Reforming the United Nations: a closer look at the Annan report

October 10, 2005 - nr.41

The AIV’s conclusion is that it is important to work towards a reformed, more effective UN. To encourage this type of ‘effective multilateralism’, the UNSG’s proposals should be given a proper chance and as much support as possible. That has been the AIV’s general approach in this report, but it has also made comments and pointed out other options in certain cases. In doing so, it has looked at how the Netherlands in particular could contribute to the reforms.

Broad definition of security
In line with its earlier advisory reports, the AIV welcomes the UNSG’s decision to adopt a broad definition of security. For this decision to be successful, however, UN bodies, and especially the Security Council, will have to conform to demanding new concepts of what their work entails and the speed with which they must act. The UNSG’s proposals to develop new instruments in the areas of prevention, reconstruction, human rights monitoring and development therefore deserve support.

Responsibility to protect
The UNSG has opted for the concept of collective ‘responsibility to protect’. If a state is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens, the community of nations as a whole has a responsibility to protect them and to intervene if necessary. This has implications for the operational capabilities that the UN needs in order to act. For this and other reasons, the AIV endorses this principle as a new cornerstone for collective security.

Terrorism: definition and strategy
The AIV supports the recommendation to adopt a coherent, comprehensive strategy for preventing and fighting terrorism, with respect for human rights. Organisationally too, there is room for improvement within the UN. Although it may be difficult to achieve quick results, the AIV urges the Dutch government to take the initiative in talks on these matters. In particular, the AIV recommends that the government express its agreement with recent Security Council decisions and the UNSG’s statement endorsing the definition of terrorism propagated by the HLP.

Weapons of mass destruction
The AIV acknowledges the seriousness of the wide-ranging and extremely diverse issues raised by weapons of mass destruction and the need to tackle them, and will discuss this in a separate report. It also supports the UNSG’s appeal for new international agreements to curb international trade in small arms.

Peacekeeping operations/peacebuilding
The AIV supports the focus on peacekeeping operations and post-conflict peacebuilding, and refers to a number of recent advisory reports specifically dealing with these topics. It endorses the stated position on contribution of troops and cooperation with regional and interregional organisations, but believes this should be put into proper perspective. The AIV believes it would be wise for each organisation to focus initially on its strengths. Regional organisations, particularly the African Union, also deserve the full support of Western countries for their efforts to build capacity to conduct crisis management and peacekeeping operations on behalf of the UN.

The AIV takes the view that classic ‘blue helmet’ peacekeeping operations will continue to be an important UN task, if only because the UN is in some cases the only organisation that can carry out such operations. The troops involved need to be equipped as well as possible and given ‘robust’ mandates. In principle, military intervention that is certain or likely to involve actual use of force should mainly be left to a suitably equipped regional or interregional organisation, with or without outside support or cooperation. Accordingly, the AIV does not consider it self-evident that the UN should have its own military capabilities for such purposes. What needs to be encouraged is a well-integrated approach. There is still a great deal to be done, particularly in the areas of prevention, reconstruction and development, which are essential for lasting improvements.

Settlement of disputes
The AIV strongly endorses the emphasis on peaceful settlement of disputes. All available resources in the fields of preventive diplomacy, reconciliation and mediation should be used for this purpose. It is logical that this will require additional funding.


The establishment and operation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an unprecedented development, and the AIV considers it vital to ensure that the Court is diverted as little as possible from its course by international politics and/or internal politics in zones of conflict. The ICC should confine itself to criminal investigation, prosecution and adjudication. In order for it to perform its duties properly, effective cooperation with the Security Council as well as support and appropriate policymaking by the UN will be required.

The AIV supports the UNSG’s appeal to make fuller use of the International Court of Justice. Further simplification and greater transparency of its procedures, and increased public access to its documents, may make countries even more committed to it. This is necessary, for the functioning of the Court is hampered by capacity problems. Political and financial support from every country is needed to solve them.

Use of force
As regards use of force, the AIV agrees with the UNSG’s interpretation that preemptive action against imminent attack is covered by the right to self-defence as set forth in Article 51 of the UN Charter. The AIV/CAVV presented detailed arguments for this view in a recent advisory report.

The AIV also believes that primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security lies with the Security Council, which should shoulder that responsibility. Using a very broad interpretation of the term ‘threats to the peace’, the Security Council has often already done so and has taken both diplomatic and coercive measures to counter such threats. The AIV agrees with the recommendation to draw up criteria for possible use of force under the auspices of the Security Council. Even if not laid down in a resolution, such criteria may emerge independently, and the AIV therefore advises the government to support them.

As regards humanitarian intervention, the key question is still what should happen if the Security Council fails to act because of disagreement among its members. The AIV fully endorses the view that the workings of the Security Council need to be improved so that this question will no longer arise. However, given the harsh reality that the Security Council is sometimes deeply divided and paralysed in the face of humanitarian emergencies, the AIV believes that humanitarian intervention under the conditions described in earlier advisory reports should not be ruled out.

Institutional reforms/expansion of the Security Council
The AIV agrees that the composition of the Security Council needs to change, and considers it important to work towards a Security Council that is more representative of as wide a geographical range of countries as possible. If this can be achieved, the Netherlands should press for any possible consensus on the subject. The AIV notes with regret that the government no longer refers to ‘greater representativeness’ as a specific goal. Such a position is hard to reconcile with the need to review the composition of the Security Council in the common interest. The AIV feels that there should be a better balance between the contributions a country makes to the UN and its say in decision-making, and also believes that this should be impressed upon members of the Security Council in anticipation of the review. Incidentally, this is entirely in line with Article 23, paragraph 1 of the Charter. The AIV shares the government’s dissatisfaction with the failure to acknowledge countries’ efforts within the UN, which is ascribed to a purely rotational system within regional groups. The upcoming change in the size of the Security Council can logically be expected to reduce the influence of the now numerically overrepresented European (especially western European) countries. This will also have implications for the Netherlands. To help cushion the impact of this when non-permanent members are elected, the AIV believes that a serious effort should be made to apply quality criteria (such as contributions to international peacekeeping and development cooperation) and to work towards a Security Council seat for the EU. Since this seems unlikely to happen for the time being, it would be an interesting idea to attach a representative of the EU Council Secretariat to Germany’s Council seat, should it obtain one. The consultations with other EU Member States by EU Member States with permanent or temporary seats on the Security Council, as provided for in Article 19 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, should be taken as seriously as possible.

Peacebuilding Commission
The proposals to set up a Peacebuilding Commission, assisted by a Support Office within the Secretariat, are very similar to the recommendations that the AIV/CAVV themselves made in their advisory report on Failing States back in May 2004. However, the UNSG writes that the Commission should focus entirely on the post-conflict reconstruction phase and should not normally be involved in conflict prevention and early warning. In contrast, the AIV/CAVV report noted that the international community often becomes involved too late, and that conflict prevention and management are especially important in the phase of mounting tension. The AIV therefore finds this somewhat artificial restriction totally unconvincing. It would also far prefer that the proposed fund be financed out of the regular budget. If that runs into political obstacles, at the very least a basic level of financing will need to be provided for operations in the initial phase. That financing should come from the regular budget. The AIV believes that the Commission should not be limited to a purely advisory role or to operating on the basis of consensus. In this connection the AIV also emphasises that the Commission should be an subsidiary body of the Security Council, so that it has the necessary powers. ECOSOC could then play a larger role during the reconstruction phase. On the other hand, the AIV supports the recommendations to make the Secretariat better equipped.

Human Rights Council
The AIV supports the proposal to set up a new Human Rights Council. To put human rights on the same footing as other policy areas, the Charter will have to be amended. Since this is likely to take some considerable time, the AIV proposes that the Human Rights Council operate as a subsidiary body of the UNGA until such time as the amendment is made. As regards membership, the UNSG is aiming for a ‘society of the committed’. The AIV feels that this proposal is not well thought out, and that consideration should instead be given to other criteria formulated by the AIV on earlier occasions. Even then it is doubtful whether serious violators of human rights could be excluded from such institutions. As for the exact number of members, the AIV has no particular preference, provided that minimum standards of representativeness, credibility and decision-making effectiveness are met.

The AIV has doubts about parts of the proposal concerning the role and purpose of the new Council. The idea of a peer review system raises the question of whether a political body, such as the Human Rights Council, could perform this task independently. The AIV is concerned about the fact that scarcely any mention is made of the existing special procedures and treaty mechanisms in this area. It would be most regrettable if the reforms were to weaken or even eliminate this monitoring system; this must not be permitted to happen. Moreover, peer review would be voluntary, and it is not clear what information it would be based on. Such an arrangement would make it easy for notorious and serious violators of human rights to escape punishment, which cannot be the intention.

The UNSG assumes that the Council will be located in Geneva, as this is the main centre for UN human rights activities and also because of the need for it to work with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which has a key part to play in mainstreaming human rights throughout the UN system. The AIV very much welcomes the involvement of the OHCHR in Security Council discussions and negotiations. A hitherto somewhat neglected part of that task is monitoring the UN’s own compliance with human rights obligations. This should be remedied. The same applies to gathering information on violations of international humanitarian law and accumulating and making available expertise on investigation of violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law. The AIV also supports the proposals for improved communication and cooperation, and considers it obvious that the OHCHR should have more funding and staff (including field staff) for this purpose.

All things considered, the AIV believes that an upgraded Human Rights Council, more capable of effective decision-making, may be more successful in mainstreaming human rights into all UN activities in the future. The UNSG’s proposals on the subject therefore deserve support, and the AIV advises the government to press for the establishment of the Council, while preserving the role of specific human rights procedures and retaining NGO involvement.

UN Secretariat
Under the terms of the UN Charter, the UNSG is the organisation’s guardian and motivator. He is effectively the protector of the common interest, and it is his task to promote that common interest. His proposals for a more effective organisation should help solve the existing problems. His wish to create a UN staff with a new level of commitment and capability is logical, and justifies a decision to approve the necessary funding. The AIV advises the government to support proposals regarding internal management, provided that these are well substantiated. The steps already taken by the UNSG to establish a cabinet-style decision-making system should eventually bear fruit, and are therefore supported by the AIV.

NGOs and the private sector
The AIV has already made explicit statements on various occasions, as well as earlier in this report, on the importance and role of NGOs and the private sector, noting that they have made a substantial contribution in many areas, including the development of standards. The role of NGOs in the further development of the UN therefore should not be underestimated. The AIV calls on the government to continue paying sufficient attention to this during the reform process, especially as there is a risk that countries will take the opportunity to undermine what they see as the NGOs’ privileged position – something the AIV believes should be prevented from happening.

The UNSG also envisages an important role for business in attaining the UN’s goals. The AIV acknowledges the importance of the private sector here. It discussed this topic at length in a recent advisory letter on the subject with observations on the Sachs Report (see Annexe III). The letter specifically discusses the link between development and security and the private sector. The AIV re-emphasises the importance of that link and the need to strengthen it in order to tackle the problems in many of the world’s developing countries effectively.

Coherence and effectiveness
One major implication of the adoption of a broad definition of security is the need to coordinate the various parts of the UN properly. Much progress can be made here. The UNSG’s report addresses this at length, but does not make enough specific or long-term proposals.

Finally, the AIV notes that the recommendations for improving the effectiveness of the UN’s development institutions focus on strengthening local UN missions. The AIV supports this. There is also a proposal to set up a Council of Development Advisers, but no very clear evidence as to what the actual value of this would be. The AIV considers that the proposals on humanitarian aid deserve support. As regards system-wide coherence in the field of the environment, the UNSG proposes creating a better-integrated structure. The government considers these proposals important but too limited, a view shared by the AIV.

The AIV emphasises the need to make optimum use of the new momentum for reform. The organisation’s sixtieth anniversary, the Secretary-General’s political stature and the quality of the proposals in his report ‘In Larger Freedom’ provide a unique opportunity for this. In a world confronted by new threats as well as great challenges, there is now a chance to pursue a more resolute, coherent strategy in all UN activities, in which development, peace and security and human rights will go hand in hand. This is the true value of the UNSG’s proposals, which deserve to be put into practice. They represent a new chance for the United Nations.

Advice request

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
United Nations and
International Financial Institutions
Department (DVF)
Bezuidenhoutseweg 67
2594 AC The Hague

Mr F. Korthals Altes
Chairman of the Advisory Council on International Affairs
Postbus 20061
2500 EB Den Haag

19 April 2005 

The Minister of Defence, the Minister for Development Cooperation and I are contacting you about the topic of UN reforms, which is included in the work programme of the Advisory Council on International Affairs for 2005. As stated in your work programme, “[i]n early 2005, the UN Secretary-General is expected to select some of the recommendations in the High-Level Panel report which will be submitted to him in late 2004 and to make preparations with a view to decision-making by the General Assembly in 2005. A timely advisory report or letter is required from the AIV, before summer 2005, indicating which of the elements chosen by the UN Secretary-General will have long-term significance for the Dutch multilateral approach and how those elements can be enshrined in UN and in Dutch and EU policy.”

The United Nations Secretary-General’s report – “In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all” – was issued on 21 March 2005. With a view to the above request, I am asking for the Council’s advice on the report, and in particular the three subjects below. Your advisory report might also touch on the Dutch government’s response to the report from the High-Level Panel, “A more secure world: our shared responsibility”, and the report of the UN Millennium Project Team, “Investing in Development – a Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals”, which was submitted to the House of Representatives on 25 February 2005. I am aware that, at its own initiative, the Council is already studying the latter report.

The Council is also studying two requests for advice related to the questions at issue, namely “The Position of the Netherlands in the new EU, NATO and the UN” and “The traditional disarmament fora and the strategy for preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”.

In your advisory report, I would request that you pay particular attention t

  1. strengthening the role of the UN as the appropriate forum for discussion and dealing with world-wide problems and, following on from this, strengthening the position of the Secretary- General as the person who calls attention to such problems and helps to determine the relevant international agenda from the vantage point of the public interest. What indicators does the Council see in the report which might further develop this point?
  2. improving the effectiveness of the UN’s development agencies. In his report, the Secretary- General makes several recommendations for the shorter term which are less far-reaching than what is called for in the UN General Assembly resolution on the Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review of Operational Activities for Development of the United Nations System (A/RES/59/250) and accord with the proposals of the Netherlands and like-minded countries on this point. For the longer term, radical reforms have been proposed, in particular, grouping the various agencies into “tightly managed entities”, dealing respectively with development, the environment and humanitarian action (para. 197 of the Secretary-General’s report). I would be interested in having the Council’s opinion of this.
  3. the role of civil society and the private sector. Within the context of the need for collective action to deal with current threats, the Secretary-General stresses the importance of an active civil society and a dynamic private sector to complement the role of states and intergovernmental organisations without, however, going into further detail. I would be interested in having the Council’s opinion on this topic also.

    With a view to the Summit to be held from 14 to 16 September before the 60th United Nations General Assembly, it would be appreciated if the Council could submit its advisory report as soon as possible, before the summer, as set out in the work programme. In connection with the meeting between government ministers and the relevant parliamentary committee in June 2005, the House of Representatives has asked to be informed about the Netherlands’ preparations for the Summit by 1 June at the latest.

    The Minister of Defence, the Minister for Development Cooperation and I look forward to receiving your advisory report in the very near future.

    I am sending a copy of this letter to the President of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate.

    Yours sincerely

    Bernard Bot

Government reactions

Mr F. Korthals Altes
Chairman of the Advisory Council
on International Affairs
Postbus 20061
2500 EB Den Haag

United Nations and International Financial Institutions Department (DVF)
Bezuidenhoutseweg 67
2594 AC Den Haag

Date27 June 2005
ReResponse to AIV advisory report on UN reforms

Dear Mr Korthals Altes,

The Minister of Defence joins us in thanking the Advisory Council on International Affairs for its report "Reforming the United Nations: A Closer Look at the Annan Report", issued further to our request for advice of 19 April 2005. For its opinion on the "development" section of the Secretary-General's report, the AIV refers to its advisory letter "Response to the Sachs report: How do we attain the Millennium Development Goals?" published in April 2005. As the AIV is aware, the government responded to the advisory letter in a letter from the Minister for Development Cooperation dated 6 June 2005.

The government is pleased that both the present advisory report and the above mentioned advisory letter are, to a great extent, consonant with the government's position on UN reform as also indicated in several letters to the House of Representatives. Like the government, the AIV takes a positive view of the proposals for UN reform in UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's report "In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all" and sees this as a unique opportunity to achieve UN reforms in an effective and cohesive manner. The starting point is the need for collective action and strengthening the UN to ensure that threats which are still remote, are acute or are becoming acute do not turn into serious dangers.

Like the AIV, the government considers it extremely important to achieve results on several essential agenda items at the 2005 summit in September marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations: acceptance of the Responsibility to Protect concept; acceptance of criteria for the use of force; strengthening the mechanisms for fighting terrorism; disarmament and non-proliferation; improving cooperation between the UN and regional organisations; giving greater legitimacy to the Security Council; establishing a Peacebuilding Commission and a Human Rights Council; greater coherence of the UN system, a properly functioning Secretariat and better cooperation between the UN and social actors. Solid commitments to the MDGs also have a place on this list of course but, as indicated earlier, the advisory report does not deal with that issue.

The government considers that the draft final document presented by the President of the General Assembly on 3 June on the basis of consultations about the Secretary-General's report constitutes a good basis for decision-making in the above indicated areas during the summit, even though several points in the document might be further strengthened. In this connection, the government refers to the letter of 24 June to the President of the House of Representatives which indicates what the Netherlands is doing to prepare for the summit. As a complement to the above, the following can also be stated in response to the present advisory report.

In respect of Security Council enlargement, the government recently formulated its views in a letter to the President of the House of Representatives dated 9 June 2005 which emphasises that, from the Dutch vantage point, reforms must not again be bogged down in an impasse. The Security Council needs greater legitimacy and this requires a more representative composition. To guarantee effectiveness, the Dutch government rejects the idea of additional veto rights. The government also supports setting a time limit for the current reforms so that in 10 to 15 years another review can take place to determine whether the Security Council is meeting the needs of political realities. The issue of creating a seat for the European Union can then be revisited. The letter requests that attention be paid to the importance of criteria for determining the composition of the Security Council.

The AIV considers the Peacebuilding Commission an institutional expression of the Responsibility to Protect. As previously indicated in letters to the President of the House of Representatives, the government views the Responsibility to Protect principle as an emerging legal norm on the basis of which the international community, and in particular the Security Council, has the responsibility to intervene actively to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in cases when states are unwilling or powerless to prevent or put a halt to large-scale violations of fundamental human rights. The government has always held that, in such situations, early warnings must lead to early action. This can take place in different areas of competence of UN institutions and mechanisms and therefore also - but certainly not exclusively or initially - in the area of competence of the future Peacebuilding Commission. The government understands the Secretary-General's choice of a mandate focused on post-conflict reconstruction rather than conflict prevention. In this connection, the government does consider it important to strengthen other conflict prevention mechanisms, including the role of the UN Secretary-General. The government would prefer that the Commission be assigned an advisory and coordinating role rather than a decision-making one. This is closely related to the fact that many UN agencies and institutions like the World Bank have their own specific peacebuilding and reconstruction mandates. The government has however always argued that the Commission must be given some sort of control over the new Peacebuilding Fund.

The AIV proposes that a Human Rights Council be phased in, first as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly and then as a principal organ. This is based on the fact that the latter phase would necessitate an amendment to the Charter which would probably take some time. The government recognises that, in practice, this might be a feasible solution but emphasises that the decision in principle to establish the new council as a UN principal organ must be taken during the UN summit. Establishing it as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly yields little added value in respect of the current situation. The only advantage would be that, even as a UNGA subsidiary organ, the Human Rights Council would meet on a permanent basis, although it must have such a mandate if that advantage is to be exploited. In the opinion of the government, the fact that human rights is equally as important as security and development, as stated in the Secretary-General's report, must be recognised at the summit by a decision to establish a principal organ for human rights on the same footing as the Security Council and ECOSOC.

The AIV considers that the focus of efforts to achieve coherence in the UN development system must lie at country level. As stated in its response to the AIV's advisory letter on the Sachs report, the government sees this as a priority for the short term. In the longer term, more radical reforms are needed to ensure that the system remains relevant and can operate effectively.

As regards the Secretary-General's proposal to set up a council of development advisors, it is conceivable that the SG's role in the development field can be strengthened if he is supported by a team of wise men and women. In this sense, the government supports that idea.

In the past the Netherlands has had reservations about previous proposals by France and several other countries to set up a World Environment Organisation, proposals to which the AIV also refers, because they sought to turn UNEP into only a specialised agency wihout attempting to achieve a more effective, better integrated, comprehensive environmental architecture. In response to the Secretary-General's report, the discussion is now moving more in the latter direction. Accordingly, the Netherlands will work on solidifying that position at the summit.

The government agrees with the AIV that, in practice, the UN Secretary-General currently has limited political and operational latitude to effectively play the role the Charter assigns to him as the UN's guardian and motivator and, in fact, the protector of the common interest. Like the AIV, the government is positive about the reforms of the Secretariat which the SG can carry though himself, some of which he already has. The reforms offer opportunities for greater effectiveness and credibility.

The AIV indicates its wish to issue a separate advisory report on the role of social actors because the limited time available for drafting the present report meant that only the main points of the subject were discussed. The government welcomes the decision to issue a separate report and assumes that a separate request for advice is not necessary. The government agrees with the AIV that NGOs play an essential role in many areas, in particular development, the environment and human rights, and have thus contributed to the normative framework. This also applies to the business community. The report of the High Level Panel correctly included a recommendation on UN cooperation with various actors, including NGOs and the business community, in respect of setting standards for managing natural resources in countries which have just emerged from a conflict or are exposed to the risk of conflict.

On the basis of the Cardoso report, the government has expressed its support for improved relations between the UN and social actors. It is clear that these actors will be involved in the work of the Peacebuilding Commission. The Secretary-General has already taken the initiative to hold extensive consultations with them right before the start of the General Assembly. Because of this year's summit, the consultations will be held on 23 and 24 June. The talks on the resolution concerning the Cardoso report are proving very difficult and seem most likely to focus on streamlining accreditation procedures. The government considers this a lost opportunity to highlight the important role social actors play in worldwide issues and invites the AIV to consider this in its separate advisory report on the subject.

We thank you once again for this advisory report and look forward to your follow-up report on the role of social actors.

We are sending a copy of this letter to the President of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate.


Bernard BotAgnes van Ardenne-van der Hoeven
Minister of Foreign AffairsMinister for Development Cooperation
Press releases

The press release related to this report has not been translated.