Speech to UN Security Council
Wednesday, 12 June 2019
New York, US
Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by echoing the words of my esteemed colleague, the Chair of The Elders, Mary Robinson, and thank you for the opportunity to address this august gathering.
As a former Secretary-General of the United Nations I have the utmost respect for the institution of the Security Council and the principles and values it is designed to uphold.
When the Council can cooperate and speak with a strong common voice, its decisions can have a decisive impact.
This strong, common voice is needed more than ever at this current time, when the deceptive allure of populism and isolationism is growing across all continents, from North and South America to Africa, Asia and Europe.
Faced with complex, multi-faceted and gravely serious challenges from nuclear proliferation to climate change and a radical transformation of our economic and social paradigms, it is perhaps understandable that many people from everyday walks of life feel overwhelmed and seek solace in simplified narratives of a bygone “golden age” when they had a sense of being in control of their individual and national destinies.
What is profoundly irresponsible, however, is for politicians – especially but not exclusively in democratic societies – to collude in or deliberately stoke these illusions for their own aims of securing and sustaining power, in full knowledge that no one country, however powerful, will be able to meet these global challenges on its own.
This is why I believe it is absolutely essential for global peace and security that the member states of the United Nations, and especially those who have the honour of serving as members of the Security Council, understand and meet their responsibilities under the UN Charter and act in the service of all humanity rather than the narrow fields of national, ideological or sectarian interests.
The Council needs to be bold and assert its collective voice to meet common challenges, heeding the words of my illustrious predecessor as Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld:
“It is when we all play safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity. It is when we all play safe that fatality will lead us to our doom. It is in the ‘dark shade of courage’ alone that the spell can be broken.”
The Council has always been intended as a forum for collective engagement in the broader interests of peace and security, as well as an opportunity for member states to reflect their capital’s perspective on the issue under discussion.
In the humble view of The Elders, based on our substantial collective experience of working for and within the international system, the decision-making processes of the Council could be improved to encourage Council members agree on a joint common position to address conflicts in their early stages.
The Council should explore ways to be more efficient and effective, and to assert its collective voice through timely and strong statements. It needs to speak for and to the whole of the United Nations, rather than being constrained by the respective agendas and priorities in national capitals of its member states.
Building on the remarks of President Robinson, I would like to highlight three more areas where I feel the Council can show effective leadership to support the work of the Secretary-General and improve general conditions for peace and conflict resolution:
1. The importance of prevention
The Secretary-General’s emphasis on the priority to be given to prevention is very welcome, and member states must ensure that UN prevention and peacebuilding work is properly supported and funded.
Council members should do more to support the Secretary-General in using his “good offices” to help prevent and reduce the threat of conflict. Council members should also recognise that the Council’s work on peace and security is undermined when its members undermine the UN’s own peace envoys and peace processes. The human cost of these machinations is all too painful to see, with Libya and Yemen standing out as just two grim examples.
2. Regional institutions
Strong multilateral regional institutions are essential for the maintenance of peace and security, both as forums for dialogue and as mechanisms for economic and political cooperation between states.
Positive examples include the European Union and OSCE.
By contrast, the absence of dialogue between states or of inclusive forums for dialogue in the Middle East is one of the reasons for the persistence and recurrence of conflict there.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend our host, the State of Kuwait, for its persistent commitment to and support for the values that have historically underpinned the Gulf Cooperation Council.
I would urge all other members of the GCC to act in the same spirit to restore this body to its vital role as a guarantor of regional stability, governed by mutual respect for national sovereignty and a shared understanding of common challenges.
The role of regional organisations in preventing and resolving conflict should be strengthened, not only in the Middle East but across the wider world. Greater coordination between the UN Security Council and regional organisations would also be beneficial.
3. Nuclear threat
The risks of nuclear conflict are higher than they have been in several decades.
As Mary Robinson so rightly said, nuclear weapons and climate change pose two of the most severe existential threats to life on Earth as we know it.
When it comes to nuclear non-proliferation, the international community is confronted with two serious challenges, namely the Iranian nuclear development programmes and securing the complete denuclearisation of North Korea.
Regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, I am deeply concerned by the US decision to withdraw from the JCPOA because it not only weakens the regional stability of the Middle East, but also sends the wrong signal to ongoing negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear issues.
Unfortunately, the negotiations between the US and North Korea have come to a deadlock since the failure of the Hanoi summit last February.
I support the US government’s efforts to realise the complete denuclearisation of North Korea. In this context, we should maintain and faithfully comply with the sanction measures imposed by the Council on North Korea. I sincerely hope that all the Member States of the UN faithfully implement the sanction measures.
On the other hand, according to the FAO and WFP, actual food shortages in North Korea might reach around 1.5 million tons.
Considering the fact that North Korea has suffered chronic food shortages during the last two decades, the situation seems to be worsening without support from the international community.
In view of this, the government of the Republic of Korea has announced that it would contribute 8 million US dollars to the United Nations agencies to help North Korea address the current humanitarian situations.
I sincerely hope that the currently deadlocked negotiations will resume among the parties concerned as soon as possible.
But beyond these two regional issues, there is also the very real risk that the whole architecture of arms control and nuclear non-proliferation that was built up during the decades of superpower confrontation may collapse, through a combination of neglect, hubris and ill-founded threat analysis.
This issue goes to the very heart of the Security Council. Its permanent members are all nuclear-armed states, and they thus possess a uniquely heavy responsibility to develop effective processes of non-proliferation and disarmament.
Yet the failure of the P5 to make progress on their disarmament commitments under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty risks undermining the NPT, which has been a highly effective multilateral mechanism for preventing proliferation.
It is in the interests of the P5 to get serious about disarmament if they wish to maintain the near-universal international commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation, particularly in the lead up to next year’s NPT Review Conference.
The consequences of failure do not bear contemplation.
I hope that in our contributions, The Elders have highlighted opportunities for progress as well as challenges to be overcome. We look forward now to a stimulating interactive discussion with the Council members, and thank you again for the privilege to take part in this debate.