Gareth Evans: Only the UN can sanction the use of military force

From a speech by the president of the International Crisis Group, at the London School of Economics

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It's important to recognise that not every security problem has an immediate UN solution. Sometimes, as with Aceh disaster relief in the first hours and days, it's a matter of direct government action rather than working through an international co-ordinating mechanism. Similarly with conflict resolution: every situation has its own dynamic, and its own best institutional solution.

It's important to recognise that not every security problem has an immediate UN solution. Sometimes, as with Aceh disaster relief in the first hours and days, it's a matter of direct government action rather than working through an international co-ordinating mechanism. Similarly with conflict resolution: every situation has its own dynamic, and its own best institutional solution.

When it comes to negotiating a way through the North Korean or Iranian nuclear standoffs, or finding a way to the longed-for Palestinian settlement, or facilitating peace talks in Nepal, the critical roles may need to be played by individual countries, small groups of them, regional organisations, or non-government mediators, not necessarily acting under UN auspices.

Again with institutional effectiveness generally: multilateralists do no service to the cause by loving intergovernmental structures, but leaving them inefficient and ineffective. They must acknowledge that the UN's Secretariat, many of its organs and agencies, and most regional organisations, are ripe for far-reaching reform.

But the bottom line must be universal acceptance of the UN Charter as setting the ultimate rules of international behaviour, particularly when it comes to the use of military force, whether in self-defence or the defence of others. The evidence since the Cold War ended is that co-operative security efforts do bear fruit. There have been in the new century so far just 20,000 to 30,000 people each year suffering violent deaths in wars within and between states - as compared to more than 200,000 a year through most of the 1990s.

And an enormous amount of that can be directly attributed to the big strides forward that have been made over the past 15 years in co-operative diplomacy and peace operations.

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