26 October 2015

A Q&A with Doug Roche – The UN in the 21st Century

Prof. Douglas Roche appeared at the United Nations Bookshop in New York on 8 October to launch his new book titled: “The UN in the 21st Century”. Prof. Roche was Canada’s Ambassador for disarmament, and was appointed to the Canadian Senate from 1998-2004. UN Academic Impact Intern Laura Phillips got a chance to meet with Prof. Roche beforehand to discuss some of the topics from his book.

Q: Let’s start with the question that forms the premise of your book: is the United Nations effective in building human security?

A: Human security in the world has greatly increased as a result of the UN work. The humanitarian dimensions of the UN are reflected in the work of refugees, vulnerable people and also the progress of the Millennium Development Goals, where economic and social development of millions lifted two billion people out of poverty.

Q: When the UN was founded in 1945, there were 51 Member States. Now there are 193. Should the structure of the UN change to reflect the geopolitical landscape as it is today, versus the one that existed 70 years ago when it was created?

A: In my view the Security Council needs to be enlarged, the P5 [Permanent Five] members exclude any permanent seat for all of Africa, Latin America and only one seat in Asia. It’s tilted too heavily to Western States so the modern demography that has developed requires a Security Council that is more reflective of the modern world, thus India, Japan, Germany, and Brazil that should be added as permanent members of the Security Council without a veto. The non-permanent members (10 serving for 2 years) need to be enlarged so that more states can become eligible to serve in a security council. What we need is an attitudinal change by governments towards the UN and an increase in funding. The UN programmes costs 30 billion dollars a year, that total represents 1.76 per cent of the money that governments are spending on military. The disparity between governments spends on the UN and what they spend on military is astounding.

Q: You talk a great deal in your book about the divide between rich and poor, the need for social justice “especially those deprived … by the voraciousness of the rich and powerful”, and how poverty is exacerbated by monetary and economic policy and environmental degradation. Why is it important that the UN addresses not only the policies, but also the structures underpinning these inequities as well?

A: Security is no longer the domain of the state, but the human being. The interplay of development, human rights, peace and security issues all go together to make up security or ‘common security’. We’re not there yet by any means but the UN is advancing this and the SDG’s [Sustainable Development Goals] particularly not only get government but private corporations and businesses to buy into it. There is a happy wedding here of humanitarian and business interests to create a more stable world, one that is not racked with wars.

Q: What do you think has been the UN’s greatest achievement since its founding?

A: There is not a person in the world that hasn’t been affected one way or another by one of the UN programmes. That’s an achievement.

Q: Aside from the SDG’s, what are the UN’s biggest challenges in the future?

A: In the 21st century, there are two paramount problems which must be resolved; climate change and nuclear weapons. The UN is certainly doing a lot with COP21 [Conference of Parties] and I think something will certainly come from it. I have considerable hope that the UN having weathered through 70 years as well as it has can further institutionalise the building of peace and security in the world.