UN chief calls for greater cooperation for 21st century's security challenges

21 March 2012

Pointing to recent crises in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and Syria, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today spoke about the need for the international community to work together to deal with the “unprecedented peace and security challenges of the 21st century.”

“I think we can all agree: the past year has been remarkable to all of us in the international community. Remarkable for its geographical drama – the Arab Spring, the revolution in Libya, the peaceful transformations in some Arab countries, terrible violence in others, above all in Syria,” Mr. Ban said in a wide-ranging speech to government officials and international security experts in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Mr. Ban was giving the opening speech, entitled “The United Nations and Global Security: Collaboration and Partnership,” at the opening of the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue in the Indonesia capital – part of a multi-country trip to south-east Asia, which also includes Malaysia, Singapore and the Republic of Korea.

In his speech, the Secretary-General noted that the past year has also been remarkable “for the scope and sheer dimension of the demands placed on the international community and the United Nations, demands that span many realms – military, political, human rights, economic, social and environmental – demands that will shape the global political landscape for years to come.”

Citing Côte d’Ivoire in late 2010, when the incumbent president refused to step down after defeat in fair elections and had his forces attack Ivorian citizens as well as representatives of the international community and United Nations, Mr. Ban said protecting civilians might not have been possible without the support of one country – Ukraine – which lent the UN three combat helicopters.

“I drew an important lesson from this engagement of the United Nations and the international community: the importance of the united international community and the imperative to equip the United Nations properly to do the job asked of it,” Mr. Ban said. “But the lessons of Côte d’Ivoire go well beyond the value of military assets. Côte d’Ivoire illustrated that clear violations of human rights and international humanitarian law could not be condoned by the international community.”

Mr. Ban said Libya provided a similar example, one in which the international community recognized its responsibility to protect civilians facing brutality at the hands of their own state and leader.

He noted that, historically, the international community’s chief failing has been the reluctance to act in the face of serious threats – and with Syria, it now faced “an even bigger test.”

“How do we respond when people ask for basic human dignity, human rights and freedoms – and are answered with violent and indiscriminate repression by the Government?” Mr Ban asked.

He said the UN’s current three priorities on Syria are an immediate end to all violence, inclusive political dialogue to shape the country’s future, and urgent humanitarian assistance; and he noted the work of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria, Kofi Annan, and others in Damascus, as well as an expert team that is assessing the country’s humanitarian.

“We do not know how events will unfold,” Mr. Ban said. “But we do know that we all have a responsibility to work for a resolution of this profound and extremely dangerous situation and crisis that has potentially massive repercussions for this region of the world.”

The Secretary-General touched upon nuclear issues, which have come to the fore in the region in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. Mr. Ban highlighted the threat the world continues to face from nuclear weapons, noting that tens of thousands of weapons remain in global arsenals, many on high alert, with large amounts of resources wasted on modernizing them despite pressing social needs.

“Nuclear weapons do nothing to protect us from 21st century threats,” Mr. Ban said. “Their very existence itself is destabilizing. The more they are touted as indispensable, the greater is the incentive for their proliferation.”

Noting that export controls have not prevented countries from acquiring nuclear weapons and sanctions offer no lasting solution, the Secretary-General said the “best way to eliminate the nuclear threat is by eliminating the weapons themselves.” He added that he will make concrete proposals during the Nuclear Security Summit in the Republic of Korea’s capital, Seoul, next week to guide the process towards nuclear safety.

On the topic of UN peacekeeping, Mr. Ban spoke of the value for money it represents for the international community, but also, citing the example of the UN’s shortage of helicopters in peacekeeping operations, how the problem of limited resources amidst increased demand.

“We also face growing demands for police personnel, particularly female police officers and for civilian experts on the rule of law and security sector reform, judicial institutions, and prison reform,” Mr. Ban said. “I urge you to explore what more you can contribute in whichever area your government can contribute in this issues”.

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