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"The Role of Norms, Values and Institutions in International Politics", Key-not Address by Professor Dr Danilo Türk of the 27th Training Course of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy

Ženeva, Švica, 7. 6. 2013 | govori

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It is a great privilege and honour to be invited to offer the key-note address at the closing ceremony of this year's International Training Course in Security Policy. Your programme addressed an era of complex challenges - as pointed out in the title of the 27th training course - and brought together a distinguished group of practitioners of many fields relevant to security policy. I have no doubt that the conclusions you have reached as a result of this most exciting intellectual exercise are of great relevance and will help you in your practice.

Today is the day for celebration - but also a moment for reflection. During the training course you addressed issues that are both - specific to our time as well as fundamental. This is why, I believe, I have been asked to speak today about something which is both fundamental and time specific: The role of values, norms and institutions in international politics. The emphasis is placed on politics - and for good reasons. It is in the dynamic process of politics where the factors of power meet the world of values and norms. And it is the process of politics which shapes the actual working of institutions. So, politics must be at the centre.

It is worth reminding ourselves that international politics has always been a rough place, dominated by struggle for power. This has been the case since the time of the Peloponesian war to our era, currently preoccupied with the war in Syria and with the instability of the wider Middle East. History is a constant reminder of the decisive importance of power in international politics. The somber message of the "Melian dialogue", articulated masterfully by Thucydides, still resonates in many situations of modern international politics: "The strong do as they can and the weak suffer as they must." Far too often power prevails over the moral argument.

But it would be factually incorrect and morally wrong to believe that power and military force alone decide all the important questions of international politics. The famous question posed by Stalin - "How many divisions does the Pope have at his disposal" - received a convincing answer several decades later, at the end of the cold war: None, was the answer, but he can nevertheless generate important changes in the international environment. The role of human spirit, the power of ideas and the importance of human values that bind people together must never be underestimated.

And then there is the world of norms. Niccolo Macchiavelli, the father of political realism, reminded his readers that there are two ways of contesting - either by force or by law - and force must be resorted to because law is not always sufficient. As a cultured man, he gave a clear preference to the legal ways. At the same time, as a practitioner of politics, he was sufficiently realistic to understand the limits of law as an instrument of statecraft and of international politics. Therefore he did not hesitate to advise his Prince to be determined and brutal.

However, there are moments in international politics when the use of force becomes so counterproductive that the softer aspects of human nature prevail. Human values gain ground and law becomes the chosen way to durable solutions. People wary of war invariably start searching for the way out of the war and the path leads them into the world of norms and institutions. Conlusion of the Peace of Westphalia (1648) was such a moment. It ended a period of religious wars in Europe with an agreement which constituted a new international system based on the legal principle of territorial sovereignty of states. This legal solution has been the main organizing principle of the international system ever since. Let us take this principle seriously. It came about at a serious cost and it continues to be a cornerstone of peace today and into the future.

Another important example of the search for solutions in the world of norms and institutions can be found in the thinking during the Napoleonic wars. The statesmen of that era had to devise a new system which would provide stability in the post war Europe and searched for values, norms and institutions that would make this possible. A promising approach was developed in the memorandum written in 1805 by the British Prime Minister William Pitt (the Younger). The memorandum had an apt and ambitious title: "Deliverance and Security in Europe". The innovative idea expressed in that document was that post war arrangements cannot be built solely on border changes and balance of power among the European empires. What was needed, according to Pitt, was an arrangement which would enable "…. a general and comprehensive system of Public Law in Europe, and provide, as far as possible, for repressing future attempts to disturb the general Tranquility…."

The Pitt memorandum became the blueprint for the British diplomatic strategy at the Congress of Vienna and helped in the creation of the Holy Alliance. At the Congress, the major European powers restored peace with a combination of territorial changes and political arrangements to which they added a new normative and institutional dimension. The normative focus of this approach, "the Public Law of Europe" element, was the key to the concept of the modern collective security that was developed much further in the 20th century. Today, two centuries later, we cannot imagine the existence of Europe without its tightly knit web of legal arrangements, "a comprehensive system of public law of Europe" as the modern version of a reliable guarantee of European peace and tranquility.

The same normative idea inspired the system of collective security of the 20th century. The immense suffering of the two world wars convinced the political leaders to make the idea of collective security the centerpiece of the construction of peace and to expand the scope of international law as the "way of contesting" - to use one of the Macchiavelli's expressions. The Covenant of the League of Nations in 1919 brought a host of new norms and institutions. The new system put arbitration and adjudication at the centre of the effort to resolve the international differences peacefully. The whole design was a product of the legal mind. This is not surprising, given the fact that its chief architect, American president Woodrow Wilson was a distinguished professor of constitutional law. It is entirely appropriate, especially here in Geneva, the city of the seat of the League of Nations, to pay tribute to this great leader and to his achievements.

At the same time, it is necessary to understand the lesson of history relating to the limits of normative ideas and legal solutions in international politics. The League of Nations relied too heavily on the legal norms and institutions and, critically, did not (and, given the historic circumstances, probably could not) incorporate two other key elements which are essential for success of an international institution aiming at the preservation of peace - the balance of power and a platform of shared values. The demise of the League of Nations has made this lesson painfully clear.

The League's successor, the United Nations, did better, in fact, much better. The Charter of the UN incorporated the balance of power quite successfully. The design of UN Security Council and the status of its five permanent members by and large proved to be historically adequate. The UN also offered a broad platform of common values: It developed a comprehensive legal system of promotion and protection of human rights, imperfect, yes, but still much more developed than anything known in the earlier periods of human history.

The process of construction of the UN has been long and arduous. During the four decades of the cold war the Security Council appeared paralysed and there were doubts about the adequacy of the Charter design itself. However, since late 1980s the Council functions broadly as the authors of the UN Charter had expected. This should be considered as a success of historic proportions.

The same can be said about the UN system of promotion and protection of human rights which was developed gradually, proceeding from the embryonic provisons on human rights in the Charter of the UN. The key development in this construction was the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 "…as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations…" An ambitious statement, typical for the immediate post-World- War II period.

It is sometimes suggested that human rights cannot, in fact, be a universal platform of shared values, given the differences among the world's many cultures and the diversity of paths of human development. Moreover, some critics maintain that human rights are a product of the Western civilization and imposed on others who were not, at the time of adoption, yet in a position to make a genuine contribution to the content of the Universal Declaration.

It is only natural that such criticism exists, inviting a continuous discussion on human rights. However, it should be understood that the original aim of the Universal declaration of Human Rights was not domination, but the wish to create a strong firewall against re-emergence of oppression, which had been among the primary causes of the World War II. It was entirely logical for the war-weary generation to start building a system that would help preventing a relapse into a situation of oppression and war, which gave rise to so much suffering. Moreover, in the subsequent process of construction of the human rights system, many voices were heard and many new ideas were included, among them the right of peoples to self determination and the human right to development. And the debate continues. The universality of human rights is being strengthened - gradually, steadily and in a sustainable manner.

It is not an exaggeration to say that today the international politics must always take into account the requirements of universal human rights. Human rights are an important expression of values that the entire mankind shares and must be upheld by practical action. The existing norms, institututions and state power, all must be brought into the picture in the effort to fulfill this fundamental requirement of our time. This is, after all, the purpose of values we share - they must be protected and ensured in real life. The question is, how?
There is, obviously, no single or uniform answer to this question. Many roads lead to Rome. Many things need to be done to make human rights a reality. Let us take a look at an experience which is pariticularly close to the questions of international security.

In the 1980s, in the decade leading to the ending of the cold war, great advances were made in the realization of human rights. The ending of apartheid, the demise of military rule in the countries of Latin America, the collapse of Soviet Union and the ending of soviet style regimes in Eastern Europe represented a very positive change and a victory of values embodied in the international code of human rights. The era of triumph of human rights brought about new institutions, most notably the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and led to significant improvements in the international system for promotion and protection of human rights.

In addition, the new situation gave rise to a sense of triumph of human rights and created a new moral high ground. The question to be answered was: How to address the situations after the period of human rights violations and what to do about perpetrators of massive and systematic violations? Justice, was the answer. Impunity was declared unacceptable. But what was justice expected to mean? In many cases it meant prosecution and retribution. In many others, the answer was truth and reconciliation. Justice seemed to be the order of the day in the new era.

The sense of triumph of human rights did not last long, however. In one of bitter ironies of history, it was ended in only a few years, in the wake of massive atrocities of wars in the Balkans and the genocide in Rwanda, followed by the crimes in many other parts of Africa. The 1990s were a terrible time. The international community and its organizations were unable to prevent the atrocities or at least stop them at an eraly stage. Instead, it was agreed to prosecute the perpetrators. New international institutions were established for the purpose - a host of international criminal tribunals and, finally, the International Criminal Court with a broad, almost global jurisdiction.

Two weeks ago the international community commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, the first among the international criminal tribunals established in the post-cold-war era. This anniversary was an occasion to reflect upon the entire experience of the working of justice in a situation of a vicious war and its aftermath. The experience is mixed. The tribunal must be hailed for its pioneering work and for the achievement of having brought many of the main war criminals to justice. On the other hand, it must be also recognized that many crimes remained unpunished and, above all, that there is still a long way to reconciliation.

And today, twenty years later, something fundamental is equally clear as it was at the beginning: It would have been much better to prevent the atrocities in the Balkans, in Africa and elsewhere than to allow situations in which prosecution of crimes against humanity and war crimes became necessary. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. But how to achieve that in the complex world of international politics in which norms have a limited effect and where strong do as they can and the weak suffer as they must? Very few wars can be deemed as clearly preventable and even when they are, prevention is seldom pursued with the necessary sense of urgency and with the needed unity of purpose. Prevention of armed conflicts remains one of the most elusive areas of international cooperation.

How to deal with armed conflicts at the early stages so as to minimize destruction and human suffering? Conflict formation and dynamics, as well as conflict resolution take time, a lot of precious time, as the international community is tragically re-learning again today in Syria. Armed conflicts in our era exact a heavy toll on human life, in particular among civilian population. The international community has every reason to strengthen its institutions and make them capable of acting as early as possible - by diplomatic means as a matter of course, and by military force when absolutely necessary and possible.

This moral imperative is expressed in a number of recent international pronouncements, in particular in the much discussed concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), and enjoys significant political support. Through General Assembly resolutions it has gained a measure of normative underpinning as well as a degree of institutional backing. One can already say that, at present, the concept of Responsibility to Protect represents the most significant single expression of the will of the international community to engage values, norms and institutions to prevent horrible crimes against humanity and massive human rights violations.

However, the political pronouncements by the UN General Assembly are not enough. In addition to the moral imperative and to its normative and institutional backing it is necessary to to engage an adequate amount of power and, most important, it is vital to employ sound political judgment and responsible political guidance.

The latter requirement cannot be overemphasized. In matters of conflict prevention and conflict resolution there is no substitute for the sound political judgment and responsible political guidance directing all other factors, including especially the military force.

While this may sound axiomatic as an abstract principle, it is not easily realized in practice. I am sure that your discussions have elucidated many problems arising in this context. The facts of any situation before and during an armed conflict are usually unclear, covered by the inevitable "fog of war". The political and military assessments of facts are most often divergent. This is so because of the complexity of the situation itself, or because of difference in perceptions generated by political interests of the players involved. Furthermore, in the media driven world of today there is never a shortage of rhetoric and imagery supporting a particular line of analysis or a specific course of action, no matter how inaccurate or inadequate. This adds to the complexity which has to be dealt with by decision makers. Moreover, the decision makers have to be careful in the conduct of their debate. They must not confuse rhetoric on the one hand and real thought on the other. They must also not allow prejudices to diminish their ability to listen to convincing, albeit unwelcome argument.

A particular set of criteria has to be taken into account in decision making regarding the use of military force. Here, rhetoric must not be allowed as a substitute for serious thought. It should be clear throughout that there is no such a thing as a "light military intervention". The rhetoric of the "military lite" option must be set aside. Peacekeepers must not be sent to situations of war where there is no peace to keep. Illusions of any kind must be avoided.

Furthermore, any contemplation of the use of military force, including a peacekeeping force, must include a vision of its ending - its exit strategy. This is very difficult given the usual unpredictability of the situations requiring deployment of military force. There is no strategy without an exit. But then again, there is also no exit without a strategy. Military experts, political decision makers and experienced diplomats must be very well aware of that. The task is to devise a functioning formula early enough to enable success.

And then, the use of military force must be legitimized. A mandate from the Security Council can provide it. But there are grey areas and complicating factors which make this requirement difficult. Mandates agreed to by the Security Council are often ambiguous or unclear. Sometimes regional organizations work at a higher pace and create additional difficulties to the process in the Security Council. And sometimes the Security Council finds itself in a situation of an "ex post facto legitimizer" of the use of force by regional organizations. All this makes the role of the Security Council less authoritative and less predictable. Is this likely to diminish the authority of the Security Council and the UN? Only time will tell.

The experience of the last decades has - time and again - confirmed a simple and fundamental truth. Ther are no "military-lite" or "diplomacy-lite" options available to the responsible decision makers. Military options, when deemed necessary and legitimate, must be designed so as to ensure the achievement of their declared objectives. Diplomatic options have to include the will to engage diplomacy to the full, including the necessary diplomatic "heavy lifting". I am convinced that the diplomats preparing the conference on Syria are very well aware of this.

Political and diplomatic approaches to security achieve little if they are not supported by real power, including the military power. But the opposite is also true: Force and military power can achieve little if not used in the framework of values, norms and institutions. This is the only way to move beyond the type of international politics in which the strong do as they can and the weak suffer as they must. And this is why the "holy triad" of values, norms and institutions is so important in international politics.

I wish to congratulate the participants of the 27th International Training Course in Security Policy, the lecturers, the Course directors and others who made the course possible. You have accomplished an important mission and I am convinced there there will be, in your future work, many further important missions. I wish you every success in the future as well.

Thank you for your attention.