23rd May 1999

Our government's stand is simple: we want the Security Council reconstituted. No members should have veto power, all must be equal. Ideally, the Security Council should be a mirror reflecting realpolitik, changing relationships and
economic situations.

At present, the Council is dominated by the sole superpower - the United States - and it does not advance any cause when its leaders whack other leaders or nations on the slightest pretext.

Any improvement in relations between the superpower and the small nations will help build up the UN's influence, Security Council's and the superpower's own authority. Definitely bashing and punishing the UN through non-payment of obligatory debts, deriding contending opinions and attempting to erode other nations sovereignty are not helpful.

Even the sole superpower needs the cooperation of other powers (and smaller nations in particular, which form the majority in the General Assembly) in an international environment which exists now, especially when it wants justification and legitimacy to do something rash and harsh.

I will refer briefly to the role of the General Assembly. As its name suggests it is the main deliberative organ comprising all member states. Each, irrespective of size and status, has one vote.

Thus, China with a population of 1.3 billion and Palau, the smallest member state with only 17,000 people, are equal in the General Assembly.

Decision on important questions such as peace and security, admission of new members and budgetary matters, require a two-thirds majority while on other matters by a simple majority.

Annan has time and again said that the UN is an the verge of bankruptcy. It is being kept afloat only because of the financial contributions of European and Third World nations.

The US is mandated to pay 25% of the UN's US$1.2 billion (RM4.66 billion) annual budget, which means its share is US$373 million (RM1.4 billion) compared with Japan's US$189 million (RM718.2 million) and US101 (RM 383.8 million) lion for Germany: The three nations are the largest contributors.

Japan and Germany - as I told you earlier - aspire to be permanent members of the Security Council on the basis of their contributions and their present status in the world. However, their strong efforts have been consistently, vigorously and so far very successfully thwarted by a group of formidable ambassadors from Italy, Egypt, Mexico and Pakistan, and their formidable allies.

The UN has a tough year (or perhaps rough years) ahead - the Kosovo blood bath continues, the Angola peace deal has collapsed and the UN has decided to leave Angola thus opening for future instability, the downside of globalisation, the US is turning away from the UN, (its continued failure to pay arrears), there are the endless Middle East problems beside other trouble.

The UN has capitulated the -Baghdad's demands and the tension there is rising. Richard Butler's contract will not be renewed which is well received by many quarters. Let us see what the reconstituted Unscom - the UN Special Commission - can or cannot do. Unscom carries out on-site inspections of Iraq's alleged biological, chemical and missile capabilities and to destroy or render them useless.

The UN will be holding a Millennium Summit in New York next year. I look forward to it with mixed anticipation: happy that it will take place - bringing giants and pygmies together, but at the same time I am concerned that like past summit sessions, the millennium jamboree will be long on words and pledges but short on action after the usual initial euphoria wears off).

Kofi Annan has expressed high hopes and I pray his cautious optimism, though commendable, will not be dashed in 2001.

When judging the UN - its performances, successes and failures - it is important as Kofi Annan maintains - for friends and critics alike to judge the UN and the secretary-general (he, his predecessors and the successors) with Isiah Berlin called "sense of reality". By that Annan, means, I am sure, a realistic appreciation, limitations and responsibilities the organisation and office holders face.

The secretary-general has the potential to advance the interest of all member states only as long as it does not appear to serve the narrow interests of any one state or group of states. The secretary-general walks on a tight rope. His office, his strength, his effectiveness and his moral authority depend very much on a precarious balance.

Though it is sometimes tempting for him to give in to his personal feelings of personal outrage- at a specific transition, especially when told do so would win him political popularity in some quarters, he should resists and I am glad he has.

I believe most of the seven: secretaries-general the UN has had on the whole, maintained that balance, though one or two were more successful than others throughout more than 50 years of geopolitical change.

I am a mere ambassador, a special envoy. There are slightly more than 200 of us representing 185 nations. I have great hope in the UN. Well, we have to have hope, and I know Kofi Annan is doing the best he can. I sincerely cannot imagine the world without the UN.

There has been no world war since the inception of the UN the sun has set on empires, the bear has been slain and inspite of "bush wars" here and there, the world has never had it so good. We have an uninterrupted peace for a good 44 years now.

The small nations must always give their strong undivided support to the UN, especially through mobilising public support for the organisation amongst their peoples and elsewhere for only the UN - I repeat - only the UN is their defender against superpowers, regional powers and potential bullies.

I well know for all practical purposes, the organisation may always need the participation and support of big powers and rich nations to survive, but to succeed it will need the undivided support and keen enthusiasm of its full membership.

I would like to remind you what President Jack Kennedy said of the UN and peace on Sept 20, 1963 - two months three days later before his voice was stilled in Dallas on Nov 22, 1963. I quote him " Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding barriers, quietly building new structures. And however undramatic the pursuit of peace, that pursuit must go on."

Kofi Annan, Mahathir, Clinton, Blair, Castro, Jiang Zemin, Yeltsin, Chirac, Mandela, Arafat, Mubarak and many others are echoing what Kennedy said 33 years ago in whatever they do. And let us at our level take a stand today and let us see if we in our own time, can help the UN in its work to secure peace, security and prosperity for the people of this planet.

Over dinner last month, a senior American diplomat, an influential figure at the UN, told me and a federal judge and our wives that he just could not imagine the world without UN. I am greatly bolstered by his and other American's faith in the UN.

Although the UN faces many challenges and tests in the new century, amid the endemic skepticism and cynicism in Washington and several other capitals about its overall capabilities, we should not be too disheartened.

I am optimistic that the world shall need the UN more and more as time marches on. Meanwhile, let us see if we, in our own time, can help to make the world a better place.

(Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad is our envoy to the United Nations)

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