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UNA Harpenden: Lord Wood speaks at UNA Harpenden meeting

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“Both the UK and the UN have many great strengths but both need to be more effective players in global peace-making and peacekeeping”, said Lord Stewart Wood, UNA-UK's new Kentish-born Chairman, at a well-attended meeting of UNA Harpenden on 26 November. “The UK also needs to help the UN confront and resolve particularly the new challenges of global terrorism, migration and widespread abuses of human rights”.

Lord Wood observed that, after the end of the Cold War, nationalistic and non-state organisations started to re-emerge, such as in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. International and regional organisations have not dealt with these very effectively, as their main emphasis has been on nation states. The economic crash of 2008 also led to the unwinding of international economic cooperation. The way in which businesses, banks, politicians and the media have shown insensitivity to the worst effects of globalisation at the expense of the poor and middle class has undoubtedly led to the Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump as US President, and political uncertainty in many European countries. In addition, ordinary people have seen how politicians - in the US and the UK over Iraq, and Russia over Crimea and the Ukraine - have blatantly sidestepped cooperation with international and regional organisations, such as the UN, undermining their credibility.

As the US threatens to introduce a new era of protectionism and many traditional boundaries have collapsed, especially in the Middle East, the world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place, stretching the effectiveness of the UN to the limit. In addition, it has to contend with the new challenges of cross-border terrorism – whether cyber or human - as well as migration and the abuse of human rights by nation states and others. At the same time, the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are challenging US political, military and economic power and Russia and China are openly flexing their military muscles, leading to increased instability in the world. In addition, the rise of Trump, the menace of Mr Putin and the Brexit result are threatening to marginalise the UN in favour of the "cult of ad hoc-ery" –  a term coined by former UNA-UK Chair, Sir Jeremy Greenstock.

"However, the UN is and should be a force for positive global developments and cooperation", said Lord Wood. He highlighted the success of the Paris climate change agreement and welcomed that countries such as South Africa and Kazakhstan had renounced nuclear weapons. He urged the new UN Secretary-General to engage more effectively with the P5 states and learn from the UN’s past mistakes - particularly crimes committed by UN peacekeepers. “Global problems – like migration – need global solutions and the UN is the only organisation able to resolve them. However, the UN must do more to pre-empt possible conflicts and to become stronger and more effective", said Lord Wood.

Regarding the UK in this changed global world, he stated that alliances were best formed through shared values, not through apparent benefits. The UK has a long and proud history of setting international norms of conduct and of punching above its weight by its words and actions. It has, for example, set a strong moral lead on overseas aid, encouraged public involvement in the election of the new UN leader, supported the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and supported the elimination of international tax avoidance. The City of London institutions are vital in helping to resolve world economic challenges.

He concluded by saying that some British people may believe that the UK will be better off out of Europe, but there is surely consensus that it must still engage fully in a global world. For that reason, UNA-UK will be launching a campaign in the new year entitled: 'Keeping Britain Global' which will try to re-engage people of all ages in the political process which is currently out of fashion.

William Say, UNA Harpenden