Given the increasing number of crises, we can’t withdraw and opt for unilateralism [fr]
Strengthening multilateralism and the role of the United Nations
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 9 November 2018
I would like to begin by expressing France’s heartfelt thanks to the Chinese presidency. Your initiative, Sir, to convene the members of Security Council, as well as all Member States, to meet on the issue of multilateralism in defence of the United Nations is particularly welcome given the threats facing the multilateral system. I also thank all those who are speaking today and, above all, the Secretary-General for his unwavering commitment and the important perspectives that he just provided, which must inspire our work.
The international order that was built on the resolve to leave the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century behind us and that has been consolidated over the course of more than 70 years must not be taken for granted. That would be a big mistake. As the Secretary-General alluded to, opposing currents undeniably have never been as strong as they are now since the end of the Second World War. This fragile edifice, with the United Nations at its core, is needed more than ever in facing today’s challenges. But it must evolve and be comprehensively reformed if it is to be able to meet them and stand up to the criticism and even attacks levelled against it.
The foundation of multilateralism is international law. The rule of law is in its DNA, as opposed to the law of the strongest and the law of the jungle. Respect for the law is at the heart of the Charter of the United Nations, together with, first and foremost, human rights — in one month, we will celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — international humanitarian law and, more generally, all obligations arising from treaties and under international law, in particular Security Council resolutions. The practice of multilateralism consists in the collective approach to crises with major global repercussions. As the concept paper (S/2018/982, annex) circulated by the presidency points out, a collective and cooperative approach to the peaceful settlement of disputes is the very essence of the United Nations. Our commitment is based on the conviction that collective responses to our shared problems is more effective than a set of disparate unilateral responses, or, to put it another way, in the face of today’s global challenges, the juxtaposition of nationalisms can lead only to disaster for everyone. Based on experience, France believes that the precept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts resides at the heart of multilateralism.
The advantage of multilateralism lies in its effectiveness to provide concrete responses to crises and major world issues, which holds truer than ever in an increasingly multipolar world, which by definition is more complex to deal with. A multipolar world therefore makes multilateralism even more imperative at a moment when a rationale based on power is weakening its very principles. Let us make no mistake: the only alternative to multilateralism in a multipolar world is a return to one consisting of spheres of influence, of which history has taught us the great dangers. Multilateralism and the United Nations are at a crossroads today.
My second point is the fact that the threats facing the international order, which we have inherited, must be taken extremely seriously. In some cases, they feed on our failures, but they result far less from the system’s failure than from that of its members — their inability to unite in the Security Council and their failure to act on issues such as human rights violations, including women and children’s rights, impunity for the most serious crimes and the absence of women’s representation and participation in political processes, as well as climate change and famine, which are closely linked to issues relating to peace and security and will lead to future crises. Similarly, the world sees the attitude of every Council member with regard to the issue of Syria, and the obstacles or support that they provide in dealing with that country’s conflict within the framework that we set up for ourselves through resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqué (S/2012/522, annex). However, such threats are also fueled by a more fundamental challenge. It is the challenge posed to the legal and political principles of multilateralism in the name of national sovereignty; to the institutions and functioning of the United Nations, including negotiation and compromise; and to agreements that have been signed, such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. With regard to the risks posed to multilateralism, a collective surge is needed at a few major levels. And that is the third point I would like to raise.
First of all, as President Macron reminded the General Assembly, the principle of State sovereignty is not at odds with the universality of our principles, the requirements of the rule of law or with effective multilateralism. That point is crucial and is a core principle of the Charter of the United Nations. The sovereign equality of States is the foundation on which the United Nations is built. It is the first principle listed in the Charter. Before that, the Charter outlines the purposes of the United Nations: the maintenance of international peace and security, the promotion of peace, cooperation and respect for human rights. That means that there is no contradiction between respect for sovereignty and the effective implementation of our principles. To make that point even clearer: respect for State sovereignty does not mean handing over the Syrian people to the regime’s goodwill or ignoring the fate of the Rohingyas in Burma.
Secondly, promoting and strengthening regional cooperation is an essential part of multilateralism, and Chapter VIII of the Charter provides for complementary United Nations action. The strengthening of relations between the United Nations and the European Union and between the United Nations and the African Union, action in support of African peace operations or the deployment of the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel force and its coordination with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali consistently reflects the vital regional and subregional dimension. In that regard, I would like to highlight the Secretary-Generals’ commitment to those various areas.
Thirdly, with regard to the major challenges we will all face in the future, it is the United Nations system, together with each one of us, that must provide the right responses. Whether it is economic and social inequalities, equality between women and men, sustainable development, environmental protection and the fight against climate change or issues related to education, health or migration, artificial intelligence, social networks and cybersecurity, we must continue to create regulation and cooperation methods and rules of law that will ensure a better future for our societies. To succeed, now more than ever, the multilateralism we value must be creative, open to civil society actors, plugged into the technological revolution under way and constantly in the process of reinventing itself. We achieved it through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the silent revolution to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. France will pursue that goal by focusing its 2019 presidency of the Group of Seven on combating inequality. On the other hand, we realize that reverting to the notion of every man for himself would mean simply giving up and preparing for future crises.
Fourthly, the system’s ability to evolve will determine its effectiveness in meeting the challenges of this century. Multilateral institutions must undergo reform and, in many cases, are doing so. However, we cannot accept their legitimacy or funding being called into question in the name of an ideological approach. The Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and UNESCO play an indispensable role that we must protect and strengthen. If our framework for action is to retain its legitimacy over time, we must develop and adapt it. I would therefore like to reiterate France’s support for the reform the Secretary-General has initiated in three areas: the peace and security architecture, the development system and the management of the United Nations. We will defend expanding both member categories of the Security Council so that its composition reflects today’s balances of power, remains legitimate in everyone’s eyes and is strengthened as a forum for consultation rather than obstruction. In the same spirit, France, along with Mexico, is taking the initiative — now supported by 101 Member States and could be implemented without delay — to suspend the use of the veto in cases of mass atrocities. We call on all States Members of the United Nations, in particular the other four permanent members of the Security Council, to join our initiative.
Given the considerable increase in the number of crises and global challenges, we do not have the right to simply yield to the temptation to withdraw and opt for unilateralism. Future generations will not forgive us, and they would be quite right not to do so. Multilateralism is a common good, whose positive effects are not always properly perceived or explained. Criticizing the United Nations — otherwise referred to here as UN-bashing — often guarantees a hollow victory. It is so much easier to do that than to work to strengthen the United Nations, but it is at odds with France’s demanding and humanist approach. France calls on all of its partners to recommit to the United Nations within a framework of renewed and exacting multilateralism, while working together and employing what our Foreign Minister, Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian, refers to as goodwill powers. Such commitment is at the heart of France’s identity and action. That is why President Macron will host the Paris Peace Forum in two days’ time in Paris, which will bring together all global governance stakeholders — Governments, institutions, civil society actors and citizens — to discuss major global issues and develop collective responses together. That is the challenge for our generation.