The UN still has a critical role to play in the peace process, according to Hans Blix, former UN senior weapons inspector and former foreign minister of Sweden.

Blix addressed the audience at the IPE Awards Seminar in Noordwijk, the Netherlands yesterday, saying: “I have noted the reports that the number of interstate wars in the world has gone down and that there may be increasing restraints against launching unauthorised military interventions. 

“It would be rash, however, to attribute this evolution simply to a growing respect for the rules of the UN Charter.”

However, while recognising that the UN Charter rule restricting the use of armed force remained an uncertain barrier against the risk of armed violence, he noted that the UN system offered “important opportunities for dialogue, conciliation and joint action”.

“This does not mean the current system is working optimally or can alone provide satisfactory governance in today’s world,” he told delegates.

”We must be open to continuous reform and guard against the bureaucratisation of the UN, and we must stress the vital importance that a competent and impartial international civil service be maintained.

“And we must remember that the UN is an orchestra of many instruments and that the failure to produce harmonious music may be less to do with the deficiencies with the instrument than with the musicians who refuse to play or insist on playing their own tunes.”

Blix said he did not doubt globalisation and the increasing interdependence of states – economically, environmentally and politically – was the single factor that pushed the hardest for cooperation and against clashes and conflict.

But he added: “We need all – governments, business and NGOs – to participate in this effort and to use the United Nations as a key instrument. As [second UN secretary-general] Dag Hammarskjöld said, we should not expect the UN to take us to heaven, but it may help us to avoid going to hell.”

He said the world must also be aware that, increasingly, the European Union and other regional organisations – such as NATO and the Organisation of African States – shared the burden of international governance, and that informal groups such as the G8 or G20 functioned as mechanisms helping to create international consensus and action. 

Only a few hours before global NGOs staged a mass walk-out of climate talks in Warsaw, he also noted that, increasingly, civil society – the global NGO community as well as the global business community – had been brought into the dialogue and been enabled to contribute and influence.

He pointed out that, since 1993, there had been a convention against the possession and use of chemical weapons.

It was under this convention that most states, including the large powers, and now Syria, were destroying their chemical weapons, he said.   

Blix added: “The world has come a long way from the quarrelling and warring chiefdoms of past centuries, but it has still a long way to go to reduce armed conflicts, bloated arsenals and the shocking annual global military expenditures of $1,700bn.

“We must remember the UN is an orchestra of many instruments and that the failure to produce harmonious music may be less to do with the deficiencies with the instrument than with the musicians who refuse to play or insist on playing their own tunes”

Hans Blix, former UN weapons inspector

“It has a long way to go to create humane living conditions for a world population that needs to further slow its growth, and it has a long way to go to secure access to sufficient energy for all without risking to destroy the global climate – as we are now busy doing.”

Blix said he also believed that traditional reasons for war – such as a desire to achieve self-determination, the drawing of new borders and the armed grabbing of land – were either a “thing of the past” or no longer cause “major conflagrations”.

They could also be settled judicially.

“Religion and ideology have been important triggers of war in the past, but, with the end of the Cold War, it is hard to imagine that differences in ideology could again ignite armed conflict.

“The clash of civilizations that was much discussed a few years ago will certainly not lead to large wars. Al Qaeda is not the Muslim world.”

He questioned those who predicted the possibility of armed conflict over resource scarcity, despite resources of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Arctic being subject to “competing” energy projects and pipelines.

“These competing interests are more likely to play out in prices than in armed action,” he said. “An important development in the energy sphere has occurred with the rapid introduction of fracking that is now making the US self-sufficient in gas and even exporting.

“Control of the Middle East may become a less vital US strategic interest, and China and Russia may find a somewhat slackening of US interest in Central Asia.