The first briefing to be heard in the course of our study tour was delivered by Ms. Patricia Seghers on the role of the United Nations in the New Millennium. Ms. Seghers works at the United Nations Headquarters in New York as a United Nations briefing assistant. In her speech, she addressed the outcomes of the Millennium Summit in 2000 and gave an outlook on the future role of the United Nations in the 21st century.
Right at the beginning of her briefing, Ms. Seghers described the year 2005 as a crucial year for the United Nations. With the opening of the 60th General Assembly session on 13 September Member States would be asked to seriously evaluate the role of the organization, making 2005 almost as important as the year of the foundation of the United Nations in 1945.
In the following main part of her briefing, Ms. Seghers spoke about fundamental questions concerning the relevance of the United Nations, which had been raised at the Millennium Summit. On that occasion, the Member States defined the process of globalization and its positive and negative consequences as the central challenge of the 21st century, affecting all regions and States in different ways. To ensure that globalization benefits every human being, the Member States had committed themselves to time-bound targets, the Millennium Development Goals, which would have to be met by 2015 and were supposed to address some of the most urgent humanitarian issues such as poverty eradication, education, gender equality and the fight against infectious diseases.
After this general overview of the Millennium Summit outcomes, Ms. Seghers referred to the recent Secretary-General’s report on the evaluation of the Millennium Development Goals, which was to be introduced to the General Assembly plenary on the following Monday. “In Larger Freedom” was supposed to contain concrete suggestions on how to achieve the goals stated within the Millennium Declaration, as well as to provide comments on how to effectively reform the bodies of the United Nations. According to Ms. Seghers, the report had been anxiously awaited, since the Secretary-General had already expressed his concern about reaching the Millennium Development Goals in 2003: Back then, the events in Iraq had led him to refer to the current situation as a “fork in the road” for the United Nations. According to Kofi Annan, the main problem would be the differences among Member States in their perception of present threats to the international community, ranging from terrorism on the one hand to poverty and infectious diseases on the other. A priority of the Secretary-General was therefore to stress the strong link between soft and hard threats, implying also that these threats would have to be addressed together in order to be able to fight them successfully.
At this point, the short briefing was followed by a lively discussion between Ms. Seghers and the members of both the Berlin and Würzburg Delegations. The first question, posed by Andreas Stolpe, referred to the progress made with the implementation so far, and whether Ms. Seghers thought that the goals would be met on time. Ms. Seghers answered that there were in fact some obvious positive developments to be observed, such as the increased enrolment in primary schools in Africa and Latin America. Nevertheless, there had also been severe setbacks such as the devastating effects brought about by the Tsunami catastrophe in December 2004, where thousands of people that had reached a decent standard of living within the last decade were pushed back into poverty. Ms. Seghers further mentioned, as negative developments, the ongoing process of environmental degradation, as well as the regional conflicts. To conclude, the Member States were still motivated and working hard towards achieving the goals, but did not always agree on their national priorities in terms of international threats.
Timo Mahn then asked Ms. Seghers how important the role of the United States was regarding the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, especially since the newly appointed US ambassador to the United Nations, seemed to be rather opposed to the project. The answer of Ms. Seghers proved to be short and diplomatic, stating that the USA indeed plays a crucial role not only for the success of the Millennium Development Goals, but also for the functioning of the United Nations as a whole.
Finally, Carmen Dege posed the question of whether the Millennium Development Goals themselves had undergone any fundamental change or had been rated differently since their creation in 2000. On this subject, Ms. Seghers stated that within the period from 2000-2003, some of the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals had not been thoroughly implemented. Therefore, in 2003 Kofi Annan had held several speeches to get the United Nations Member States “back on track” and called on the High Level Panel to develop fresh ideas on this matter.
Ms. Seghers gave a very informative and comprehensive briefing on the role of the United Nations in the New Millennium. She precisely stated positive and negative developments with regard to the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. We were very grateful to have had a first hand opportunity to listen to an insider’s view of the United Nations.