By Qian Wenrong
The United Nations has a unique and irreplaceable role to play
in addressing and resolving non-traditional security issues. Since
its birth, it has shouldered the tasks of addressing both
traditional security issues and a large number of non-traditional
For example, the first task facing it after its establishment
was to resolve problems like the mass of refugees of World War II
as well as hunger and poverty in most of the developing countries,
especially those colonized countries that had not won
To this end, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN
Relief and Works Agency, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
were promptly set up. Up to now, more than 70 organizations and
special agencies under the UN are largely responsible for issues
concerning non-traditional security.
Of the 50 agenda items designated by the UN as global issues, 42
belong to the area of non-traditional security.
Last April, the UN Security Council incorporated climate change
into its agenda, the first time in its 60-year history. This shows
the importance the UN has attached to non-traditional security.
The UN role in non-traditional security is mainly reflected in
the following three aspects:
First, it plays a warning and mobilizing role. The UN is not the
first organization to come up with the non-traditional security
concept, but it has put forward a series of new concepts closely
linked to non-traditional security including human security,
sustainable development and interaction between development and
The Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Agenda
21 were adopted at the UN Conference on Environment and Development
or Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992.
Over the past 60 years, the UN has submitted a great many study
reports on traditional and non-traditional security.
Since the 1990s, the UN has held a series of international
conferences on global issues, for instance. All these conferences
have exerted a far-reaching and important impact on the
international community's endeavor to address non-traditional
security threats in the 21st century.
Second, it formulates guidelines and regulations.
The international conferences on global issues also adopted a
series of declarations, conventions and action plans, which served
as guidelines and regulations for governments to set a universally
For example, the Agenda 21 formulated at the Earth Summit laid
out a blueprint for the sustainable development of humans, which
has become the foundation of social and development programs for
The UN role in counter-terrorism is familiar to everyone. It has
adopted 13 international conventions on counter-terrorism like the
International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings,
the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing
of Terrorism and the International Convention for the Suppression
of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
At present, the UN member states are negotiating the 14th
international anti-terrorism convention, the Comprehensive
Convention on International Terrorism.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the UN has released
four anti-terrorism declarations like the Declaration on Measures
to Eliminate International Terrorism.
The UN General Assembly in 2006 adopted the UN Global
Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which laid out concrete action plans
and set a standard for the obligations and responsibilities to be
observed by member states.
The eight Millennium Development Goals adopted at the 2000 UN
Millennium Summit include halving extreme poverty and hunger by
2015, ensuring environmental sustainability and halting the spread
Third, it helps to organize and promote the implementation of
its goals. The UN has special agencies to promote and implement its
announced resolutions, decisions, conventions, declarations and
For example, to promote environmental protection, the UN
established the UN Environment Program in 1973. It set up a
secretariat and implementation agencies to help signatories
effectively carry out conference assessments and convention
Another example is the establishment of a monitoring center to
ensure the effective implementation of the UN Convention on
Biological Diversity adopted at the 1992 UN Conference on
Environment and Development.
The Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate was
established to monitor the implementation of counter-terrorism
resolutions and facilitate the provision of technical assistance to
member states and enhance their capacity to combat terrorism. Up to
now, UN counter-terrorism agencies have provided assistance to 126
In implementing these goals and tasks, the UN has come across
many difficulties, mainly in the following three aspects:
First, conflicts between national interests and common interests
of the international community.
Some developed countries, the United States in particular, put
their own national interests above the common interests of the
international community and mankind.
For instance, the US is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in
the world and its emission alone accounts for 25 percent of the
world's total. Logically, it should shoulder the biggest
responsibility in reducing emissions, but the Bush administration
has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol or fulfill its task of
emission reduction as set forth in the protocol in order to protect
the interests of US oil and mining companies.
Second, double standards. Some countries apply double standards
in addressing non-traditional security issues, making problems more
complex and hard to resolve. Here, we cannot but point out the
double standards the US has applied with regard to
counter-terrorism and non-proliferation. In combating terrorism,
the US only asks other countries to support and cooperate with it
in its war on terror.
But when it comes to anti-terrorist wars by other countries, the
US either fails to provide support or criticizes relevant countries
for resorting to excessive use of force and violating human rights.
It even provides a haven to terrorists, meets with terrorist
leaders, and supplies them with financial assistance and weapons to
overthrow governments it does not like. This has become a widely
known reality in the international community.
Third, fund shortage and technology transfer.
Severe shortage of funds is one of the main factors that affect
the capacity of countries, mainly developing countries, to respond
to non-traditional security threats. This problem is more
pronounced in reducing poverty and hunger, prevention of infectious
diseases, environmental protection and the fight against terrorism.
In recent years, developed countries have always fallen short of
their pledges. Their official assistance keeps decreasing rather
than gradually increasing.
In addition, another important constraint is that developed
countries are unwilling to transfer technology to developing
countries. They take intellectual property rights protection as an
excuse or apply rigid conditions on technology transfers. They also
set an unacceptable price for transferring technology and
These problems and difficulties hinder the UN's role. However,
since its global authority and universality are incomparable, it
cannot be replaced by any other international organization.
The author is a researcher with World Research Center of Xinhua
News Agency The article previously appeared in the Chinese Foreign
Affairs Journal, which is sponsored by the Chinese People's
Institute of Foreign Affairs
(China Daily January 8, 2008)