International Peace and Security: The Role of Small Countries in a Changing UN

15. November, 2005


Atis Lejiņš

Foto: N. Mežiņš

Can small states be influential in the UN through a regional Nordic-Baltic framework and the EU? Diplomats and policy analysts from Latvia, Sweeden and Norway address this issue during panel discussion organized by UNDP Latvia.*.

Atis Lejiņš, Director of Latvian Institute of International Affairs: My wish would be to come down to concrete situations just for the simple reason that in Latvia we don’t have the luxury of just simply making theories. We have to survive. We want to catch up with our regional friends and neighbors. The question is, how do we influence the UN which is important for all of us? I suggested that it could only be done through the EU. So through a regional organization is how small nations can influence the UN. That’s the question for the floor. How do we, through the EU, influence the UN?

Ilgvars Kļava, Under Secretary of State (Political Director), Second Political Directorate: Definitely we have learned from those bitter lessons of the past. That’s why we joined the EU and NATO. That’s why we stand for a strong transatlantic relationship. And the UN is indeed one of the foreign policy instruments, an important one no doubt, but it is one of many. Latvia acts through a number of international instruments, but the point is that we don’t create a religion there. The religion would be the assumption that the UN can save us and give 100% bulletproof insurance in all cases and all risk scenarios. That is simply not true. We can name a number of examples where it has not been true.

There is an additional thing, of course. Somebody had to do the “dirty job.” The UN is not always available or able to do the dirty job. We will have very difficult situations also in the future. It is not just Iraq. It is not just the Balkans where you have to use military force. There will be other difficult situations we will have to face such as what is happening with Iran’s nuclear programme and how effectively it can be solved or tackled. Those are the big challenges. We cannot solve them with one instrument, the UN, even if we have an excellent charter and so on.

Coming to the question of how we can influence UN policy through EU, I am tempted to say that we can push through, adopt or pass decisions in the EU more easily because the number of countries is small and it encompasses one region so there are some common values and common history at least to some extent. This is not to say that I disregard or neglect what the UN can do within the framework of 192 countries.

Ambassador Hans Corell (Sweden), former Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs and Legal General Counsel of the United Nations:

I know the organization from inside and out for ten years. I am concerned when I hear that the UN is treated just like anything. Because it isn’t. And the question is whether states realize what they were given in the Charter and how important it is to defend the ideas that the Charter stands for. Surely, one should act, and I think you did the right thing to join the EU and NATO. Not a question of that. But try to look a little bit at the horizon. Try to see that there will be major geopolitical shifts on the globe. We won’t be here then, but our children or grandchildren will be.

Also, don’t imagine that everything depends on arms. Rome did not fall because of arms. Rome fell for economic reasons. And I’ll just explain the tremendous shift. In 45 years we will have the major economic activity – if these estimates by professionals are correct – shift towards India and Asia. As a matter of fact, I’m rather concerned as a Swede. If we can’t afford to buy the fuel that we need to heat our houses because we can’t generate enough income, then where are we going to live?

You are quite right when you say that the UN can’t always do the dirty job. Butros Gali was extremely concerned about Yugoslavia, and he said afterwards that we need a striking force. In the UN you can’t assemble companies or battalions from various countries because it doesn’t work. You don’t have the linguistics or logistics or the communications for that. You have to have either the US or NATO. Those are the ones who can perform these kinds of activities.

Why do we have Iraq? Why do we have the Coalition? Because the Charter was violated. The Secretary-General said very clearly that the attack against Iraq violated International Law. There was no clear mandate by the Security Council. Not that I am defending Saddam Hussein whom I have met. Not at all. I think good we’ve gotten rid of him, but it could have been done in other forms and with less bloodshed both for people in Iraq and for people coming in to assist the Coalition.

Mr. Lejiņš: We should talk about how in the EU and even in the Nordic-Baltic area we can influence the UN. And about how the Nordic-Baltic area can the influence the EU precisely because of the changing security landscape among other reasons. America will no longer be the leading economic power. The think tanks have been going on about this now for seven or eight months. In 2050 the leading power will be China, the second one will be India, the third will be the US and the fourth will be the EU. Maybe the EU. Maybe others.

But that’s precisely the point. How do we strengthen the EU in the UN? That’s the point because there will always be nation-states influencing the UN, and small nations can only work through a regional framework. Can anybody argue against that? We cannot build up a supra-international organization of nations. We are even failing in the EU. Look at what happened to the Constitutional Treaty. We are back to the nation-state. We are back to the world of realpolitik. We are afraid of the old world coming back.

Mr. Kļava: We can only speculate how the situation in the world will change in the forthcoming 20-25 years. One can assume that China will get more deeply involved in world affairs and in world economic processes. We are seeing signs now clearly of how they strive for tapping into oil fields in different regions around the world. So they will become more and more profoundly interested in keeping world affairs in order because from that will depend their economic success and their markets and things like that. The question is what kind of order that will be. The preferable case would be if they would do that using the UN mechanism and using their influence there.

Ambassador Nils Olav Stava, (Norway): Mr. Lejins, you used the word realpolitik, and I think a lot of the discussion here is about what is realistic and what is good in an almost moral way. Altruistic motivation, I think, is a very unreliable basis. I think for most of what we are doing, even in the UN, we see to be in our interest not to be altruistic. In the long run only self-interest is a realistic basis, I think.

Peter Wille, Deputy Director General, Department for Global Affairs, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

I hesitate somewhat to say what the EU could do to influence the UN, but I want to make one comment. That is that the EU speaks with one voice in most of the UN meetings. That is, of course, on one hand, an enormous strength that so many countries can speak with one voice, and they add a lot of weight to that voice. On the other hand, I think the EU countries spend too much time and efforts to reach a position where they can speak with one voice. Maybe it would sometimes be better if they can go out there and speak with 25 voices and participate more actively in negotiations. I remember one example. During a UN conference, the chair from Iran asked a big audience to have some views on two proposals. The EU chairmanship, Norway and Canada spoke up for one alternative. Iran, Cuba, China, Syria and some others spoke for the other alternative. And the Iranian chair said “I have three speakers in favor of this proposal and ten speakers in favor of the other. There is no doubt where we should go.”

Two small comments on how small countries can influence the UN. I think that we small countries have some comparative advantages in the UN not least when it comes to the fact that we very rarely are accused of having a hidden agenda. We are not a threat to anyone. And that makes the possibility for some of the small countries to take initiatives that big countries could never do. For example, if the US has a concern about something going on in another country it is very difficult for the US to take an initiative because they will always be accused of having a hidden agenda. Norway has very often taken initiatives. We can take initiatives that would be extremely controversial if they came from a big power.

Another thing is personalities. I think that small countries have time and again shown that through personalities they reach a lot. They can play an important role in governing bodies in the UN. I think that the most active chair in the human rights commission of the UN over the last 10 years was the Irish chair.

Anders Wallberg, Deputy Director, Department for Global Security, Head of Section for Conflict Management and General UN Policy Affairs, Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

Picking up on a few of the comments made. The question of altruism vis-à-vis self-interest. I would place myself somewhere in the middle or rather towards the self-interest but with a slight modification. I would put it “enlightened self-interest.”

As regarding the voice of the EU and its coordination, I think a lot of Swedes were skeptical before Sweden joined the EU in 1995 and asked themselves if a country of 8 million could have an impact on this big union of 350 million which it was at the time. All of us who have worked with the EU in different working groups and participated in meetings of the council are stuck by how much of a difference even a small country can make if it has well substantiated arguments. That’s the lesson I think we learned. It’s not perhaps so much about whether you are a big country. It is very often whether your arguments are well thought through.

Mr. Corell: I am concerned to hear the argument that if the UN can’t intervene because the Security Council can’t pull its act together, then should a regional organisation not be allowed to take up arms and do things? This is extremely dangerous.

Kosovo, yes, they did. An informed general public saw that thousands of people were coming out, refugees over the border and the UN Security Council didn’t do anything, so NATO took initiative. You can come into situations where you have no other choice, but you should not dress that as an option in an ordinary discussion. Why? Because it undermines the most important element in the UN Charter, namely, the system of collective security.

I agree entirely that the UN shouldn’t be dealing with a lot of things. But if you reduce the charter, if you would take away bit by bit, there is one element that makes the charter really stand or fall in full. That is Chapter 7 and the authority of the Security Council to say “We decide that peace and security are threatened; we now take the following actions: a, b, c.” In my view, the most important thing is to hold the council responsible. It was wrong in Kosovo not to force those states that threatened with vetoes to produce those vetoes. Maybe they wouldn’t have. The Security Council should be forced to make a decision. There I see a major contribution by the EU in strengthening the collective security element in the UN and not being out there saying, “If you don’t pick up the whatever bins, then we will do it.” No.

Professor Juris Bojārs, Institute of International Affairs, University of Latvia:

I support you, your Excellency Corell, very much in this line because little countries have only to say if international law is observed in the world. If there are double standards – one standard for big countries and another standard for little countries – there will be no peace and order in the world. Never.

How is the world ruled? Still, the world is ruled by the same club of winners of the Second World War, which is totally wrong, because the world has totally changed. New, very strong players have come in. Between them small but very efficient nations like Ireland and the Baltic nations are coming up also. India is an upcoming very strong power. Still, it is not in the Security Council which is not just. India would counterbalance China in that region very well. China is arming itself very rapidly. What would happen if China comes up with the same concept as America in anticipating self-defense as the Americans did in Iraq?

Germany is still the loser of the Second World War. The biggest European economy is still in kind of a backward position. So to my mind, the UN should be reformed radically, the Security Council first of all. Maybe the EU should be given a position as a whole in the Security Council.

Mr. Lejiņš: Yes, but then can we take a decision here that the Nordics and the Baltics should pass a resolution in the EU that Great Britain and France give up their seats in the Security Council and give it to the EU? But who will be the one representing the EU?

Mr. Corell: The problem is that the UN is an intergovernmental organization. So you can’t have an organization as a member of the UN.

Andreas Selliaas, Research fellow, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs:

I have a comment on this altruism thing. What I mean by altruism is that we should put efforts into solving problems in all the parts of the world that do not directly affect us.

Of course, there is a self-interest in that as well.

A comment on the question of how we can influence the UN. When we look at peacekeeping, we clearly see that small states provide personnel and troops to institutions that they want to influence. Iraq to impress or influence the US. The Balkans and Afghanistan to impress or influence NATO. So if small states want to impress or influence the UN and make the UN an efficient peacekeeper, they should put more effort into providing the UN with troops, military observers and things like that. That is one answer to your question.

Mr. Lejiņš: If we provide troops to the EU and NATO, what is there left to give the UN? Isn’t it more bang-for-the-buck giving troops to NATO and the EU and having more influence there, than giving a few troops to the UN?

Mr. Selliaas: Of course, you can influence the UN by putting efforts into the EU if it’s a UN-mandated operation, for instance.

Zaneta Ozoliņa: I think that we are applying here very dangerous language: Either/Or. We would like to exclude the UN from certain areas or to give more power to NATO or the EU. I think that all founders of those institutions didn’t have this Either/Or thinking, but they had a complementary type of thinking. All institutions that are in place have certain goals to be achieved and instruments that are at their disposal. Whether we like it or not, the UN is the only global institution. We can criticize how comprehensive it is or what is missing on the agenda, but no other body will make this global agenda anyway. Here, I see the big potential of the UN. Here is also the potential for small countries because all countries that are members of the UN can contribute to this debate.

But I think what we are missing in this debate, and it is not only us but also all who are concerned about the future of the UN, is the law enforcement issue. Nobody doubts the efficiency of the UN Charter, but this is a question of how to enforce, and it is not so easy to answer.

Mr. Klava: We have to bear in mind one detail. When the UN was created, it was the only international organisation. There was no NATO, no EU. Since then, many more actors have appeared on the world stage, and that has had an impact on how the whole thing is functioning.

Mr. Corell: The more I read the Charter, the more impressed I am by those who drafted it because they foresaw this situation. There’s a whole chapter on regional organisations of which the EU is one. The Charter says they are welcome, and that they can do whatever they like as long as it is within the principles and purposes of the Charter with one exception: Article 53 of the Charter – They may not use force unless they are authorized by the Security Council.

I, for one, am a great friend of regional organisations. The UN simply can’t do everything. It would be overwhelming, and it wouldn’t be efficient. But don’t overlook what we have. Don’t underestimate the fact that we have a body now of 15 member states, the Security Council, who can meet within an hour or two if something happens somewhere in the world. When the council meets, they have their instructions from capitals and they may vote differently, but they are friends. And furthermore, behind that ambassador sitting on the council is a tremendously powerful communications instrument. Imagine that capitals should start phoning other capitals if something happens somewhere in the world. So the body’s existence contributes tremendously to peace and security in the world. We don’t know what there would be without it. Regarding the last question on law enforcement, this is the classical problem in international law because we don’t have a bailiff to enforce the law. We have to rely on the states themselves. This problem will never go away. I don’t think one can create enforcement. That is why I think that ultimately when it comes to respect for the law and when you have a very powerful state, the only remedy is statesmanship.

Mr. Lejiņš: Can we look at two concrete cases? The UN, EU and small states. Two years ago we had EU operation in the Congo. It was what we now call peacemaking. Not war but peacemaking. You kill other people, and you have peace. But why did the EU have to go in? Because the UN failed. The UN then came in later on. They couldn’t do any peacemaking. They could only do peacekeeping.

The other one is the much bigger question of Afghanistan. The coalition of the willing soon realized that they could not do it. In the end it had to be NATO. Without NATO, you would not have ISEF which is now basically providing security to Afghanistan.

How do we, as small states in the EU and the UN, affect the successful outcome of these two important operations?

Mr. Corell: It seems that you are criticizing the UN for not doing the job. It is very important to recognize that the UN can’t do more than what the member states put at its disposal. I remember I took up office on the 6th of March 1994. One month later, Habyarimana’s plane went down in Kigali, and Butros Gali was there praying for 3,500 paratroopers that would have stopped the genocide. He wasn’t given the resources. Then we have the Yugoslav experience also where he said we couldn’t have UN troops gathered to do major operations because they are too vulnerable. So as long as, for example, ISEF is in Afghanistan with a UN mandate and other operations too, I see no problem at all. We should be thankful that there are organizations like NATO and others who can produce these troops to do the dirty job as Ilgvars Klava said earlier. But still I consider it within the framework on the UN.

Mr. Wallberg: I would like to touch briefly on the question of participation in peacekeeping operations. I know that there has been a lot of criticism of western countries for only participating in northern conflicts. I think that there is some validity in that criticism. I think it is important that advanced industrialised nations participate in peacekeeping operations in Africa. Personally, I’m very pleased that Sweden is participating in Liberia. We have some 250 troops, and Ireland actually has twice that number. One should not underestimate the psychological effect it has when western countries do not leave them only to contributors from third world countries. There’s also a certain element of capacity building.

Mr. Lejiņš: Can I be a little bit more of a devil’s advocate here? What about the near abroad? When the OSCE border-monitoring mission collapsed in Georgia, and Georgia as you know is next to Chechnya, the idea was for some of the new EU member states to send an EU border-monitoring mission. It collapsed. It was too close to Russia. There you are. It is easier to send 250 troops to Liberia than to a country that is in your neighborhood. And remember how it was in Kosovo. If NATO hadn’t started bombing Milosevic and Serbia, the UN could not have. The Russians were against it. What would have happened in Kosovo? The same thing as in Bosnia-Herzegovina where 200,000 people were wiped out. That’s Europe!

By the way, one of my most shameful moments was when I was sitting at a table at a conference with a representative from Kenya. It was about peacekeeping. And I said “Why are you here?” And he said “I am just looking at how you Europeans have been killing each other in Europe and comparing experiences with us Africans.” I had nothing to say afterwards. So they killed everybody in Rwanda while we killed 200,000 people in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and it would have happened in Kosovo. NATO came in without a UN mandate and stopped it. Maybe there are times when you have to do it without a UN mandate precisely because in the Security Council there is a veto-using culture.

Mr. Corell: Don’t forget that when UN operations are set up, if they come from poor countries in Africa or Asia, they provide the troops but they don’t have the equipment. So one major step here is to train the troops. Whilst if you take NATO, they can go in with a striking force from moment one. That’s why I think that countries like Latvia who may have better resources can go in with readily equipped troops and start working immediately. These quick reaction forces could be used regionally or by the UN. It doesn’t matter as long as the Security Council is on board.

There is a limit to what the UN can do. These questions were discussed after the failures in Kosovo and Rwanda. I refer to the so-called Brahimi Report, A/55/3O5. In Kosovo and East Timor, the UN actually governed the provinces. This was a tough job. I think this is as much as the UN can do by being responsible for law and order in the country. If you go above that, then the UN simply can’t master that.

In Iraq, of course, people thought the UN should administer Iraq. There is no way one can administer a country like that without a major army at your disposal.

This means that if we are faced with this question, we have to sit down very carefully, see who is best placed to do what. The Security Council should be there to say “If we are not going to do this directly, we have to authorize it in some way.”

Mr. Lejiņš: Could I just add a caveat? And if we cannot authorize it, because of the veto culture, then we let NATO or the EU do it.

Mr. Corell: When the necessity is there, then you may have no other choice. But don’t let the Council off the hook.

Mr. Selliaas: I have a comment on the referred UN failures in the Balkans and in the Caucasus. I would ask the question: what are the lessons learned from this? Should we put more money into the UN or should we not?

Mr. Willie: Maybe yes, but perhaps in a different way. I think that it is very important or it is crucial for the UN to have more predictability in the funding. I think Jan Egeland came out in the media recently saying that he compared the handling of the natural disasters and the UN preparedness with the local fire brigades. He said “Could you imagine if the local fire service would have to apply to the municipality before they could turn on the water?” I think that is very well put. There is a proposal in the UN to create a reserve fund. We think that it is a very good idea to have this central emergency reserve fund which would enable the UN to be better prepared to go in very quickly in natural disasters.

Mr. Lejiņš: In the age of global warming, I think that there will be more and more natural disasters, and here the UN really could show its worth through this.

Ms. Gunn Roset, 1st secretary, Norwegian Embassy: I think that we had a somewhat fatalistic approach today that the UN has maybe failed on some occasions and the EU, NATO and other organizations might go alone. That’s why we need UN reform. I think that the whole idea of peacekeeping/peace building operations is one of the crucial elements in the reform package and provides the background for establishing this peace building commission. So I would like to ask the participants in the panel what we, as small countries, can do alone or together to provide the UN with the necessary tools?

Mr. Kļava: We have to keep working with individual countries to find a way to reform the UN. That’s how I see the only way we can influence it all, and that’s what we are doing.

There was a question about putting money into the UN and UN failures in particular geographic areas. First of all, who failed? Again, it is not the UN per se. It reflects only that the member states or major players in the UN didn’t see the UN as a major channel in that particular situation and the choice fell on some other tools.

Mr. Lejiņš: If we put too high hopes and say that’s the only panacea, then there will be huge disappointments if the reforms are not carried out. But if we have a realistic point of view, we can remember that there are limits to what the UN can do. There can be a division of labor in the world. There is the EU or NATO that can do the job better. Talking about the new security landscape, ASEAN – the Association for Southeast Asian Nations – is developing economic cooperation extremely rapidly these days. Who is to say that those 9 or 10 states will not form the EU of Asia? There is no one to say that they cannot have a NATO there either.

So we don’t have to see the world only through EU and NATO eyes. There are other countries emerging. They will have their organisations and, somehow, you will have to have a combination between the East and the West. And that will be the United Nations, right?

Let us give the last word to the United Nations.

Inita Pauloviča, Head of UNDP Latvia:

It is not so often in Latvia that we discuss these kinds of global issues together not only with Latvians but also with the international community. The UN 60th Anniversary has brought us to this idea. I think there were three major issues what we touched upon in this conference.

One issue is UN reform and the role of small nations in UN reform. I really like this idea that there are no small nations, but instead the issue is whether we have enough willingness to change something and influence.

Another issue was the role of small countries. I think this is something that Latvian politicians and Latvian civil society have to think about. Sometimes Latvians tend to think that we are small, poor, incompetent, and non-influential. Somehow, we have to turn it around. We have to see that we have a few people who are excellent in one area, others who are excellent in another area, and whole capacity in other areas. I think this is something that Latvians have to become more proud about: what we know and what we can do. I would like to ask our Nordic colleagues to encourage Latvian politicians, the Latvian government and Latvian people to be more active and to take more initiative in the international arena.

The third issue was peacemaking and peacekeeping. As head of UNDP, I would like to say that it is just one small part of the whole development picture. It is very important to understand that you can send troops and you can solve the crisis but you have to think about the development agenda. I think what we have to do, especially in Latvia, is look to the global development agenda and the global development challenges for the whole world and to define where is our comparative advantage, where is our capacity to influence this development agenda and how can we move on it.

* The discussion is published in a shortened version. The discussion took place in Riga, October 28, 2005. It was organized by UNDP Latvia in cooperation with embassies of Norway and Sweden in Latvia. raksts

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