During the entire post-war period, the UN's role in economic issues has been rather limited. Most international questions of importance concerning economic or commercial policy, have been dealt with either in the GATT, the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, bilaterally as well as within various economic groupings.
In the changed political situation of the 1990's, on the other hand, international environmental cooperation has found a natural place on the UN agenda. Many environmental issues are of a global nature. This has led to the creation of international rules within the framework of the UN. The Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity that have been prepared as part of the UNCED-process are examples of this development. These constitute the first global conventions on sustainable development. Negotiations on desertification as well as on the sustainable use of world forests will follow.
In the changed world political situation, attempts are being made within the UN's economic and social sector to consider the role of the UN and its tasks in a new light. The need for structural change is most obvious.
The convening of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, UNCED, and the establishment of a Committee on Sustainable Development are to be seen as an answer to political changes with regard to environmental issues. The Committee, which meets partly at ministerial level, is assigned to provide political guidance both nationally and internationally for the implementation of the interaction between environment and development, i.e. sustainable development. The work of the Committee on Sustainable Development will show how the international community can, in practice, respond to the pressures for change, which the UNCED laid ground for.
At the Rio Conference last summer, world-wide understanding was achieved on the scope of the environmental threat to mankind. A joint programme was created to combat it. Now that the programme has advanced to its implementation stage, decisions should be made on procedures and, at the same time, e.g. on the adequacy of the UN's resources.
In the future, the UN cannot, however, concentrate its efforts in the social and economic sectors on solving environmental issues only. The central issue is the integrated implementation of sustainable development. The UN has to take a stand regarding the multiple challenges of the 21st century, such as problems of development, pressures arising from population growth and migration as well as religious and cultural chasms. Moreover, international crime, drug trafficking and pandemics should be dealt with by the UN more efficiently than is the case today. Science and technology also add new additional challenges.
The problems have in recent years at an accelerating pace piled on UN's shoulders. It has proved overwhelmingly difficult to tackle them within the present structures. The Secretary General of the UN has also drawn attention to this. Demand for the UN's services has outstripped its supply, and the UN has reached its peak both in terms of popularity and the crisis it faces. In spite of a growing number of demands, no one seems to be willing to provide the UN with the resources it requires. This has to be remedied.
The Rio Conference taught us that questions relating to the environment affect the South and the North alike. The same is true with respect to other social and economic problems. All available indicators confirm unambiguously the explosion in the increasing number of crises.
Since the UN has moved from one crisis to another, preventive measures conducive to healthy development have only managed to obtain a secondary role. What the UN has failed to do in securing peace, it will have to confront in the form of acute and growing social and economic disturbances. The proverb "never put off until tomorrow what you can do today" is true also in the work of the world organization.
Since social and economic problems and their repercussions are global in nature, they call for global solutions. The international community should control their implementation in a coordinated manner. Problems should be tackled before they have developed into full-scale emergencies.
The UN's mandate covers two main areas: firstly, maintenance of international peace and security and secondly, promotion of international cooperation in order to solve economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems and to enhance human rights and fundamental freedoms. In the political field the Charter is comprehensive, enabling an active engagement by the UN in a wide range of operations to maintain peace. In terms of economic and social issues, on the other hand, the Charter actually reflects the world situation which was valid decades ago. In my view, the Charter does not provide a sufficient foundation for an efficient management of today's environmental, economic or social problems. Possibilities to strengthen the Charter in this respect should be investigated.
The UN's security pillar is institutionally well-developed and if need be fairly efficient. The resources and administration of the economic and social pillar, are on the other hand decentralized. As a consequence, the UN's chances to exercise executive authority in these fields are weak. Both pillars should have the capacity of decision-making, control over the implementation of decisions and when necessary, of enforcing its decisions.
If the aim is to improve the UN's possibilities to react to economic, social and environmental problems, the objectives should be better defined and the decision-making involving these areas, should be organized in a more efficient manner. The Security Council has a mandate to make decisions that are binding upon member states. In my view a body entrusted with similar powers, to that of the Security Council e.g. a "development council" should be established to guide the UN's activities towards sustainable development.
On the other hand, an interactive relationship between the security and development sectors is evident. There is no development without peace and without development we cannot achieve peace. The concept of development as a process based on the needs of mankind should be redefined on the basis of sustainable development. Such an integrated approach covers both promotion of security, the fight against poverty, prevention of environmental damage and social development work.
The Secretary General of the UN has emphasized the significance of development as a part of post-conflict peace-building. However, development must be understood primarily as an autonomous process. Support to development may take the form of, e.g. preventive measures, assistance to the least developed countries or systematic longterm activities aiming further into the future. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have employed harsh measures that are the subject of continuous and controversial discussion. Within the UN discussion on efficient measures has, however, been rejected as a form of interference in the internal affairs of a state.
Over the years, several initiatives have been made and numerous measures have been undertaken to develop and reform the World Organization. Finland and the other Nordic countries support the presently ongoing reforms. Our joint UN-project to increase the efficiency of the UN's operations in the field of development is near its completion.
To be sincere, we must, however, admit that the reform efforts have so far only led to minor results. The control mechanisms are improving, but too slowly compared to the magnitude and growing number of problems. Ambitious far-reaching proposals for reform may seem radical today, but not any more in the light of tomorrow's problems. If the situation continues unchanged, it is to be feared that the favourable opportunity may be lost and that the UN's authority may wither while, at the same time, global problems are increasing and the situation deteriorating.
The UN is now facing new challenges. It is expected to provide concrete evidence of its ability to respond to these challenges with credibility. This requires that present reform and development work be improved and integrated into an innovative, long-term process conducive to the operational improvements of the UN, including changes in the basic structures. We are now in need of global leadership. The UN is the only one suitable organization to take this role. The UN's role as a lead organization, able to make the most important urgent decisions, must substantially be strengthened.
Since the UN is the sum of its member states, it is the Member States that should seize the opportunity and show initiative with a view to tackling, through the UN, the problems affecting the very future of mankind. This should be done by the Nordic countries, which have traditionally supported the UN.
The UN will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1995. We have about two years to outline our objectives and to translate them into concrete ideas, so that a general UN reform could be launched in the jubilee year. In this effort the UN should be provided with such an instrument of cooperation as would be more efficient and consistent with the challenges of the future. Now is the time to search for far-sighted solutions.