President Niinistö, President of the UN General Assembly Miroslav Lajcak, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me begin by thanking President Niinistö for inviting me to speak here today.
It is always a pleasure to be here in Kultaranta. This venue brings back so many good memories to me and my wife Eeva. We have spent the last couple of days here in Naantali enjoying classical music at the Naantali music festival. This is one of the absolute benefits of being semi-retired.
Recent events in the world scene have made me, and many others, concerned over multilateral world order. We hear countries threatening to leave international organisations and claiming international cooperation undermines their national interests. We have witnessed unilateral decisions to withdraw from international agreements that have required years of negotiations. The threat of a violent confrontation between great powers has re-emerged.
The United Nations was founded in 1945 “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. 73 years later we can ask if human beings are any safer from war than at the time when the UN was established.
Seeing deliberate violence, grief and suffering caused by conflicts; seeing wars such as that in Syria dragging on has made me wonder, whether the UN has succeeded in fulfilling its mission and what can be done to make it more effective.
First of all, we all need to understand the realities of the world. The UN does not exist in a vacuum but it reflects the surrounding world. Its ability to take action is very much defined by the 5 permanent members of the Security Council, most importantly the United States and Russia. The Secretary-General or his or her Special Representatives can do very little unless they have political support from the Security Council. I could have not done a thing in any of my assignments with the UN, should I have not had that backing. It is justified to ask whether this is the way the world organisation should function. However, for the moment, this is the political reality we have to deal with, whether we like it or not.
Personally, I believe in the UN. I have worked with 5 Secretaries-General and firmly believe in the potential of the organisation. The UN was built on values that all members states have committed themselves to.
As the Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations says, all member states commit “to maintaining international peace and security, and to that end: to taking effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bringing about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law.”
The problem is that these values are often disregarded by the very states that have agreed on them. Another problem is that they are often referred to as something Western. Let me get this straight: these values are not only Western. They are global. By referring to democracy, human rights and rule of law as “Western”, we have made the world a disservice. We have created an opportunity for questioning values that are supposed to serve everyone. For me, the Arab spring was the most significant demonstration of the UN’s value base being global, instead of tied to any specific country or region. Everybody wants to have a fair chance in life. And the rule of law, democracy and human rights are a precondition for this chance to be given to all citizens.
I would like to see a world where a country that does not fully respect these global values simply cannot be considered for any important position in the international system. The permanent members of the Security Council have a specific responsibility to see that these values are respected. Membership in the Security Council comes with a duty to support the Secretary-General.
The value base is there, it is up to us to make it our reality. I rarely quote other people but here I end with the words of Nelson Mandela: “I call on the governments to listen to their peoples, and on peoples to insist that their governments make more farsighted decisions.”
I thank you.