The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to United Nations General Assembly – 23 October 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly upon the 50th anniversary of its founding. The speech was held in New York on Monday 23rd October 1995.


Mr President, Mr Secretary-General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The United Kingdom was present at the birth of the United Nations. Throughout its 50 years we have stood by the organisation and by our responsibilities in the Security Council. The United Kingdom today as we meet here is the largest contributor of troops to United Nations peacekeeping operations. British forces are serving in blue berets from Angola to Georgia with over 8,000 British troops in Bosnia alone, so I speak to you this morning as a strong supporter of the United Nations but also as a candid friend. I want the United Nations to be more successful in the future, it will be needed in tomorrow’s world and so change is necessary.

The General Assembly first met amid the rubble and gloom of war-damaged London, but since then the world has been transformed. The United Nations has grappled with aggression, it has helped either to make or to keep the peace; it has worked for arms control and only days ago the United Kingdom, France and the United States agreed to sign the protocols to the Treaty of Rarotonga. An end to nuclear testing is now in sight as we move towards a comprehensive test ban treaty in 1996.

Throughout the last 50 years the principles of the Charter have stood the test of time, but now I believe we need to look ahead. The world is changing and I believe it is time for the United Nations to change with it. We need to confront challenges to peace and deal more effectively with the roots of crises. We need to encourage democratic and accountable government and protect the rights of the individual. We need to reduce poverty and protect the environment and we need to tackle the evils of international crime, drug trafficking and terrorism.

Mr. President, that is a demanding agenda. To achieve it, we need a properly financed and efficient United Nations. I want change because I want the United Nations to succeed. Let me emphasise that point – I want change so that the United Nations can succeed.

Some reforms have begun, many are needed. What is clear is that inaction is no longer an option. The threat to the future of the United Nations will not come from change, it will come from inertia.

There are questions that we must address:

Is the United Nations spread too wide? I believe it is.

Is there too much waste and duplication between different bodies? I believe there may be.

Are the priorities right for the 1990s? I am not yet convinced that they are.

As we form new bodies for new problems, do we close down those no longer needed? Not enough, I think; there are some bodies we could usefully scrap.

Can we improve the planning, managing and financing of peacekeeping? I believe that we can.

And is our machinery for pre-empting conflicts and disasters as good as it should be? I believe not.

There are other questions as well:

Should the Security Council be enlarged? I believe that it should. The subject has been on the agenda for too long, it raises difficult questions but the issues are clear and the decisions are needed.

Is the United Nations being efficiently managed? I am sure more could yet be done to apply the best modern practices with funding allocated to the most efficient programmes.

Is perhaps too much time and energy being spent on ritual verbal battles brilliantly interpreted into six languages and then printed on the world’s highest paper mountain? Of course it is, we know that is the case.

And last but most urgent of all, financial reform. The UN is in a financial crisis. It is not sustainable for member states to enjoy representation without taxation. Contributions should be paid promptly and in full and arrears should be cleared, but this must be accompanied by a new focus on efficiency and by modernising assessment to reflect the changing capacity of members to pay their dues.

I agree very strongly with the Secretary-General that we should have a special session of the General Assembly next year to address these issues.

Mr. President, I ask these questions because they need answers. I dare say some of them are controversial but we need frank and honest answers now because the world needs the United Nations as much today as at any time in the past, but a United Nations that works, a United Nations using today’s methods to address tomorrow’s needs, a United Nations that shows its worth to the taxpayer in all our countries for it is they who pay the subscriptions to the United Nations. In that way, I believe we can capture and can justify popular support for our organisation.

Today, Mr. President, we face difficulties that we must overcome. At this commemoration, my hope is that we will find the will to do so. [Applause].