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Illuminating Night at Harvard Club of Japan (with David Malone, 2015)

TOKYO – Dr. David Malone yesterday gave an insightful and brilliant talk about the United Nation Security Council –its inner workings in times of crisis, and its need for reform.

High above the rainy embassy district of central Tokyo, on the 51st floor of the grand Roppongi Hills Mori Tower where the prestigious ‘Roppongi Hills Club’ is located (regular membership fees start at 1.2m Yen/10,000 USD), the ‘Harvard Club of Japan’ rents its venues and invites outstanding speakers (such as Ezra Vogel) for a small, yet surprisingly diverse audience (some of us went to Harvard for a year, less than a year, or even not at all).

I won’t bore you with too many details, only that I was genuinely surprised to hear that the five permanent members of the Security Council, in Dr. Malone’s view, actually do manage to work quite well together in the vast majority of cases (and that actual ‘vetoing’ resolutions is rare), and that the most difficult task for the United Nations aren’t international wars, but civil wars.

Now, I don’t even pretend to know advanced academic research on the topic of conflict resolution, but it makes a lot of commonsense to assume that rebel forces (for example, pro-Russian forces in the Ukraine), once in full gear, are unlikely to stop after first blood is spilled, for the simple reason that doing so would result in great personal consequences: “Communities that rise up against a central government are in great danger because they usually get severely punished.”

Moreover, while it is always easy to identify the “bad” government (otherwise, why the rebellion), it is much harder to locate the resistance because it usually consists of many groups with an ever-changing leadership. Applying diplomatic wisdom to the current civil war in the Ukraine, Dr. Malone illustrated, it seems clear that “Ukraine is not yet ready for resolution or settlement.” The rebel forces just have too much to lose, and can still see themselves win.

Anyway, leaving the Ukraine aside, the main purpose of the United Nations in this decade, says Dr. Malone, is

  • Fighting terrorism
  • Preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction
  • Engaging in humanitarian aid

The methods how to enforce its resolutions are age-old, repetitive, and somewhat effective: sanctions, naval barricades, and coercion.

Dr. Malone went on to describe important UN resolutions (from Rwanda to Kosovo, Iran, Kuwait, the Cold War, Iraq, and Ukraine), and notable challenges to the United Nations, including resistance against UN involvement by national governments and -courts, ethical dilemmas, the rise of NGO (Non-government organization) voices (“because they know a lot of things that countries don’t know”), and, finally, persistent calls for change in the Security Council. Despite initiatives by a group of strong candidates (India, Brazil, Japan, Germany, and South Africa), the permanent Five (USA, Russia, China, Britain, and France) regularly promised “support” but ultimately did nothing: “So draw your own conclusions.”

There is “a certain rudeness and arrogance” exhibited by the Big Five, describes Dr. Malone; yet “there are also no illusions that the new candidates, once voted “in”, would be any less rude and arrogant.” The five permanent members “simply know the proceedings, reinterpret the rules to their advantage, and get along rather well when it comes to guarding their advantage.”

Dr. Malone ended his speech with ideas about the possible future of the Security Council and the new realities in this 21st Century and the rise of Asia (and decline of Europe). In particular, he recommends a proposal put forward by a certain, ever more influential thinker: Kishore Mahbubani –academic, diplomat, and author of “Can Asians think?”. Dr. Mahbubani’s vision allows for only one seat for Western Europe, instead of the two seats currently held by France and Britain. You know… the sort of UN resolution that would immediately trigger vetoes by France and Britain: “They [the Big Five] have in common a desire to protect absolutely their privileges.”

Thank you very much to the organizers and its Club’s secretary, Yukari Fujita.

Altogether a wonderfully memorable, exciting night at the Harvard Club of Japan.

Dr. David M. Malone joined the United Nations University on 1 March 2013 as its sixth Rector. In that role, he holds the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.