David Owen: The UN is only as strong as the will of its members

From a talk by the former foreign secretary in a dialogue with the Archbishop of Canterbury at St Paul's Cathedral

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How should the world be governed? Simply answered, by a greater measure of compromise and consensus between the nations than currently exists.

How should the world be governed? Simply answered, by a greater measure of compromise and consensus between the nations than currently exists.

The fundamental need for the world is to achieve a better distribution of key resources. The institutions exist to do this, but do not function well when differences between the member states are considerable.

Iraq demonstrates how far the EU still has to go in developing genuine consensus and a greater readiness to compromise, which is the potential strength of regional groupings encouraged by the UN charter.

The UN charter allows for a flexible interpretation by the Security Council, but there are great dangers in allowing legalistic opinion to dominate its decision making. Irrespective of one's view about the case for toppling Saddam Hussein, there are grave concerns as to the incompetent way the US and the UK handled the aftermath of the successful military invasion of Iraq. There are signs, however, that President Bush has tempered his unilateralist approach, and sees more clearly now the limitations that our complex world sets for the exercise of America's superpower.

International force used against dictators is sometimes essential. The Security Council should have authorised the use of military force over Bosnia in July 1992, May 1993 and July 1994, much earlier over Kosovo and in 1994 over Rwanda. The case for force today in Sudan is strong and the African Union should take the lead role.

The Security Council has the power [of] mobilising all the techniques of maintaining and/or enforcing peace. It is the responsibility of the nations that make up the Security Council to live up to the UN charter. They must not be allowed to escape that responsibility, as in the past, by heaping the blame on the UN.

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