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June 17, 2010

We will not react

Carnegie Council: The Voice for Ethics in International Affairs, March 4, 2004

KISHORE MAHBUBANI (former UN representative of Singapore):

If you want to look at the future of the Security Council, remember the accountability point, because the Council is in a very peculiar situation today. As its role and importance grow significantly, it is affecting more and more lives on the ground in Asia, Africa, Haiti and Latin America.

Who owns the Council? Who provides its legitimacy? Maybe the best way of understanding this is to understand the core function of the Council.

The work of the Council has been compared to a fire department. The Security Council is supposed to come out and put out the conflicts no matter where they happen. But in practice, the Council’s record is mixed. If it affects Park Avenue, the Security Council reacts. If it doesn’t affect Park Avenue, in some parts of Africa, the Security Council doesn’t react. And these double standards are beginning to be perceived.

The 1994 Rwandan genocide was the lowest point for the Council. We all assume that after the mistake of Rwanda, the Security Council will not fail again.

Unfortunately, I learned one big lesson after visiting Burundi in the Great Lakes region. When we returned to New York, the 15 Security Council members met with Gareth Evans, who asked us a simple question: “You’ve been to Burundi, you’ve seen how fragile the situation is. This time around, if a genocide breaks out in Burundi, what will the Council do?”

There was an awkward silence before one P5 member said, “My country has no vital national interest in Burundi, and we will not react.” A second P5 member said, “My country has no vital national interest in Burundi, so we will not react.” And this went around....

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