Address to the Storting on Norway’s membership of the UN Security Council

On 17 January, Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt gave an address to the Storting on Norway’s membership of the UN Security Council in the period 2021–2022.

Mr President,

We have just concluded our fifth term as an elected member of the UN Security Council. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to come here and talk about our Council membership, and perhaps this will lead to some critical debate. Because it is easy to be critical of the way the Security Council works. Serving on the Security Council involves facing up to the realities of the world around us.

Our task has been to try to work constructively to address those realities. To seek to establish frameworks for how states behave towards each other and how states and the international community can ensure that the rights of all individuals are upheld.

The first time Norway served on the Security Council was in 1949–1950. The Korean War was at the top of the agenda for much of our first term as an elected member. Norway had a seat on the Council again in 1963–1964, 1979–1980 and 2001–2002. Last time, it was 9/11, the subsequent war on terror, and the run-up to the war in Iraq that were the overriding issues. 

We have had to deal with unforeseen crises and conflicts all five times we have served on the Council. We have been close to historic events as they have unfolded. But we have never found the situation – or the basis for cooperation in the Council – to be as challenging or contentious as we did this time.

Because Norway’s fifth term as an elected member of the Security Council has been shaped by a series of conflicts. Such as the military coup in Myanmar, the war in Ethiopia, and the Taliban’s takeover of power in Afghanistan.

But it is obviously Russia’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine, launched on 24 February 2022, that has dominated the past year. The war represents a turning point for security policy.

Mr President, the climate for international cooperation has become tougher. More polarised. At the same time, democracy is under pressure in many countries.

Today, well under half the world’s population live in democracies. The number of authoritarian, illiberal regimes is growing.

But the more unpredictable and rife with tensions the world becomes, Mr President – the more complex it becomes – the more important the Security Council is. Both as a meeting place and as a decision-making body.

Although it has become more difficult to achieve consensus, this meeting place is invaluable. The world will not be a better place if we come together less, talk to each other less. 

Mr President,

In his book Lille land – hva nå? (‘Small country – what now?’ (Norwegian only)) from 1982, former Foreign Minister Knut Frydenlund wrote that the best way for a small country like Norway to safeguard its national interests was by working to promote a better organised international community. This work is also the best contribution we can make to building a better world, he continued.

A better organised world does not automatically mean a safer or more just world. But it is the basic prerequisite for achieving such a world, wrote Frydenlund.

And this is still the case today, 50 years after he became Foreign Minister.

In my address on 5 January last year, I pointed out that an important reason why Norway had sought to become an elected member of the Security Council was to safeguard and promote our own interests. That respect for international agreements and a strong UN are crucial to Norway’s security and national interests.

And upholding respect for international law is without doubt one of Norway’s defined national interests. As a small country, we are dependent on there being rules governing how states behave, and on it not being the law of the strongest that prevails.

And international law, Mr President, is developed in part through binding decisions taken by the Security Council.

Norway’s two-year term on the Council has involved a great deal of work and required considerable resources. But these efforts have not been at the expense of other foreign policy priorities.

Nor have we found conflicting pressures from the various great powers to be a problem, as some people had warned about before we took up our seat. On the contrary, at times, we ourselves have challenged one or other of the great powers.

Norway has used the Security Council as an arena to promote clear, consistent Norwegian policies, in line with our core principles. And we have helped to solve problems, with a view to preserving the Council’s role as a decision-making body. In an extremely tense situation.

During its membership, Norway has taken part in negotiations leading to the adoption of 111 Security Council resolutions. We have ourselves initiated and led the negotiations on a number of resolutions.

Such as the resolution on maritime security and combating piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, considered to be among the most dangerous waters in the world.

The resolution was adopted unanimously following several months of negotiations. Regional cooperation and business development in West Africa have been strengthened as a result.

Over the past three years, the number of piracy attacks in this region has been halved. And the resolution will help to ensure that this positive trend continues. Security in the world’s oceans and seas is important for Norway as a major shipping nation.

The resolution, the first of its kind to be adopted in ten years, was put forward by Norway and Ghana. These were the some of the most difficult negotiations we experienced during our term on the Council. China, in particular, had concerns. It did not want the resolution to include a reference to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as the overall legal framework for all maritime activities. For us, however, this was critical. Close cooperation with Ghana and other African countries was vital in ensuring that our view on this issue prevailed.

Systematic efforts by Norway also helped to strengthen various other Council resolutions. In areas of great importance to us.

Such as women, peace and security; protection of civilians, including children; and climate, peace and security.

Norway has also helped to make resolutions on UN sanctions regimes more effective and targeted. We played a part in securing the adoption of a Security Council resolution in December 2022 approving a humanitarian exemption in order to prevent UN sanctions from inadvertently inhibiting the ability of aid organisations to provide assistance to people in need. 

This will help to ensure that UN sanctions do not have unintended negative impacts. This was called for by – and will be of great significance to – Norwegian and international aid organisations.

Some of the resolutions adopted by the Security Council would never have come about without Norway. Such as the resolution on protection of education in conflict.

This was a completely new kind of resolution, which we put forward together with Niger. The resolution condemns attacks on schools and educational facilities. It underlines the obligations that parties to armed conflict have under international law to protect these facilities.

It encourages UN member states to take concrete measures to prevent attacks against, and the military use of, schools. The resolution reaffirms the right of all children to education, including in situations of armed conflict. Safeguarding the right to education during a conflict is essential to rebuild societies in the wake of conflict.

Mr President,

The Security Council Chamber was a gift from Norway to the UN in 1952. But in the first five months of our term on the Council, the Chamber was hardly used at all. Because of the pandemic, most meetings were held digitally.

Diplomacy suffers when we cannot meet in person. Negotiations become more complicated. But when we took up our seat in January 2021, the Council had already been adapting to new ways of working for nearly a year. It proved that it was able to carry out its tasks without physical meeting places.

And there were some advantages. Digital meetings provided more opportunities for foreign ministers to participate. Member of the Storting Ine Eriksen Søreide took part in many Security Council meetings during her term as Foreign Minister.

Her participation combined with mine means that Norway has been represented at the political level in a huge number of Council meetings. On topics ranging from Israel and Palestine, Syria, climate and security, the COVID-19 pandemic, Colombia and Afghanistan, to name a few.

I would like to thank Ms Eriksen Søreide for all that she did for Norway during the campaign for a seat on the Council and during the first part of Norway’s term.

In 2021, the Security Council in general displayed a willingness to cooperate and an ability to take unanimous decisions.

But in certain cases, we would have liked to have seen a far clearer response from the Council.

The conflict in Ethiopia, which started before we became a Council member, is one example. The situation in Myanmar, following the military junta’s seizure of power in a coup on 1 February 2021, is another.

In both cases, we worked to encourage the Security Council to take a clear stance.

In December 2022, we helped to secure the adoption of the first-ever Council resolution on the conflict in Myanmar.

We had wanted the resolution to include a stronger condemnation and impose clearer obligations on the coup leaders. But it was still important. The resolution sent a clear message to the military junta of the need to release all political prisoners and end all forms of violence.

The conflicts in Ethiopia and Myanmar have been challenging to deal with. In both cases, the Security Council’s response has been too weak and too late. The Security Council did play a role when the African Union managed to broker a peace agreement for Tigray towards the end of 2022. But in Myanmar, the situation remains bleak.

Mr President,

On 31 January, the last day of our Security Council presidency, we convened an extraordinary emergency meeting on Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine’s borders.

This was followed by a flurry of meetings in the first weeks of February. The Security Council was in session when the first reports of Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine came in.

In Europe, it was already the morning of 24 February.

Our Ambassador to the UN, Mona Juul, was sitting right next to her Russian colleague at the horseshoe-shaped table.

She was the first Council delegate to condemn the attack that night – before live cameras.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UN was also present. And stated clearly that this was a declaration of war by Russia. And that it was the responsibility of the Security Council to get Russia to stop the war.

But everyone knew that Russia, as a permanent member with veto power, would block any initiative to condemn or halt the war of aggression. And this is precisely what Russia did. Two days later, when Norway and a group of like-minded countries put forward a draft resolution condemning the war.

Obviously, when one of the permanent members starts a war, it limits the Security Council’s capacity for action. The Council’s mandate is to maintain international peace and security. Now, we found ourselves in a situation where Russia was using its veto to prevent the Security Council from fulfilling its mandate.

In response, Norway chose to work along two main tracks:

First, we sought to make active use of the tools that were actually at the Security Council’s disposal. Such as Council meetings – where Russia could be confronted directly.

Meetings where Ukraine was also given the opportunity to participate.

Meetings where the participants received impartial briefings from the UN Secretariat, civil society representatives and others. To date, the Security Council has held nearly 50 meetings on the war in Ukraine. Most of them initiated by Western countries.

These meetings have had political significance. They have helped to keep up the pressure on Russia. They have played a part in making the members of the Security Council adopt and convey a clear position.

And they have been an important arena for Ukraine to openly confront and debunk Russian war propaganda.

When Russia misused its power of veto to prevent the Security Council from adopting the draft resolution condemning Russia’s attack, we played a key role in ensuring the necessary support to enable the Council to call an emergency special session of the UN General Assembly. This was the first time in 40 years that such a step has been taken. Even though the General Assembly cannot impose sanctions in the same way as the Security Council, its overwhelming condemnation of the war has been very important.

The three subsequent votes in the UN General Assembly, between March and October, clearly showed how alone and isolated Russia was. Only four countries supported Russia.

More than 140 UN member states have condemned the war in each of these three resolutions in the General Assembly. Russia’s war propaganda has not won it new friends.

The other main track we pursued was to prevent Russia’s brutal war from completely paralysing the Security Council.

The hardened fronts in the Council as a result of the war increased the risk that the Council would also be unable to deal effectively with other conflict situations.

While it has become more challenging and complex to deal with other matters, we – and other Council members – managed to prevent the Security Council from becoming immobilised.

It has retained its ability to take decisions. Despite more vetoes and less unanimity.

Mr President,

Security Council resolutions are not just symbolic pronouncements; they have practical significance. Several of the resolutions Norway has been responsible for negotiating have directly benefited people in need.

During its term on the Council, Norway has had responsibility for following up matters relating to the humanitarian situation in Syria, and the situation in Afghanistan.

Nearly three million people in northwestern Syria have access to life-saving humanitarian aid because the Security Council twice – following negotiations led by Norway and Ireland – extended the mandate for cross-border aid delivery from Türkiye.

The UN administers and checks these humanitarian deliveries at the Turkish-Syrian border. And works to ensure that the aid reaches people in northwestern Syria.

And just before the end of our term on the Council, in late December 2022, we succeeded in securing agreement on a further six-month extension of the mandate. This was adopted by a unanimous vote on 9 January this year. This was the third time Norway and Ireland managed to bring these negotiations, which had been extremely difficult, to a successful conclusion.

Our work as penholder on Afghanistan became far more demanding after the Taliban took power in August 2021. Norway’s overall aim has been to promote maximum unity within the Council.

Because a divided Security Council will only benefit the Taliban. A number of key Taliban leaders are subject to Security Council sanctions. So far, the Taliban regime has not been recognised by any of the members of the Security Council.

It was therefore a milestone when, after several rounds of tough negotiations, Norway succeeded in securing agreement on a new mandate for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). This was in March 2022, just three weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The resolution – that is, the mandate – was adopted nearly unanimously. Only Russia abstained. It was a victory for diplomacy.

The resolution provides the UN with a mandate to monitor and report on human rights, particularly women’s rights. It also authorises the UN to coordinate the provision of humanitarian assistance and facilitate inclusive political dialogue in Afghanistan.

In addition, Norway initiated and led negotiations on 20 press statements – supported by all members of the Council – on Afghanistan.

These included statements on girls’ right to education and women’s participation in society. Right at the end of its term on the Security Council, Norway succeeded in securing a strong Council response in the form of a press statement expressing concern about the Taliban’s increasing infringement of women’s rights.

Moreover, throughout its term, Norway has given Afghan women the opportunity to brief the Council and make recommendations.

As well as its special responsibility for Syria and Afghanistan, Norway has played a key role in the Council’s discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Security Council is rarely able to agree on a common position on this conflict because the members have such widely differing views on what the Council’s role should be. We succeeded, however, in securing agreement on two press statements – in May 2021 and May 2022 – both of which were initiated by Norway.

We also initiated a number of emergency meetings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In particular in 2021, together with China and Tunisia, following the military escalation in and around Gaza.

I also chaired a meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under our presidency of the Security Council in January 2022.

Norway has made it clear that the current situation is unacceptable. Israel cannot continue to occupy Palestinian land. This is in violation of international law. And this is why Norway reacts to it.

And the Palestinian leadership must increase its legitimacy among its own people. As of today, no negotiations are taking place between the parties. The younger generation will gradually lose hope of a peaceful solution if there is no willingness to negotiate and the occupation continues. 

Mr President,

During its term, Norway has delivered more than 800 statements to the Security Council. These have all had two things in common: they have presented a clear, consistent message. And they have been in line with our core principles. The other Council members have not been in any doubt as to what Norway stands for.

Not least when it comes to matters relating to international law. But also on issues relating to our identified thematic priority areas:

  • Political inclusion and protection of women;
  • Protection of civilians (especially children);
  • and climate and security, where we have worked systematically to increase recognition of the links between climate change, peace and security.

This applies to all of the Council’s ongoing work and its decisions and outcomes.

Norway has also worked actively to strengthen transparency in the Council, for example by inviting civil society representatives, including women peacebuilders and human rights defenders, to brief the Council.

We were also involved in initiating an effort to increase women’s participation in Council meetings. During the month in which Norway held the presidency, more than half the people giving introductory briefings at open Council meetings were women.

In order to find solutions to conflicts, it is vital that women participate in the political arena. But in many places, women who choose to be politically active are subjected to threats and reprisals. This is clearly unacceptable, and is why Norway has considered it important to address this matter. Under our presidency, the Council held its first formal meeting on reprisals and their effects on women’s participation.

Women’s political participation has, for example, been important for the monitoring mechanisms of the peace agreement in Mali. The constitutional process in South Sudan. Reform of the security sector in Somalia. And for the efforts to promote human rights in Afghanistan.

Norway’s efforts during its two-year period as chair of the Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict also yielded results. This was another challenging role, but we succeeded in securing the adoption of conclusions with concrete recommendations for the authorities in eight countries.

Eight countries in conflict that have now received strong recommendations on the need to prevent and respond to grave violations of children’s rights.

Mr President,

The links between climate change and conflict are becoming increasingly evident. Although climate change in itself is rarely the direct cause of war and conflict, the impacts of climate change are often among the underlying contributory factors. Shortages of food, water and jobs create greater social and economic uncertainty. 

And lead to greater competition for natural resources such as water and arable land. At the same time, trust in the authorities and others around us can be diminished. The risk of violence and armed conflict increases. It creates a growing breeding ground for violent extremist and rebel groups. 

Norway has worked systematically to ensure that the Security Council recognises the correlation between climate change and conflict. We have worked to incorporate this into Council resolutions and statements. Much of this work has been done behind the scenes. In close cooperation with African countries.

Norway has also helped to enhance the knowledge base for the Council’s efforts in the area of climate, peace and security.

For example in our capacity as co-chair, with Kenya, of the Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security. And through the extensive research efforts of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). We have also focused on how closer climate cooperation can promote peacebuilding.

In 2021, Russia used its veto to block the Council’s first thematic resolution on climate and security. And four Council members have put up strong opposition.

Nevertheless, we have made progress. And achieved results in the form of new obligations relating to climate and security in the mandates of a number of UN peacekeeping operations and political missions.

Mr President,

There have been some clear hallmarks to our efforts and diplomacy in the Security Council.

First, we have talked to all the members of the Council. Including Russia, on matters not related to its war in Ukraine.

This has been essential to reach agreement on decisions and resolutions. More than once, this has had direct significance for people in conflict-affected areas. Such as in Syria.

We have cooperated with all the regional groups in the Security Council. Primarily with our allies and partners. But in many cases, we have sought to cooperate across established regional blocs. To secure broadest possible support.

Security Council resolutions require at least nine votes in favour and no veto to be adopted.

There are always three African Council members. They play a crucial role in addressing the conflicts in Africa. And it is these conflicts that dominate the Security Council’s agenda.

Our cooperation with Niger on the resolution on the protection of education in conflict and our cooperation with Ghana on the resolution on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea were absolutely vital to securing the adoption of these resolutions.

Mexico has been a key partner in our efforts to strengthen preventive diplomacy. Together, we succeeded in securing the adoption of a presidential statement expressing support for the UN Secretary-General’s efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine and to put in place an agreement on grain exports from Ukrainian ports.

This statement is still the only substantive outcome on Russia’s war in Ukraine to be adopted by the Security Council.

The Security Council has 10 elected members. Norway has played an active role in promoting closer cooperation between them. The importance of this cooperation increased after Russia launched its full-scale war against Ukraine, partly because cooperation between the five permanent members became much more difficult.

Achieving unity among the elected members does not happen on its own. These countries often have diverging interests. But in certain situations – on certain deadlocked issues – promoting unity among these Council members has been vital to achieve results.

The second hallmark of our diplomacy in the Security Council has been our consistency and predictability, and this has served us well. During Norway’s campaign for a seat on the Council, we made it clear that promoting respect for international law would be at the core of our membership of the Council. And it has been.

Our steadfast adherence to our principles has been a strength in handling complex issues and situations. For example, in our dealings with the US on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With China on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. With Russia on humanitarian access in Syria. We have gained acceptance for our views – without compromising our own principles.

Maintaining a clear, consistent and principled approach has also benefited Norway in its role as chair of several of the Security Council’s subsidiary organs, such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee and the ISIL (Da'esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee.

Here, our focus has been on legal safeguards, human rights, the role of civil society and preventing the sanctions from having negative humanitarian impacts.

The work of the DPRK Sanctions Committee in particular has been affected by deep polarisation among the Council members.

Our experience, networks and expertise – gained in part from our peace and reconciliation work – are a third hallmark of our efforts. This has given us weight and credibility, and has enhanced our ability to exert an influence.

Norway has invited parties to conflict – and sometimes representatives of civil society – to a number of informal meetings of the Council members.

For example on the conflicts in Colombia, Myanmar and Afghanistan. These meetings have strengthened Norway’s standing as a peace and reconciliation actor.

We also made good use of our diplomatic networks when we organised an informal gathering for the ambassadors serving on the Security Council and the UN Secretary-General to discuss preventive diplomacy, based on the Oslo Forum model. Conflict mediators and representatives of the parties to the conflicts took part in the discussions.

We have also benefited greatly from maintaining ongoing contact with civil society and research institutes in Norway. They have provided constructive input throughout our term on the Council. I would like in particular to highlight our close dialogue with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).

Mr President,

When we look back on our two years in the Security Council, it is easy only to see the dark clouds. And yes, it has been very challenging. 

But nevertheless, as is usually the case, the situation could have been worse.

And would have been worse without the UN Security Council.

Moreover, it is important to bear in mind that even in cases where the Security Council responds successfully to a conflict, it is always the parties themselves who hold the key to peace.

Our basic approach has been to work to achieve the best possible political and diplomatic solutions.

We will maintain our long-term commitment to international cooperation and the world order that has served us so well for over 75 years.

Serving on the Security Council has not lost us friends. Rather, it has brought us new ones.

We have shown that it is possible for an elected member of the Council to play a meaningful part in promoting international peace and security. Even in very challenging times.

Mr President, when former Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Frydenlund visited China in 1978, he was asked by his Chinese counterpart how Norway as a small country viewed its relationship with the great powers. In his answer, Frydenlund referred to the story of Gulliver and the people of Lilliput.

The Lilliputians bound Gulliver to the ground using innumerable small threads. In much the same way, it is the task of the smaller countries to bind the major powers to an international legal order by means of countless threads, Frydenlund told his Chinese colleague.

One of Norway’s most important tasks is to help prevent these threads from fraying. From snapping. And this is what we have helped to do as a member of the Security Council.

The alternative to the UN Security Council, international cooperation and common solutions is that might prevails. That the major powers can do what they like. Just as Russia is now attempting to do in Ukraine.

Our membership of the Council has not, as some had warned beforehand, limited Norway’s room for manoeuvre in the area of foreign policy.

Quite the contrary.

Our two-year term on the Security Council has strengthened our position as a clear and consistent, but results-oriented and constructive partner. A partner that is committed to promoting a world order based on international law and common rules for all countries.