Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to be present here today, and for Norway to have been able to take part in the restoration of this historic room – possibly the most important room in the world.
I am truly impressed by how skillfully the restoration has been carried out under the UN Capital Master Plan.
Norway presented this room as a gift to the United Nations in 1952. The architect, Arnstein Arneberg, sought to imagine a design that could withstand the test of time. Key elements of his design can also be seen in the Oslo City Hall, which he also designed, a building finished just before this one. Internationally, the Oslo City Hall is best known as the venue for the Nobel Peace Price award ceremony.
The mural behind me, painted by artist Per Krogh, depicts a phoenix rising from its ashes, a symbol of a world being rebuilt under the auspices of the United Nations. The blue wool damask tapestry was designed by the Norwegian textile artist Else Poulsson. The anchors symbolise faith, growing wheat symbolises hope, and hearts symbolise charity.
Norway’s ambition was to provide an appropriate and inspirational setting and background for discussing the very issues that lie at the core of the UN’s purpose: peace and security. After all, this was why the UN was established in the first place: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, as the Preamble to the UN Charter makes clear. War, as it was perceived by the founding fathers of this great organisation, meant inter-state war, wars between states. And indeed, looking back, inter-state war has actually been the exception in the years since 1945, so maybe it is true to say that the vision set out then has to a large extent been achieved. Instead, however, intra-state conflicts and new security challenges have risen to centre stage and given the Security Council its fair share of challenges.
This room has been the venue for countless important events during its 61-year history. From overseeing the transition to a post-war order in the early 1950s, through decades of decolonisation, the intense tension surrounding the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, to the birth of modern peacekeeping, the advent of a post-Cold War order in the 1990s and decisions to intervene – or not to intervene – in complex situations around the world.
When this room was inaugurated 61 years ago, in April 1952, we were in the midst of one of the harshest conflicts of the early Cold War era. In the Korean War, the UN took an active stance to defend South Korea, but the Korean War also proved to be a conflict over which the great powers strongly disagreed. That war ended in a ceasefire, not in permanent peace. Events over the last days and weeks have reminded us that permanent peace has still not been achieved, more than six decades on. But they have also shown that whereas the world reaction was marked by disunity in the 1950s, today every member of this Council has expressed revulsion over the acts and statements that led to the most recent crisis.
I look forward to discussing the role and continued relevance of the Council at the panel discussion that will follow shortly, and where I will be joined by a group of skilled dignitaries and thinkers. But first, allow me to take this opportunity to share a few thoughts on the current realities facing the Council.
Today, we are in the midst of a global shift, a transformation to a world order that we have little or no first-hand experience of. Indeed, we are looking at a paradigm shift in how our world should be understood. Economic growth in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and the global rebalancing that is resulting from this growth, are changing the geopolitical map of the world. I am in no doubt that these trends will have significant consequences for the work of this organisation. New actors will expect enhanced influence but will also, we must hope, take responsibility for addressing the most important issues of our time.
It is not just a matter of having a place at the table, but also of having a voice for influencing the matters discussed at the table. A changing world will change the UN, but the direction of change should also be influenced by an active UN organisation and an evolving regional and multilateral architecture for the 21st Century. The UN, and this Council in particular, will have a key role to play in reconciling divergent views and responses and promoting a common global platform of strategic trust for a new era.
In peacekeeping, the Council carries the responsibility for ensuring a collaborative mandating process, whereby the whole UN system and member states assume ownership and understand the implications of doing so.
In order to successfully bear this responsibility, the Council needs to work further to consolidate the resources and tools at its disposal. The Charter provides us with a full menu of crisis management options. A menu that even after all this time has yet to be fully utilised. At its best, the Council can employ integrated crisis management response to prevent and influence conflicts.
As the film we just saw illustrated, we have come a long way since this Chamber was first put to use. Our very understanding of what constitutes threats to international peace and security has changed since the Charter was adopted. Our understanding of the political and operational climate within which the UN operates needs to continue to evolve. One of the main conundrums that we need to address collectively in the years to come is how we can successfully adapt and remain relevant (and agile) in an ever-changing world.
In order to manage this, it is my hope that adequate premises such as this renovated Chamber will be put to good use. Countries in the North, South, East and West all compete to have a seat in this Chamber. I do take some pride, then, in the fact that the entire room, including all its chairs, are actually Norwegian; that is still true today, just as it was in 1952.
To conclude my welcoming remarks on this historic occasion, I would like to give the Secretary-General a unique piece of memorabilia, literally a piece of important UN history. This tie is made from the fabric of the original wall tapestry, with its decorations symbolising the spirit of peace – the very rationale for our being here and for the work that takes place in this room.