International Week’s keynote speaker Joseph Stephanides delivered a set of brief remarks and fielded questions from members of the College community on Thursday, March 2.
Stephanides is an accomplished diplomat and serves as Director of Affairs of the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council. The Council is the body that regulates peace and security in the world today through such efforts as dispatching peace keeping missions and keeping tabs on those states that violate the U.N. Charter.
Stephanides’ speech, entitled “The Security Council, Peace and Security” stressed the need to modernize the Council and ensure the full participation of all U.N. member-states.
For Stephanides, an important issue on the international scene is the need to get states to cooperate on transnational issues. “I would urge those states that are reluctant to promote international security to do so,” Stephanides said.
He continued, stressing the importance for cooperation on a wide array of issues such as “weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and environmental degradation—they cut across and signify that we need global solutions to global problems, because no single nation can solve them.”
Stephanides acknowledged the need for reform in the U.N., specifically in the Security Council. He made it a point to emphasize that reform would not be possible with out the help of young people and the United States.
Referring to isolationist political forces in the United States, Stephanides said, “This great country is destined to lead, but it cannot continue do so if it is out of the mainstream of the U.N.”
His remarks also became a recruiting speech of sorts when he implored the many students present to “give the U.N. the benefit of your consideration and join us and help change it.”
The bulk of the event, however, was a question and answer session. Students asked a variety of questions on the role of the U.N., the Security Council and its future.
Several questions were asked about the future status of the permanent members of the Security Council. There are currently five permanent members of the Council: the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and China.
If one of these five countries disagrees with a proposal, then no action is taken. Stephanides acknowledged that states such as Japan could be “entitled” to a permanent seat on the Council and that a couple of states could be added in the future.
However, he contended that the Security Council has always been in a “perpetual state of debate” and that changing the current arrangement would take many years and would be politically difficult.
Stephanides also addressed the failure to pay its billion dollar debt to the U.N. He said that for a while the “U.N. was living hand to mouth” as a result of the United States’ failure to pay its dues.
He called the conditions of payment called for by Republican leaders in the American congress “unrealistic,” saying that secretary general Kofi Annan has already implemented all the U.S. proposals for reform called for by the Clinton administration. He put the matter into keen perspective when he said the U.S. had violated a legal agreement. “A treaty obligation is a treaty obligation,” Stephanides said.
Stephanides was born in Cyprus and has served as a Cypriot diplomat in Bonn and Washington. He came to the U.N. many years ago and has since worked for the international organization in various capacities and in various countries, from Namibia to Iran. Before being appointed to the important position as the Security Council’s Director of Affairs, Stephanides was the Council’s Deputy Director of Affairs. He also was on the team that negotiated the controversial “oil-for-food program” with Iraq. Stephanides also headed the office of the secretary general in Iran that dealt with the aftermath of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.