• Welcome to the annual meeting on UN issues. The UN has recently been in the public eye – front-page headlines, focus on personalities. Today is an opportunity to pause for thought and consider some of the main issues. For the UN is more important than ever. For development, for human rights, for security and for ensuring a better organised world.
The Government’s policy platform
• We stood for election in 2005 on a renewed engagement in the UN. The Government’s policy platform states: “The Government will particularly seek to strengthen the role of the UN in the world community”; furthermore that: “It is in Norway’s interests that we have a UN-led world order, rather than a situation where nations take the law into their own hands. The Government will work for a considerably strengthened UN. As a member state, Norway will actively support the reform process and seek to cooperate with like-minded countries in efforts to achieve a more modern, more effective world organisation.”
• We are following this up in words and action. At the UN headquarters in New York, Geneva, Paris, Rome, Vienna and Nairobi, we are working for a stronger and more effective world organisation. The goals set out in the policy platform are an underlying theme of the recent white papers on Norwegian interests in foreign policy and on international development policy. These white papers discuss in depth the UN’s importance, role and potential, and the concrete part that Norway should play in relation to the world organisation.
• Why did we set these goals? Why is the UN so important for us?
The UN as a meeting place and a global community of shared values
• There are many answers to these questions, and there has recently been a good deal of criticism of the UN from various quarters. Criticism is important, and the Government agrees that some of it is justified. But at times, you can get the impression that the debate on the UN lacks perspective. So I would like to start by taking a step back and recalling the value base on which the UN is built and which it is helping to uphold.
• The UN is more than the Secretariat in New York, more than the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, or the Security Council. And it is more than the Secretary-General.
• The UN is a pact, an agreement, a promise. At a time when Europe was barely emerging from the destruction and savagery of war, when men and women had committed atrocities on a more horrific scale than the world had ever seen, the founders of the UN created a world organisation “not to take us to heaven, but to prevent us from going to hell.”
• Global meeting place: In three weeks, more than 100 heads of state and government will meet in New York to discuss key international problems, and seek to find common solutions. This will be the largest gathering of political leaders for many years. President Barack Obama is coming for the first time, as is China’s President Hu Jintao. Lula, Sarkozy, Merkel and Brown are all veterans, together with our own Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg. They are meeting in the world’s only truly global political arena: the UN General Assembly.
• With the accelerating pace of globalisation, we are interacting and influencing one another more and more, and a common destiny binds us closer together. This makes a global meeting place even more important. Today, more than at any other time in history, we are facing global challenges that present greater opportunities and greater risks than ever before.
• It will do no good to stick our heads in the sand. Climate change, disarmament, global poverty and international terrorism are issues that affect every single person on the globe. The effects are felt at the local level, but the common denominator for all recent crises – the financial crisis, the food crisis, the energy crisis, the climate crisis and now swine flu – is that they all have to be addressed at the global level.
• Norms and visions: The UN is a global meeting place where we can discuss our visions and ideals and how to bring them to fruition. We may of course disagree about the nature of these visions and how they are to be realised. But the true value of the UN is that it is an arena where reasons for have to be given for dissenting views, where opponents are entitled to have an explanation. Debate in the UN does not short-circuit. The very fact that we discuss differences in our ideals and visions indicates that we attach huge value to the idea of global ideals and visions.
• One of the first major breakthroughs in the UN was the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. (...)
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this
This may sound obvious today, but these ideas were nothing less than revolutionary – and in many places they still are. In the Declaration, the members of the UN establish that there is ONE and only ONE humanity. It cannot be divided into superior and inferior, into black and white, into male and female, Christian and Muslim. There is ONE humanity, to which all people belong. The UN, and the UN alone, is an arena for representatives of the people in all the countries of the world to meet and pledge their commitment to ideas of this kind.
• A meeting place for disagreement too: We must recognise that the UN is an arena where others may not agree with our visions. It is exhausting and frustrating to deal with countries whose ideas we seriously disagree with. At times, we may feel we are not getting anywhere at all. But breaking off contact if you cannot agree is not a sound approach to international relations today.
• We cannot just avoid contact with countries we disagree with on issues such as climate change, disarmament, human rights and freedom of expression. [As the great American writer Thomas Friedman put it: “If you don’t visit the bad neighbourhoods, the bad neighbourhoods are going to visit you.”] The UN is the place where we all come together to look the unpleasant truths in the eye. To deal with the world as it is.
• It is in Norway’s interests for the UN to succeed. For a great deal of what the UN stands for – such as an international legal order – is of crucial importance for a country like Norway.
• To take a specific example, the law of the sea is vital for Norway – a coastal nation that is responsible for managing an area of sea and seabed six times as large as its land area. It is through the UN that we can establish the outer limits of our continental shelf. It is through the UN that we are entitled to develop a sound management regime for the rich biological and mineral resources off our shores.
From words to action
• Of course, the UN is more than agreements and disagreements – or heated and visionary discussions. The UN is also – and perhaps most particularly – concrete action in the field. When I visit other countries, I am often struck by how visible the UN is at country level, far from the TV cameras, with its many funds, programmes and specialised agencies, UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR, OCHA, WHO, WTO and ILO, which are all part of the extended UN family, a total of more than 60 different bodies.
• When the microphones are turned off, it is people working in these organisations who stay on to help those in greatest need.
• The UN provides food, water, health workers, vaccines, mosquito nets and many other forms of assistance that save the lives of millions of children. The UN supplies tents, fuel, schools and teachers in places where earthquakes and cyclones have wrought devastation. It is doing crucial work for the hundreds of millions who are living in poverty and need. This is also sound security policy, as these efforts are creating a safer world for us all.
• I would also like to mention the Millennium Development Goals. Yes, it is true that progress is too slow and that we won’t achieve all the goals we have set ourselves. But progress is being made. More children are attending school, more people have access to clean drinking water, child and maternal mortality are falling. Norway has been working with the UN on the Global Campaign for the Health MDGs. This is one of the fields where progress has been too slow. Norway is the third largest donor to GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, which includes WHO. Since 2000, GAVI has prevented 3.4 million premature deaths. Its campaigns have made sure that an extra 51 million children have received the DTP vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, 192 million have been vaccinated against hepatitis B, 42 million against meningitis and 36 million against yellow fever. Norway intends to play a leading role in efforts to provide vaccines for the 27 million children born each year who still do not have access to vaccination programmes.
A well functioning UN
• It is easy to blame the UN when conflicts escalate. But the UN does not function in a vacuum. To put it very simply, geopolitics influences the UN more than the UN influences geopolitics. During the 1990s there was a geopolitical thaw, but in this decade the world’s major powers have again assumed a more confrontational tone. It is no coincidence that over the same period, there has been a parallel development from a situation where countries looked to the UN to play a key role in all areas of international policy, from democracy-building to peace operations, to a situation after 2000 where cooperation in the UN has been increasingly strained.
• Perhaps the best known example is the debate in the Security Council in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq. Was this an example of UN failure? In my view, it was not. No organisation could have stopped the US. The Security Council functioned as intended; it refused to give Bush the legitimacy he was seeking for his military operation.
• Today, however, the tone from the US Administration is quite different. In a speech to New York University, the US Permanent Representative to the UN, Susan Rice, underlined that the UN is important not only for US foreign policy, but also for its security policy. ”If there ever were a time for effective multilateral cooperation in pursuit of US interests and a shared future and greater peace and prosperity, it is now.” An open invitation that we should accept whole-heartedly.
• It is easy to criticise the way major powers use, or fail to use, the UN. And often there is good reason to do so. At the same time, it is important to stay in touch with the realities of politics and bear in mind the limitations we have to work with in practice.
• If the UN is to function properly, it must be a forum that is interesting for all countries, including the major powers, so that they feel it is worth their while to invest political capital in the organisation. The UN needs to strike a balance between realpolitik and idealpolitik. It needs to follow a policy that is realistic enough to reflect the actual power relations in the world, so that the major powers are willing to take part, but at the same time idealistic enough to follow clear visions and have the potential to bring about change.
• If the UN fails to reflect the growing power of India and China in the future, this will create a problem not only for India and China, but also for the UN as a whole. And for all the countries of the world.
• At the same time, there are several prospective major powers that contribute little to the UN in terms of financial or practical support. Our role as a good, but critical friend of the UN includes maintaining a dialogue with such countries on multilateral issues in general and the UN in particular, and encouraging them to play a more active part.
• The new US Administration represents a window of opportunity. President Obama has said that: “The UN is imperfect but indispensable.”
• I agree. This is why we want the best possible UN. This is why it is so important to make the world organisation even more effective.
• We will support the UN and its role as meeting place, and we will invest time and resources in discussions, including discussions with those we strongly disagree with. As I said at the Durban Review Conference on racism in Geneva in April this year, after Ahmadinejad’s address had provoked many delegations to leave in protest: We will NOT allow the voice of the extremists to dominate in the UN.
• We are sceptical about the creation of alternatives to the UN with more selective membership, such as the G20, the G8 and the G2. Replacing the UN with arenas for like-minded democracies ultimately means giving up a global dialogue. The UN is the G192. This is why we invest so much in the UN, in terms of political, economic and human resources in the UN. (This is clearly reflected during the high-level meetings, where Norway is strongly represented at political level.)
• Throughout the UN’s history, Norway has played an important role as a bridge-builder. Our ability to fulfil this role is due to the deep-seated trust we enjoy. We are known for our consistent and predictable support for the UN. The fact that we allocate significant resources to the UN and have never been a colonial power means that we are less likely to be suspected of having a hidden agenda and can more easily promote controversial issues, for example in the field of human rights, which we often do together with our Nordic friends.
• We have a tradition of building bridges between developing countries in the South and donors in the North. We will continue to build alliances and partnerships that cut across traditional dividing lines.
• The fact that our permanent representative to the UN, Morten Wetland, is to chair the UN working group to follow up the UN summit on the financial crisis in June is clear proof that Norway is an important actor and that others listen to our views.
• Precisely because the UN is so important, we want it to perform as well as possible. But reform is is not an event, it is a process, as Kofi Annan has put it. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the UN system has clear weaknesses; it has become too complex, fragmented and difficult to govern. The organisation has developed in response to its members, in line with our demands. We must take our share of the responsibility for the system as it is today. It is time we also took a critical look at our own role and the tendency to meet each new challenge by creating a new mechanism, fund or initiative.
• At the same time, we are calling for greater coordination and streamlining. We must be aware of the dilemma this entails. Norway’s UN policy must include taking a critical look at ourselves and our role.
• A few words on Security Council reform: Failure to reform the Security Council often acts as a lightening conductor for discontent about UN reform and global disparities in general, and is used as an excuse for blocking other processes. Meanwhile, it is important that the new major powers, including those countries that have a considerably more prominent position today than they had when the UN was formed, are willing to take part.
• We are actively engaged in the debate on reform of the Security Council’s working methods, both independently and within a Nordic framework. We believe that the Security Council should be more open, and that the mechanisms for consultation with other countries should be improved. It is also important to ensuring that an expansion of the Security Council makes it more representative and increases its legitimacy without making it less effective.
• I would like to add that reform of the Security Council is important, but this is not a process where Norway can play a decisive role.
Focus on reform of the UN’s development efforts
• We have concentrated our engagement on the area where we have the greatest influence – the UN’s development efforts. In 2007, Norway was the third largest provider of voluntary contributions to the UN’s development and humanitarian efforts, after the US and the UK. We thus bear a responsibility for ensuring that these funds are used in the best possible way.
• Norway is a key global development actor. Prime Minister Stoltenberg took on a personal engagement by co-chairing the High-Level Panel on System-wide Coherence together with his colleagues from Mozambique and Pakistan in 2006. The panel’s report, Delivering as One, has already – two and a half years later – led to far-reaching changes in the way the UN system works at country level.
• The vision of One UN can become reality if the UN – together with its member states – maintains its focus on this goal and keeps up pressure. We are taking part in cross-cutting cooperation between key donors (the UK, the Netherlands, Spain and the other Nordic countries) and recipients (Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Rwanda) to realise the panel’s visions in practice.
• Norway is taking a leading role. Our embassies actively follow up efforts at country level. Norway has also chaired the donor groups in Vietnam and Tanzania (and is now chair for the donor group in Ethiopia as well).
• The One UN initiative, with one leader, one programme, one budget and one office at country level, has been tested in eight pilot countries. It is too early to conclude the exact effect this has had on development results, but we can see a number of positive trends.
• Feedback from the pilot countries has been positive. They have found the UN to be more relevant, easier to relate to, and more effective. Instead of dealing with 20 different representatives, the authorities and donors now have one contact point. The UN’s efforts are better coordinated and integrated. For example, efforts to reduce child and maternal mortality must be closely coordinated to be as effective as possible.
• The pilot countries have found that they have greater ownership of UN activities, and that these activities are more closely in line with their own national priorities. There have been reports of positive ripple effects: One UN has helped countries to coordinate their own policies better, for example by increasing awareness of the links between climate change, environment and development. There has also been closer contact between the UN and national authorities, which has opened up opportunities for a broader dialogue, even on difficult issues. This is strengthening the UN’s normative role at country level.
• Much remains to be done, particularly with regard to better coordination and general reform at headquarters level. However, the UN organisations are far more receptive to the idea of reform now than they were at the beginning. It is important that we convince sceptical countries that this is not a donor-driven process or an attempt to cut back on the UN’s development efforts.
• The UN must address the problems the High-Level Panel and others have identified in order to remain relevant. There will be a constant need for modernisation and measures to increase the organisation’s effectiveness, if for no other reason than to keep up with developments in world. But we must also be realistic. These are complex processes and change will take time. We have made a start. Words must now be followed up by action, and here responsibility lies both with the UN member states and with the UN organisations themselves, and not least with the Secretary-General. This is one of the things we have discussed with him today.
Six other areas where Norway can make a real difference: gender equality, protection of civilians including the fight against sexual violence, human rights, peacekeeping, humanitarian disarmament and efforts to address climate change.
1. Gender equality
• The members of the UN have decided that gender equality is to be streamlined into all the UN’s activities. This is clearly reflected throughout the UN’s work, from key resolutions such as Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which seeks to secure the participation of women in peace processes, to various UN programmes at country level.
• The problem is that efforts are far too fragmented. No single body is responsible for ensuring that decisions taken by member states are followed up, or for providing assistance with implementation on the ground. The High-Level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence therefore proposed a merger of four existing bodies to form a single organisation directly under the Secretary-General and headed by the Deputy Secretary-General. This will be responsible for ensuring that women’s rights and the gender perspective are taken into account in everything the UN does, both in its function as watchdog and in practice at country level.
• Norway and the other Nordic countries have spearheaded the campaign for a single, more robust gender equality unit in the UN. There is now good reason to believe that this goal will be achieved in the near future, and we are working to ensure that a policy decision is taken on the establishment of such a unit before the next General Assembly opens at the end of September. There will certainly be more than enough for the new unit to do.
2. Protection of civilians including the fight against sexual violence
• Norway, together with other countries and various relevant UN actors, has helped to raise the issue of sexual violence in armed conflict higher up on the international security policy agenda. Security Council resolution 1820 is groundbreaking in that it defines sexual violence under certain circumstances as a war crime. This highlights the fact that sexual violence is one of the most important security policy issues of our time.
• US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and I have agreed to put a spotlight on sexual violence at the General Assembly. We are also working on a joint initiative in DR Congo.
• The UN itself has taken action, with our support. Norway is one of the main contributors to the UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative, which unites 12 UN organisations in a joint effort. For example, the initiative has recently assisted in the development of a comprehensive strategy to combat sexual violence in DR Congo. UN Action is one example of how UN organisations can become more effective and relevant when they join forces. On the other hand, the UN still has a good deal of work to do in its efforts to prevent and respond to cases where UN personnel themselves are accused of perpetrating abuses.
• On 4 August, the Security Council adopted a new resolution on children and armed conflict (no. 1882). This resolution too is groundbreaking, and will strengthen efforts to stop sexual violence in conflict. It allows the UN to “name and shame” countries and/or military forces or groups through monitoring and reporting mechanisms. Together with the UN and other member states, Norway will continue its efforts to ensure that the necessary steps are taken and concrete results achieved in the field.
• The protection of civilians is a priority in Norway’s engagement in several UN forums, ranging from the development of international law to humanitarian efforts at country level. Last year, we held the first annual Trygve Lie Symposium during the opening of the UN General Assembly to draw attention to the protection mandate. This year, the Symposium will focus on the protection of civilians in armed conflict and on strengthening respect for international humanitarian law.
• The efforts to promote women’s rights and gender equality, the fight against sexual violence, and the broader protection of civilians are good illustrations of the importance of the UN in setting norms and standards.
3. Human rights
• This spring, Norway was elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council for the next three years. This will be a challenging task. The Council is the first UN body whose composition reflects the world as it is today. This means that African and Asian countries are in the majority, and when these have taken coordinated action, the Council has sometimes been an arena for questioning principles that are a key element of our own value base and that of other liberal states founded on the rule of law.
• This is not an argument for remaining outside the Human Rights Council. We must not leave the arena to those we disagree with. On the contrary, we will use openness and cross-cutting alliances to build bridges and ensure broad support for universal principles. We will play a leading role in the Council in efforts to promote the rights of women, children and minorities, and to fight discrimination in all forms. It is significant that one of the Council’s former strongest critics – the US – has decided to reengage in this work, and was elected as a member at the same time as us.
• Norway enjoys considerable trust in this area. We were one of the candidate countries that received most votes. We have also been asked to lead the difficult negotiations on resolutions on human rights defenders and internally displaced people.
• It is important to point out that the Human Rights Council has improved. The Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which was originally proposed by countries in the South, has so far been a success. All UN member states must undergo a review every four years, and this process has led to more widespread ratification of human rights conventions, more invitations to UN special rapporteurs, and better cooperation with civil society in drawing up reports. Norway is currently completing a thorough report on Norway’s work in the human rights field, which will be thoroughly examined in Geneva in December.
4. Peacekeeping efforts
• The UN now has 100 000 personnel in the field in 16 operations, many of which have complex mandates that may range from safeguarding security to monitoring violations of human rights and assisting with elections.
• The Government has given priority to increasing Norway’s civilian and military participation in UN-led efforts, in line with its policy platform. The provision of a field hospital in Chad is particularly important, and has been greatly appreciated by the UN. Our contribution has also been well received by other Western countries, which want the best possible medical services for their personnel. Our contribution has also strengthened our credibility vis-à-vis the UN, and not least vis-à-vis the major troop-contributing countries, which are constantly calling for greater Western participation.
• The US is now prepared to become involved in this area, which will be very important for the latest major initiative on reform of the UN’s peace operations. Norway will take active part in this process, with a basis in the Government’s project on integrated and multidimensional peace operations. Many of the recommendations from this project will provide valuable input to the reform process.
• The establishment of a peacekeeping operation and the presence of troops on the ground are not in themselves enough to win peace.
• The UN cannot expect to succeed alone in peacebuilding efforts. A coordinated and integrated approach is needed, and so is better funding. The UN, bilateral donors and the World Bank must work together to ensure clear evidence of peace dividends.
• At the same time, however, there are many tasks that can only be taken on by the UN. Who other than the UN could have helped Afghanistan to hold elections with some credibility, even though this has proved to be limited. No one. It is too soon to evaluate the Afghan elections, but one thing is indisputable: the elections in Afghanistan are a good example of how the UN works effectively in the field, helping to foster political stability in a fragmented country with weak institutions and deep-seated cultural differences. This is why Norway has provided significant funding for the UN’s presence in Afghanistan.
5. Humanitarian disarmament
• The processes that culminated in the Mine Ban Convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions illustrate that it may sometimes be better to work outside the UN to ensure rapid progress and achieve agreement among as many countries as possible. Nevertheless, the UN was a key partner in this work. The UN – with UNDP out in the field – provided valuable assistance vis-à-vis national authorities, practical support and legitimacy.
• In connection with our continued humanitarian disarmament efforts, we have now taken an initiative to put armed violence on the agenda, which covers small arms, explosives, mines, cluster munitions and other conventional weapons. According to UNDP, more than two million people are killed or maimed as a result of armed violence every year. Small arms are often referred to as Africa’s weapons of mass destruction. We are discussing how we can move this agenda forward in cooperation with the UN and UNDP.
• It is in the humanitarian field that the UN is most active – as advocate, provider of aid and coordinator. This is due to targeted long-term efforts to strengthen the UN’s performance and increase its resources. The Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF) ensures that funding is available when a crisis occurs, and that crises that are not the focus of media attention can also be addressed. Norway is one of the largest contributors to the CERF.
• However, there is room for improvement. Humanitarian efforts need to be better adapted to climate change, and focus more on disaster risk reduction and preparedness, and gender equality must be taken more seriously. Norway is an important partner for the UN’s humanitarian organisations, not only in terms of funding, and we will continue to make a constructive contribution in line with the Government’s recent white paper on humanitarian policy.
6. Environment and climate change
• The Secretary-General’s visit to Norway. Climate – the most serious problem of our time – was the main focus.
• In a few months the world’s attention will be turned to the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen. The people attending the summit are expected to make important progress in safeguarding the world’s common future. Everyone must do their part, and the UN has an important role to play, both as a global arena and as an actor in its own right.
• The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is playing an important part as secretariat for the negotiations, and the UN as such and the Secretary-General have a particular responsibility for ensuring that the voices of poor countries are heard. Ban Ki-moon played this role at the Bali summit, and he has called a meeting for world leaders on 22 September for discussions on climate change on an unprecedented scale. The UN is also assisting poor countries to prepare for Copenhagen. Copenhagen is not the end of the line. We will work together with others to put forward proposals for how we can integrate and strengthen climate change and environment efforts and make them more effective, for example by establishing enforcement mechanisms.
• We will contribute constructively both in the negotiations and through our cooperation with various UN organisations. We are already supporting the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD), under which FAO, UNEP, UNDP and the World Bank are working together to protect rain forests in priority areas.
• Norway can achieve a great deal through the UN, and will continue to strengthen the organisation. We will not leave this arena, this rostrum, to the extremists.
• We express criticism where we believe it is needed because we want the UN to function as well as possible. As I said at the beginning, the UN has never been more important than today.
• We can and will play a significant role, particularly with regard to international development, but also in a number of other areas that I have mentioned.
• A new climate of negotiation in the UN is now possible with the reengagement of the US. We must seize this opportunity, not just to move forward processes in key areas such as climate change and disarmament, but also to secure agreement on the necessary reforms. In order to develop the best possible world organisation. This is in our own best interests and in the best interests of all the united nations.