The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at the Secretary General’s Lunch – 31 January 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the Secretary General’s Lunch at a Special Meeting of the UN Security Council on 31st January 1992.


Secretary-General, Your Majesty, Distinguished Heads of State and Government, Your Excellencies.

At first sight it is extraordinary that in nearly 47 years this should be the first time that the United Nations Security Council has met at the level of Head of State or Government. The reason is obvious: for at least 40 years since the Charter was signed in San Francisco a meeting like this would have been hard to imagine and impossible to arrange.

There is a temptation to look back on the Cold War as a period of stability. It was not. And its pernicious effects were felt in all our countries.
A former Soviet Ambassador to London, who worked for President Khrushchev, said that, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, a report reached Khrushchev by telephone that President Kennedy had gone to hear Mass in Washington. Khrushchev had, commented to his officials that that was good news. It meant that for at least the next hour the United States would not launch a nuclear strike against Moscow. We should never forget how close we came to mutual destruction.

No-one who lived through those events can forget the tension of those times. It affected us all in different ways and no country, developed and developing, was immune.

During those years the Security Council had a role but it was too often a negative one. The Council was an arena for the pursuit of conflict by verbal means and too rarely the scene of effective action on behalf of the international community.

That scene is now transformed. Of course there are differences. But we meet here, not as adversaries, but as partners in a common enterprise.

Of course the bright dawn of 1989 has been followed by the colder light of day. Of course there is instability. We have after all shaken the foundations on which many of our post-war assumptions were built. But our meeting today exemplifies a new trend in international relations: the will to rally round, to solve problems, not to exploit them.

We have learned painfully that we are one world, and quite a small one. That we cannot divide the world into them and us. Just us. This morning we welcomed the end of the Cold War. That is not just good news for East/West relations. We can now focus as partners on the needs and difficulties of the South. The developing countries make a distinctive, effective contribution to the United Nations in the Security Council and elsewhere. Collective security is precisely that. If it is to benefit all of us, it must be a partnership between us all.

This meeting arose out of an idea first put forward by President Mitterrand and made timely by Russia’s assumption of her seat on the Security Council and by the election of a new Secretary General. I believe it is right for us to meet to reaffirm at the highest level our commitment to peace-keeping and peace-making. A great burden of responsibility rests at present on President Yeltsin. I hope he will take back from this meeting the message to the people of Russia and of the new Commonwealth that the rest of the world community are not just interested spectators of great events. Russia has a crucial world role to play. Her involvement is vital to international stability. We in turn must help her to create the economic stability which underpins democracy and reform.

Fifteen leaders meeting for one day cannot determine every UN issue. But we can send a powerful signal. By meeting we show support for the work of the UN and its new Secretary-General to investigate ways in which the UN’s work can be strengthened. I hope today we can agree that.

Valuable work needs careful preparation. This meeting does not claim to be the culmination of an initiative. It is a unique response to a unique historical coincidence. But the meeting can be the beginning of a process to prepare the UN for new tasks and challenges.

The international agenda is shifting from crisis management – in which the UN has for so long played a distinguished role – to crisis prevention. The aim must be to equip the UN to lead in crisis prevention.

Under Dr. Boutros Ghali’s experienced hand, I am confident the UN will rise to the challenge. Let us join with him whole-heartedly in the enterprise ahead.