Click to follow
The Independent Online

There is no point in gainsaying the fact that 2003 was a terrible year for the UN. Over Iraq the organisation was paralysed by disagreement in the Security Council and deeply divided over the legality of the decision to go to war. What reason is there to believe that in 2004 and 2005 it should be possible to put these tragic events behind us and to set out on a new path, backed by a new consensus?

The first reason for some qualified optimism is that the UN has, as so often in the past, demonstrated its fundamental indispensability, not just in words but in action too. It is playing an essential role in the political process designed to lay the foundations of a new, democratic Iraq, and doing so at the invitation of the US, which had earlier cold-shouldered it.

A second reason is that Iraq now looks a good deal more like a one-off event than like the precursor of several others, which both anxious commentators and triumphalist neo-conservatives were ready to proclaim it at the time. Whatever one may think about the legality of the coalition's decision to go to war, it is surely clear that neither the rationale nor the legal justification for the US/UK action can easily be replicated anywhere else.

Nor is any attempt being made to do so in the cases of North Korea and Iran. Moreover events in Iraq are stretching the resources of the world's only remaining superpower to an extent not previously anticipated, and demonstrating that the gap in effectiveness between a unilateral and a collective approach is not so wide as has often been asserted by the UN's critics.