You are here: Sir Jeremy Greenstock on the central theme in geopolitics

Over the past 17 years, from the time I arrived at the UN in New York as UK Permanent Representative, I have thought a lot about the role of development in global politics. It did not take me long, arguing away in the heady atmosphere of the Security Council, to realise that international peace and security could not sit there in isolation as a grand top subject.

Peace and security would only know its true place if it saw itself (or rather if Security Council members saw it) as a sub-category of the UN’s primary purpose, which is providing disadvantaged populations with the opportunity to develop.

Successful development is impossible in conditions of conflict, and conflict cannot be avoided where economic and social progress are hopelessly lacking. We must weave together the strands of peace, security and development. The first 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals have actually achieved more than the sceptics expected: the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has halved, and there have been notable improvements in most other areas.

The UN’s draft Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must build on that, but there are still some critical issues to be tackled:

  • Can inequality be reduced to insignificance?
  • Does the world have enough resources for a global population of 8, 9, 10 billion people?
  • What can the UK contribute?
  • Can geopolitics be shaped to support these aims?

The answers? Yes, the SDGs will target inequality effectively if they are implemented. Yes, the world has plenty of riches still to offer, under wise management. Yes, the UK can be a persuasive and a material contributor, based on its laudable achievement of a 0.7 per cent of GNI development budget.

Ah, geopolitics. Freedom and greed promote fragmentation and competition. Local preference rules. Long periods of peace, by definition, always end in war. The historical precedents are discouraging. I particularly worry about the breakdown of communication and understanding between big powers with strong national motivations.

But this is where the UN is so important. It has set the global norms, and the vast majority of global citizens respect them. It has inculcated the habit of political debate before resorting to violence. It provides the channels for delivery of help to those in need.

UNA-UK, with some close partners, has recently appealed to the Prime Minister and other senior ministers to commit themselves over the coming months to giving the UK a central role in the revitalisation of the United Nations.

The election campaign showed a Britain apparently turned in on itself. That would be to succumb to the fragmenting trend of the last two decades. We have also proposed the drafting of a Security Council resolution to mark the arrival of the SDGs and to express the relationship between peace and development.

It is a statement of fact, not a moral injunction, to say that sharing and compromise, as opposed to competition and selfishness, are the path both to the avoidance of conflict and to a sustainable distribution of the world’s resources. They do not come naturally to humans under pressure.

The UK, which has so often in the past shown as effective a capacity to work for global solutions as any nation, carries a responsibility – as a permanent member of the Security Council and as the largest multilateral donor – to drive for international cooperation. New World readers, please be active in insisting that the UK continue to do so.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock is Chairman of UNA-UK and a former UK ambassador to the United Nations