In the 24 hours since the Secretary-General delivered his In Larger Freedom document to the UN General Assembly in New York—or the 48 hours since the document was first posted online to the UN’s website—or the 72 hours since the Los Angeles Times first reported its contents, based on a leaked copy—representatives of probably every last one of the UN’s 191 Member States have had something to say about it. If only we could find out what they’ve been saying.
Better, still, would be to learn what the people living inside each of these 191 countries think.
Timed to coincide with the publication of In Larger Freedom, the BBC World Service released a poll Monday of public opinion in 23 different countries which more or less corroborates and advances the major findings of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations-Program on International Policy Attitudes surveys of 2004.
(Quick aside. The real institutional force behind the design and execution of this BBC World Service poll was the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, and GlobeScan Research Partners. Please note that I have been critical of PIPA in the past. Specifically with respect to PIPA’s work on the western Sudan, I have charged PIPA with “manufacturing” the opinions or leading the respondents to its polls, presumably with the intent of nudging policymakers in a direction upon which PIPA looks favorably: Military intervention in the western Sudan. Here I want to emphasize not only that I stand by these earlier criticisms. But that we must regard the current BBC World Service-PIPA-GlobeScan poll to be an entirely separate entity—and one to be evaluated on its own terms. (See my “Manufacturing Public Opinion,” March 7, 2005. The three PIPA polls in question are: Americans on the Crisis in Sudan, July 20, 2004; Three Out of Four Americans Favor UN Military Intervention in Darfur, Jan. 24, 2005; and Large Bipartisan Majority of Americans Favors Referring Darfur War Crime Cases to International Criminal Court, March 1, 2005. Though this third poll needs to be dealt with separately from the first two.))
The 23 countries sampled were Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, and the United States.
When asked the non-specific question whether they would find it mainly positive or mainly negative for the UN to become significantly more powerful in world affairs, 64 percent of the people in the 23 countries sampled said they would find it mainly positive, and only 19 percent mainly negative—an “extraordinary degree of consensus,” the researchers commented. “This prospect is seen as ‘mainly positive’ in every country (21 majorities, 2 pluralities)….Six in ten Americans (59%) favored it, with only 37 percent opposed.” (See Question GB2d.)
Asked whether they would favor or oppose a change in the parliamentary rules of the 15-member Security Council, such that if a Council decision were to be supported by all the other members, no single member, not even one of the five Permanent Members (Britain, China, France, Russia, or the United States) could veto the decision (as the can under today’s rules), 58 percent said they would favor the change, while only 24 percent said they would oppose it. In the United States alone, 57 percent were in favor, and 34 percent opposed. (See Question One.)
Similarly, when asked whether they would favor or oppose a non-specific change in the composition of the 15-member Security Council, both by expanding its membership to include more Member States while adding more permanent members to its current list of five, 69 percent said they would favor such a change, and only 17 percent opposed. In the States, a startling 70 percent favored it, while 23 percent opposed. (See Question Two.)
The great thoughts of the world’s political elites aside, the general thrust of this important opinion research across 23 different countries is this: Majorities or pluralities of the people in country after country around the world tend to support multilateral institutions, as well as the spirit of what true multilateralism implies—the principles of negotiation, give-and-take, and consensus in the management of human affairs, rather than unilateral action and coercion, the most dramatic example being the threat or use of state violence, or war.
These are not trivial findings. Particularly given the March 21 release of the Secretary-General’s In Larger Freedom—a document which, if anything, lags behind global public opinion in terms of how much real reform each is willing to demand for the “indispensable common house of the entire human family.”
Secretary-General Proposes Strategy for UN Reform to General Assembly (SG/SM/9770), March 21, 2005
In Larger Freedom: Towards Security, Development and Human Rights for All, Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for decisions by Heads of State and Government in September 2005 (A/59/2005), Kofi A. Annan et al., United Nations, 2005 (For the PDF version of the report.)
“An aspiration to a larger freedom,” Kofi A. Annan, Financial Times, March 21, 2005 [$$$$$$---see below]
23-Country Poll Finds Strong Support for Dramatic Changes at UN, and for Increased UN Power, BBC World Service Poll, March 21, 2005 (For the HTML version of the same.)
Questionnaire, BBC World Service Poll, November 15, 2004 to January 5, 2005
Global Views 2004 (Homepage), Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and Program on International Policy Attitudes, September, 2004
FYA (“For your archives”):
Financial Times (London, England)
March 21, 2005 Monday
London Edition 1
SECTION: COMMENT; Pg. 17
HEADLINE: An aspiration to a larger freedom: KOFI ANNAN:
BYLINE: By KOFI ANNAN
For most Financial Times readers, March 21 is the first day of spring. I take that as a good omen, since today I shall be presenting my report “In Larger Freedom” to the United Nations General Assembly. I hope this will mark a fresh start for the international system, and for the UN itself.
Some will find that a surprising and pretentious statement from an organisation they see as part of an obsolete world order, which anyway had little to do with freedom.
Yet the words “in larger freedom” are taken from the preamble to the UN Charter – whose opening words, “We the peoples”, I used as the title for my Millennium Report five years ago. In both cases I wanted to remind the governments of the world, who put me in my job and to whom I am accountable, that they are in the UN to represent not themselves but their peoples, who expect them to work for the aims set out in the organisation’s charter.
These aims can be summarised as peace, human rights, justice and development – but in 1945 that last word was not yet as fashionable as it is today. The actual words of the charter are “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. By that magnificent phrase our founders clearly implied both that development is possible only in conditions of freedom, and that people can only benefit from political freedom when they have at least a fair chance of reaching decent living standards. But “larger freedom” can be taken as embracing the other aims too. You can be truly free only if you are secure from war and violence, and if your fundamental rights and dignity are upheld by law. Human rights, development and security are mutually interdependent and, taken together, they add up to larger freedom.
Of course, the UN often falls short of these noble aspirations, since it reflects the realities of world politics, even while seeking to transcend them. But political freedom has been making headway, as first the peoples of Asia and Africa won freedom from colonialism, and then more and more peoples shook off dictatorship, asserting their right to choose their own rulers.
Twenty years ago it was almost unthinkable for the UN to take sides between democracy and dictatorship, or seek to intervene in the internal affairs of its members.
Today, by contrast, almost all UN members accept democratisation as something desirable, at least in theory, and the UN itself does more than any other single organisation to promote and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world. In the past year alone it has organised or helped organise elections in over 20 countries – often at decisive moments in their history, as in Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and Burundi. The UN’s member states can now agree, if they so decide, to increase that assistance, and to make the international machinery for defending human rights more effective and credible. In my report I shall propose to them a way to put human rights on a par with security and development in the renewed UN.
Sixty years of peace and economic growth in the industrial world have also given the human race today, for the first time, the economic and technical power to overcome poverty and its attendant ills. Thanks in large part to a series of UN conferences, there is also very broad agreement, built around the Millennium Development Goals, on what needs to be done. There is no longer any excuse for leaving well over a billion of our fellow human beings in abject misery. All that is needed is some clear decisions, by the governments of both rich and poor countries.
Five years ago, peace and security seemed more within our reach than development. Terrorist attacks, and bitter disputes over Iraq, have since made that much more doubtful, and we continue to face vicious conflicts in Africa. But crisis can breed opportunity. The existence of common threats makes nations more aware of the need for collective responses. Decisions can, and should, be taken to strengthen our common defence and action against terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, organised crime, sudden world epidemics, climate change, recurrent state collapse, civil war and genocide.
The UN is a forum where sovereign states can work out common strategies for tackling global problems, and an instrument for putting those strategies into effect. But it can be a much more effective instrument if its governing body, the General Assembly, is better organised and gives clearer directives to us in the secretariat, with the flexibility to carry them out, and holds us clearly accountable for how we do it. The Security Council, for its part, needs to be more broadly representative but also more able and willing to take action when action is needed.
I shall today propose decisions in all these areas, and challenge world leaders to respond with action at the UN summit in September. By then, in the northern hemisphere, autumn will be approaching. But if world leaders rise to their responsibilities, the rebirth and renewal of the UN will be just beginning – and with it, renewed hope for a freer, fairer and safer world.
The writer is secretary-general of the United Nations