Britain’s Nick Clegg Speaks at United Nations

Britain’s deputy prime minister called upon the United Nations to have greater confidence in the values they share.

In his address before the General Assembly of the United Nations on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Nicholas Clegg of the United Kingdom outlined three major challenges confronting world order in the twenty-first century: a withdrawing of the map, characterized by a shift in economic power; the globalization of problems and the increasing fluidity of identity. “All three,” he said, “demand matching responses.”

As the world changes, “the effectiveness of multilateral approaches is in question,” according to Clegg. He pointed at the still unsuccessful attempt to enact international financial regulation; the lack of success in Copenhagen on efforts to fight climate change this year and the stalling of the Doha trade round. “We need to inject new life into our institutions and new confidence into the expression of our ideals,” he professed.

The deputy prime minister publicly supported reform of the Security Council, “to reflect the new geography of power.” Brazil, Germany, India and Japan should become permanent members, he believes, along with a representation of African countries. “The UN cannot speak for the many if it only hears the voices of the few.”

More passionately, the foreman of Britain’s liberal democrats spoke about the universalism of values which, too often, he complained, are labeled as “Western”. He mentioned the great Mughal Emperor Akbar who, in sixteenth century India, championed tolerance and openness while in Europe at the time, people were burned at the stake for heresy. “Liberal ideals of equality, law and self-determination cannot be claimed by any nation or hemisphere,” said Clegg. “They are global values with global force” and members of the United Nations “must never shy away from [their] insistence that nobody should be silenced because of their religion or beliefs.”

Living in a globalized world also means getting used to the notion of stateless problems. “It is not possible to put people into neatly labeled boxes anymore,” said the deputy prime minister, while security threats are “more fluid and often less visible” than several decades ago.

In spite of major budget cuts across the board and broad entitlement reform at home, Britain remains committed to international cooperation and security, Clegg promised. That is why his coalition government has exempted foreign aid from spending cuts.

Clegg was encouraged by the words of President Barack Obama, who spoke before the General Assembly yesterday, and his government’s renewed commitment to the Middle East peace process. Britain, too, is prepared to “play a full role in working toward the end of hostilities that have been so profoundly damaging for all sides.” Former British prime minister Tony Blair currently serves as the West’s permanent representative to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and expressed enthusiasm earlier this month about the possibility of finally reaching an accord.

At the same time, the experience in Afghanistan has shown that “democracy cannot be created by diktat,” Clegg stressed, while “freedom cannot be commanded into existence.”

Clegg made brief mention of the display that was Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s address to the assembly on Friday. Ahmadinejad suggested that the attacks of 9/11 had been orchestrated by elements within the American government. Clegg described these allegations as “bizarre” and “offensive” and suspected that they were meant to “distract attention from Iran’s obligations and generate media headlines. They deserve to do neither.”