Jacques Chirac’s Lessons for the United Nations
A transcript of the former French president’s remarks at the 2003 General Assembly.
On Thursday, Jacques Chirac, who served as French president from 1995 to 2007, died at 86. Among many other memorable moments as leader, he’s known for trying to thwart the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq by working to prevent the U.N. Security Council from approving it. Of course, the United States launched the war anyway, and U.S. troops remain stationed in the country to this day. During an address to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2003, Chirac reflected on the challenge to the United Nations’ authority and offered a full-throated defense of multilateralism, which, he said, “is crucial because it ensures the participation of all in the management of world affairs. It is a guarantee of legitimacy and democracy, especially when decisions must be made with respect to the use of force or to the laying down of universal norms.” Those words will surely be on the minds of world leaders currently gathered in New York for this year’s U.N. General Assembly as they confront a host of challenges, including from Iran.
A transcript of his remarks, originally spoken in French, is below:
The United Nations has just emerged from one of the most serious challenges in its history. Respect for the charter and the use of force were at the heart of the debate. The war, which was launched without the Security Council’s authorization, has undermined the multilateral system.
Having come to terms with that crisis, our organization can now continue to move forward; for it is above all in this forum—the melting pot of the international order—that we must exercise our responsibilities to the world of today as well as to future generations.
In an open world, no one can live in isolation, no one can act alone in the name of all, and no one can accept the anarchy of a society without rules. There is no alternative to the United Nations. But in order to meet today’s challenges, this fundamental choice, expressed by the charter, requires a far-reaching reform of our organization.
Multilateralism is crucial because it ensures the participation of all in the management of world affairs. It is a guarantee of legitimacy and democracy, especially when decisions must be made with respect to the use of force or to the laying down of universal norms.
Multilateralism is effective. In Monterrey and Johannesburg, it allowed us to transcend North-South confrontation and to open the way to promising partnerships, in particular with the African continent.
Multilateralism is modern because it alone makes it possible to comprehend contemporary problems globally and in all of their complexity.
First, let me touch on the settlement of conflicts that threaten international peace and security.
In Iraq, the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis, who must have sole responsibility for their destiny, is essential for stability and reconstruction. It is up to the United Nations to lend its legitimacy to that process. It is also up to the United Nations to assist with the gradual transfer of administrative and economic responsibilities to the Iraqi institutions, according to a realistic timetable, and to help the Iraqis draft a constitution and hold general elections.
Finally, it is up to the United Nations to entrust a mandate to a multinational force, commanded, naturally, by the main troop contributor—that is, the United States—in order to ensure the security of Iraq and of all those helping to rebuild the country.
Thus the international community and the Iraqi people, united around a common project, will together put an end to the tragic decades of that great country’s history.
In the Middle East, ravaged by despair and hatred, only strong political will on both sides to implement the law as stipulated by the United Nations can pave the way for a just and lasting solution.
The international community must restore a dynamic for peace. It must involve itself in the implementation of the road map. That should be the objective of the upcoming meeting of the Quartet, to be held at the ministerial level. France believes that the idea of a monitoring mechanism is as relevant as ever and that the convening of an international conference is a goal to be attained as quickly as possible.
Given the present tense situation, France calls on the parties not to succumb to the temptation of a test of strength and of a futile radicalization.
Another major challenge is the fight against international terrorism. This fight is well under way, under the auspices of the Security Council and within the context of our treaties. The horror of Sept. 11 cemented our common resolve. This threat strikes at the very heart of our democracies and our societies. We are using force to combat terrorism, but that is not enough. It will reemerge again and again if we allow extremism and fanaticism to flourish—if we fail to realize that it seeks justification in the world’s unresolved conflicts and economic and social imbalances.
Given the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, we reject the policy of fait accompli. We must stand united to guarantee the universality of treaties and the effectiveness of nonproliferation regimes. In order to ensure compliance, we must also develop our means of action. France has proposed the creation of a permanent corps of inspectors under the authority of the Security Council. Let us give fresh impetus to this policy. Let us convene a summit meeting of the Security Council to outline a true plan of action of the United Nations against proliferation.
At this time, let us demand that North Korea completely, verifiably, and irreversibly dismantle its military program. Let us demand that Iran sign and implement, unconditionally and without delay, a strengthened nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Sustainable development poses yet another challenge because half of humankind is living in conditions of insecurity or extreme poverty. Will we be able to globalize solidarity, as our peoples demand, in response to the inevitable globalization of the economy?
We agree on the objectives. We are bound by the Millennium Goals. But, in order to attain those goals, strong political impetus remains necessary. I propose that heads of state and government meet in New York in 2005 for a preliminary progress review. I hope that this session of the General Assembly will confirm the determination of states to overcome the failure of Cancún [the 2003 ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization in Cancún, Mexico] and to ensure the success of the Doha Development Round.
In order to carry out the missions entrusted to it and to remedy its blatant shortcomings, the United Nations must evolve. Three watchwords, I believe, must guide us: democracy, authority, effectiveness. Thanks to the secretary-general, progress has been made, and new avenues are opening up. It is now up to states to move forward without further ado and to put an end to the adverse consequences of the stalemate over reforms.
The United Nations is suffering from the current weakness of the General Assembly. And yet, it is here that a debate should be organized and a consensus crafted regarding solutions to major problems. A culture of confrontation must give way to a culture of action aimed at achieving our common goals, which we should determine together.
The primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security rests with the Security Council. It is therefore essential to its legitimacy that its composition reflect the state of the world. It must be expanded to include new permanent members because the presence of major countries is necessary. France, naturally, is thinking of Germany and of Japan but also of some leading countries of Asia, Africa, and [the Americas]. We also need new elected members to make the council even more representative. With the decisive impetus of the five permanent members, we all need to resume discussions, mindful of the general interest.
Such reform should be accompanied by a strengthening of the council’s authority. It is the council that should set the bounds with respect to the use of force. No one can claim the right to use force unilaterally and preventively. Conversely, in the face of mounting threats, states must be assured that the council has at its disposal the appropriate means of evaluation and of collective action and that it has the will to act.
We all are very committed to the sovereignty of states. But its scope can and should be limited in the case of serious violations of human rights and of humanitarian law. The Security Council is taking steps in that direction, and France supports this development.
Meanwhile, crimes against humanity are being suppressed more effectively with the establishment of the International Criminal Court, whose jurisdiction is universal. This historic step forward must be accompanied by a strengthening of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, under a commission equipped to discharge its duties and its mission.
We now realize that globalization demands stronger economic, social, and environmental governance. To that end, France proposes the creation of a new political forum representative of the present economic state of today’s world in all its diversity. That council would be responsible for providing the necessary impetus to international institutions, for improving their coordination, and for anticipating and tackling global problems more effectively.
Effectiveness also depends on increased financial resources. France calls for two changes.
First, the trend toward increasing voluntary contributions at the expense of mandatory contributions must be reversed. Failing that, we will end up with a pick-and-choose United Nations, which is an outdated vision and a harmful one.
Secondly, we need to make progress in mobilizing funds for development and development assistance. France wants to meet the official development assistance target of 0.7 percent by the year 2012. But this effort, together with that of the European Union, will obviously not suffice to release the necessary funds needed to finance the Millennium Goals each year. France therefore supports the innovative concept of an international financial facility. I would also like us to give pragmatic, speedy consideration to international solidarity levies, a kind of tax on the wealth generated by globalization and given over to development.
To advance on these issues, I completely approve of the secretary-general’s intention to gather around him a committee of independent wise men and women responsible for submitting proposals.
Against the risk of a world without order delivered up to violence, let us work to establish the rule of international law. Against the injustice and suffering of a world of widening inequalities—even though it has never been so rich—let us choose solidarity. Against the chaos of a world shaken by ecological disasters, let us call for a sharing of responsibility around a United Nations environmental organization. Against the barbarity of a world in which fundamental rights are all too often held up to ridicule, where the integrity of mankind is under threat, where indigenous peoples—the heirs to an irreplaceable heritage—vanish amid silence and indifference, let us uphold the demands of ethics. Against the peril of a clash of civilizations, finally, let us insist on the equal dignity of cultures, respect for diversity, and the value of dialogue.
With the charter adopted in the name of the peoples of the United Nations, the founders proclaimed their faith in these ideals. Let us seek to be worthy of them. Let us establish the United Nations at the heart of this planetary democracy that is so vital in our day and age.
Transcript drawn from the United Nations.