NEW YORK, JUNE 20, 2003 (ZENIT.org–Avvenire).- The Iraqi war raised serious questions about the role of the United Nations. The Vatican, for one, believes that the organization must be modified to respond to today’s interdependence among states.
Here, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, analyzes the organization’s situation and the challenges it faces if it is to function adequately. Archbishop Migliore, 50, arrived in New York six months ago, after having been Vatican undersecretary of state for relations with states since 1995.
Q: The Iraqi crisis seems to have given a mortal blow to the U.N., whose limitations seem ever more evident. How aware is the New York headquarters of this?
Archbishop Migliore: The limitations of the U.N. are known and are due, to a large extent, to its original approach, which was in keeping with criteria dictated by the Cold War. At headquarters, there have been plans under way for years to reform the U.N.
Recently, Secretary-General Kofi Annan created a commission of experts to find new ways for society and the private sectors to participate in the activities of the United Nations. This need is perceived because the ideals and objectives that the U.N. adopted at the time of its creation are still timely, but the modalities and mechanisms for forging the common will must be changed absolutely.
Q: In what direction?
Archbishop Migliore: I think this is already clear to all. The situation in which the Security Council found itself at the moment of the debate on the Iraqi crisis, the importance that the Economic and Social Council — one of the principal organizations of the United Nations — has acquired in the last decade in the development of large international conferences, and the opportunity to associate non-governmental entities, such as NGOs, with the work of the organization, are factors which call for new procedures to enable the U.N. to promote its principles and objectives.
Q: The U.N. is presented as the supreme organ of international legality, but it functions as a terrain of compromise among different interests in which those of the strongest prevail. How can this basic contradiction be overcome?
Archbishop Migliore: From the very beginning, the procedures ruling the U.N. have been oriented to guarantee the safety of the balance of powers. However, in the new world context, marked by globalization, the point of view does not seem to be so much balance and dissuasion as it is interdependence.
The Pope mentioned this last January when he addressed the ambassadors accredited in the Vatican: “The independence of states cannot be conceived except in interdependence.” From this point of view, the most ideal ambit is the General Assembly, which includes all the member states of the U.N. on an equal footing.
Q: Could the end of a bipolar world and the emergence of a sole superpower make the U.N. increasingly ineffective?
Archbishop Migliore: At the time of the adoption of Resolution 1483 on the postwar in Iraq, these words were heard again in the Security Council: If the U.N. did not exist, it would have to be invented.
This might mean, among other things, that the weak point must not be sought only in procedures, but especially in the political will of those who participate in the shaping of consensus.
If one remains at the level of mere particular interests, agreement can easily be reached on the lowest common denominator, leaving room for those disposing of greater resources.
If, instead, there is a political will to identify the universal common good, something already referred to 40 years ago in the encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” then one can aim at the highest common denominator.
Q: The idea of multilateralism, along with the U.N., has gained ground. Is it still a feasible concept?
Archbishop Migliore: In its social doctrine, the Catholic Church favors a view of international authority in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity. At the recent U.N. conferences at Doha, Monterrey and Johannesburg, for example, commitments were made, among them, to pursue development that respects nature and to promote the development of poor countries by introducing them in the circuit of production and trade.
Q: Commitments that often remain on paper …
Archbishop Migliore: Multilateralism means that promises must be kept, and that it is not enough to make a simple gesture to lighten the external debt. It is necessary to revise barriers and economic subsidies in countries with a strong economy in order to allow poor countries to produce and enter the network of commercial exchange.
Today, the urgent need for disarmament is proposed again, in particular of the arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. Multilateralism means that if there is a desire to respect commitments that have been endorsed, the first to maintain the agreements must be, precisely, the strongest countries.
Moreover, it means that one cannot be selective in exacting respect from those who do not comply. Multilateralism must be revived, which is in crisis on many fronts, including respect for its fundamental rules.
Q: The Holy See does not tire of stressing the importance of the U.N. for peaceful coexistence. But on the occasion of important international conferences, it has distanced itself more than once from the orientations of the U.N. in matters of respect for life and the family.
Archbishop Migliore: The Holy See has maintained a very clear line in regard to the Iraqi crisis, stating from the beginning that the question was not the exclusive concern of one or a few governments.
If the problem was that of nuclear disarmament, chemical or biological, according to the rules and procedures established at the heart of the U.N., then it was up to the U.N. to makes its rules respected. It is a question of respect of international legality.
In regard to that, the Holy See expects much, because it is convinced that we have attained such a patrimony of consensus, rules, procedures, and control mechanisms that — if they are accepted and respected with determination by states — we can allow ourselves to resolve inevitable conflicts through legal and peaceful means.
Q: What is the situation in the matter of family and the right to life?
Archbishop Migliore: In the name of respect for international legality itself, the Holy See has always intervened in different international ambits, often in support of other delegations and at times even alone, going against the current, to support respect for the dignity of the human person.
It is not at all a question of a change of opinion or line at the U.N., but of a constant will to promote international legality which, according to the circumstances, is expressed in different positions but always understood to reinforce the capacity of the U.N. to promote the common good of peoples.