UNITED NATIONS — In the warm afterglow of Pope Francis’ Sept 25 address to the General Assembly, veteran United Nations observers drew a starkly candid road map of urgent actions that the world body must take to achieve its security agenda.
Speakers at an Oct. 7 side event hosted by the Holy See’s permanent observer to the U.N. said the organization’s top priorities must be nuclear disarmament and the protection of civilians in conflict areas.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.N., said Pope Francis described “an urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the nonproliferation treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.”
“Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence,” Pope Francis said in an earlier message to an international conference in Vienna.
The pope said it is immoral to possess nuclear weapons, because deterrence rests on the willingness to use them, panelists said.
Douglas Roche, former Canadian ambassador for disarmament to the U.N., called for a nuclear weapons convention. “It defies logic that the world has global treaties banning chemical and biological weapons but none banning nuclear weapons,” he said.
Nuclear powers are modernizing their nuclear arsenals “despite giving lip service to nuclear disarmament,” which will create “permanency in nuclear weapons” unless there is a convention or framework of legal instruments to outlaw the possession and use of “these instruments of evil,” he said.
Kim Won-soo, undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs at the U.N., said member states generally agree that the “destination” is a nuclear-free world, but there is no consensus on “how to get there.”
The pope recognized that unless the entire world community addresses disarmament, peace and development as one, “we can’t survive,” Won-soo said.
The primary function of the United Nations is to provide a forum for “normative debate,” he said. Despite a frustrating lack of global leadership and unity of purpose, members have to sustain the organization and not give up, in part because the U.N. is the world’s largest social service provider.
“We now feed 100 million people a day and protect 60 million refugees a day. We are living in a troubled world. Without the U.N., I can’t even imagine,” Won-soo said.
The U.N. must focus on the human face of international conflicts and help member states build capacity to make treaties, he said. Also, it must respond to new security threats, such as drones, robots and cyber threats from those who are not bound by existing legal agreements.
Roche said the international community could respond to the common call for human security by the U.N. and Pope Francis by establishing a permanent peacekeeping force for quick deployment in emergencies and institutionalize the U.N.’s responsibility to protect civilians from atrocities. “It is scandalous that the major political leaders could not come to an agreement” in Syria, he said.
Archbishop Auza said because of the urgent situation in Syria, his “first passion” is how to give a juridical framework to the responsibility to protect. “The principle is universally accepted, but how can the international community apply it in concrete situations?”
Roche said increasing women’s participation in peacekeeping missions would be a significant step toward “human-centered peace leadership.”
“I look to a highly qualified woman to be the next secretary-general of the United Nations. There can be no guarantee that more women in positions of authority will automatically produce a more peaceful world, but given the record of men in producing a culture of war over the past few centuries, the possibility, if not the promise, of a more feminine-inspired world order is dazzling,” he said.
Archbishop Auza said bringing more women into the peacebuilding process should be easy to implement. He cited two recent examples where women comprised entirely or led national delegations in international responses to Haiti.
The Security Council should be expanded to reflect modern demography, and urgent reform is needed regarding the attitude of major powers, Roche said. “The powerful states often treat the U.N. as if it were something to be tolerated rather than championed. They frequently marginalize the U.N. in the peacekeeping process instead of putting it front and center,” he said.
Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute, said Pope Francis demonstrated a “love without borders” in his speech to the General Assembly. “He spoke without limitation of nationality, religion or gender. He was resonant because he spoke from the place of conscience that discerns right from wrong, and addressed the solidarity we share with the natural world, one another and the creator.”
Roche said he is optimistic about the future of the United Nations because “young people are growing up with a more intuitive understanding of the wholeness of humanity. They are inheriting the panoply of human rights and have the opportunity to reflect, take action and participate in society from a holistic point of view.”