In "Reflections on Intervention," Kofi Atta Annan begins by saying that the audience will probably assume that he is about to preach a sermon against intervention, as this would be "the traditional line for a citizen of a former British colony to take." Moreover, the Charter of the United Nations forbids it to intervene in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of sovereign states.
In everyday life, however, one often construes intervention as benign and necessary. The police intervene to prevent violence and doctors intervene to save lives. The United Nations was established to intervene to prevent conflict or, where this is not possible, to put a stop to it or contain it. The limitation stipulated in the Charter is to confine United Nations interventions to situations "where the international peace is threatened or broken."
However, even the fact that a conflict takes place entirely within the borders of a single country should not be an absolute bar to intervention. In the First World War, 90% of all casualties were soldiers. In the Second World War, even taking into account the millions killed in concentration camps, about half those who died were combatants. In modern conflicts, most of which are civil wars, the vast majority of casualties are civilian. The Charter of the United Nations protects the peoples of those nations, not the governments, and the United Nations should protect human rights even within the borders of a single country. Genocide is a particular cause for concern. Annan points out:
Since genocide is almost always committed with the connivance, if not the direct participation, of the State authorities, it is hard to see how the United Nations could prevent it without intervening in a State's internal affairs.
In such cases, the United Nations has a duty to intervene. Annan concludes by drawing a parallel with the national law of France, in which there is a crime called "failure to assist a person in danger." Francois Mitterrand, he believes, had this law in mind when he congratulated the United Nations Security Council for its intervention in the internal affairs of Iraq. It is the proper role of the United Nations to intervene when it is necessary to do so to save the lives of people in danger.
In 1998, Kofi Atta Annon, a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, gave a speech in the United Nations called “Reflections on Intervention.” This speech, given early in his tenure as Secretary-General gives insight into his philosophy into how the United Nations should act with regard to intervention. One major theme the UN grapples with to this day is its role with national sovereignty. For Annon, the main question at hand concerned the correct moment in which the UN ought to overrule the sovereignty of a nation to deal with problems at the more local level.
The overarching rule had been that the UN should not intervene until a conflict or issue crossed international borders and became a problem that affected multiple nations. However, Annan believed that thinking needed to change in order to create more beneficial outcomes. Annan posited that many international conflicts first begin as civil wars and that the UN’s ability to intercede in civil wars will help remedy these conflicts early on. Such interventions help save lives in the long run.
In this speech, given in the United Kingdom in 1998, Kofi Annan argues that "intervention," a concept with negative connotations, is in fact the duty of the United Nations:
Our job is to intervene: to prevent conflict where we can, to put a stop to it when it has broken out, or—when neither of these things is possible—at least to contain it and prevent it from spreading. That is what the world expects of us.
In the past, "intervention" by the United Nations was seen to be appropriate only when mediating international conflicts (i.e., wars between two separate nations). Intervening in the affairs of a sovereign nation was seen as a violation of the UN Charter. But Annan points out that the language of the charter allows for national sovereignty to be "set aside... if it stands in the way of the Security Council's overriding duty to preserve international peace and security." The topic had become urgent by the time Annan gave his speech, because most international conflicts, he says, begin as civil wars. Therefore he advocates "intervention" to stop internal conflicts that can lead to wars, genocide, ethnic cleansing, refugee crises, or other incidents that concern the world as a whole. On the other hand, he adds that military intervention is the last resort and that intervention, in general, is most effective in the form of economic aid to address issues that tend to exacerbate conflict.
In this speech, Kofi Annan (former UN Secretary General) is making the argument that the international community should intervene more in what seem to be the domestic affairs of various countries.
In general, the idea has been that the UN should intervene in international affairs, but not in domestic ones. But Annan argues that domestic wars generally spill over into other countries. Thus, it makes sense to stop them before they so spill over.
Annan points out that not all intervention needs to be military. He calls for more aid to countries that might start having major problems.
Finally, Annan says that intervention must be international. Individual countries must not go off on their own and intervene in the affairs of other countries.