International Relations Depend on Approaching Concerns Multilaterally.


The secretary-general, in his opening address to the 57th session of the UN General Assembly, emphasised that "there is no substitute for the legitimacy provided by the United Nations". Even during the cold war, many issues of global concern were addressed with a multilateral approach, through the Security Council or other multilateral mechanisms. Many Security Council decisions made common strategies possible and allowed snarling protagonists to withdraw from otherwise calamitous courses of action. During this period, more than 500 multilateral treaties, most negotiated under the auspices of the UN, were deposited with the secretary-general. These cover human rights, terrorism, organised crime, the environment, disarmament, space, the oceans and so on. While many may have serious inadequacies, they also reflect an endeavour by states to realise common goals and, increasingly, the aspirations of civil society and individuals.

It is amazing how many of our daily activities are facilitated by an intricate web of multilateral treaties: the posting of a letter in a box and its successful delivery in a distant land; the boarding of an aircraft in one country and the completion of a journey in another or the daily unhindered passage of thousands of ships and cargoes across borders and seas.

It is only when a country refuses to join a multilateral initiative for its own reasons or breaches its obligations under the multilateral treaty framework that we tend to hear about it. Thus our attention is constantly drawn to the refusal of the US to ratify the Kyoto protocol or of its opposition to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Recent history demonstrates that multilateral approaches to address common concerns, with objectives carefully defined, offer a higher level of comfort to the international community, especially to weaker members, and the general prospect of success, despite certain drawbacks, including often slower rates of progress towards established goals. They encourage a sense of commitment and participation from all states to a cause and a lower level of opposition. Very importantly, they contribute to enhancing the international rule of law and the progress towards a global relations system based less on brute arbitrary force.

Palitha T. B. Kohona,
Chief, Treaty Section,
United Nations.

Source: By Palitha Dr Kohona - Financial Times (London), Letters to the Editor, Pg. 14 - 24Sep02.

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This document has been published on 04Oct02 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights