Friday 26 June 2015
Chichester University
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Chairman, UNA-UK
The UN's role in a changing world


The United Nations has brought freedom

During the 70 years of the United Nations’ history the world has become a freer place, creating a more level playing field for all peoples. The UN has been successful in setting aside inter-state war, bringing new nations into being and setting norms for inter-state state action.

Freedom to express difference ...

But when people become freer and more able to make their own choices their horizons narrow and they tend to move towards a tribal expression of their identity.

Human beings like to make themselves distinct. Consequently, while there is a globalising force active in the world, there is also a counter-force polarising cultures and politics. In this, people are using the chief characteristics that have made homo sapiens the dominate world species – intelligence, adaptability, and team-work.

... which makes maintaining peace even more difficult

We are living through the longest period of peace the world has known. But all long periods of peace in the past have eventually ended in war. If the present period of peace should end in this way it we would experience unthinkable (nuclear) war. To avoid this, we must learn to work together on a global rather than a tribal level – an achievement unprecedented in history. It is to this end that the United Nations was set up in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The UN works for peace through global order

In a rational society the leadership must listen, not dominate, and those led, to play their part, must display a similar degree of intelligence. The Arab Spring came out of a situation in which for the most part the freedom of the people to express their talents had been kept in check. But the expression of a desire to be free is not only an Arab phenomenon – we have seen the same in places such as Scotland, Catalonia, and South Sudan, to name but a few, where people feel that they now have the power to take action in the face of what they see as bad treatment by their governments.

Freedom does not lead to an inevitable upward path: it must be balanced by order and this must be the top priority. Pursuit of order on a global scale must take precedence over local or tribal ambitions or interests.

Sadly this was not evident during the UK’s 2015 General Election in which international issues were given less attention than in any previous election.

How each of us can play our part

The global context cannot be taken for granted – it must be worked at. There are two ways in which the individual can play a part in this:

Firstly, by using the mechanisms of our representative democracy to put pressure on those who represent us at national level to see the importance of the global context. UNA-UK’s current Foreign Policy Manifesto offers ten ideas which would deliver positive outcomes for the UK and for the world.

Secondly, by supporting branch UNAs working to achieve this at local level.

First things first ...

The biggest worry is about a break-down of relations between the most powerful nations. In this regard the West needs to talk to Russia’s President Putin to encourage him to see that his aggressive stance is not to his long-term benefit. Here, the short-termism of politics in Britain, Russia and many other countries, with governments looking at their record over each year period, is a big drawback. By contrast the focus of the ISIS identity is very long-term.

Political leaders must get together and talk to each other about the need in this period of peace for unprecedented global cooperation to make sure it is preserved. This will need compromise, strong relationships and diplomacy through the Foreign & Commonwealth Office – which needs greater resources than at present for the intensity of activity required.



Sir Jeremy Greenstock – biography

Sir Jeremy Greenstock is Chairman of the UN Association in the UK, Chairman of the strategic advisory company Gatehouse Advisory Partners Ltd and Chairman of Lambert Energy Advisory Ltd, the upstream oil and gas specialists.

Sir Jeremy was a career diplomat from 1969 to 2004, serving in British embassies in Dubai, Washington, Saudi Arabia, Paris and New York. He served as UK Ambassador to the UN in New York from 1998 to 2003, attending over 150 meetings of the United Nations Security Council. After serving as Political Director in London (1996–1998), October 2001 to April 2003, he was Chairman of the Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee from October 2001 to April 2003, then UK Special Envoy for Iraq, based in Baghdad, from 2003 to 2004.

Following his retirement from government service, Sir Jeremy directed the Ditchley Foundation from 2004 to 2010 and worked as a Special Adviser to BP during the same period. Currently he is also Co-Chairman of the European Eminent Persons Group on the Middle East, a Member of Council at Chatham House, an Adviser to the International Rescue Committee (UK) and Special Adviser to the NGO Forward Thinking.