Historical archive

Towards a new world order? The UN’s role and Norwegian interests

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Students’ Association, Oslo, 3 September 2008

Norway must be “impatient” with regard to achieving a more effective UN and a stronger world order.

The Minister’s talking points (check against delivery).
Translated from the Norwegian.


(Picture: UN flag)

  • Thank you for inviting me today. It’s good to be here. The university newspaper Universitas asked why I chose to come back to Chateau Neuf. Look around the room, and you will find the answer – a full house, many hundreds of people of the young generation ready for a debate on the UN. This may seen old-fashioned in the age of the Internet, but it is something we should appreciate, because it fosters an engagement that a democracy is absolutely dependent on. This lecture will also be broadcast on www.regjeringen.no.
  • This meeting has two objectives:
  • Firstly, this is an extended meeting of the UN Forum. Meets once a year prior to the UN General Assembly. Open discussion on foreign policy. Debate and dialogue. Importance of civil society, experts, students, various organisations. Several such forums. Welcome to everyone, not least Helga Hjetland, Chair of the UN Association Norway. Thank you to all the students who have helped with the arrangements. And a particular welcome to the students who are here from Baku – students of Norwegian – who I met a few months ago when I visited their country. Impressive.
  • Secondly this is one of the series of meetings under the Refleks project. Engagement, knowledge. Important for democracy. Background report. The book was published today. (It will be sold in the foyer after the meeting, and is good value for NOK 299). Series of meetings. Input from more than 200 centres of expertise. White paper next year. Test of our foreign policy reflexes.
  • Sometimes the world finds itself at a crossroads, and we have to take a new approach. I have been told that in 1945, when the UN’s well-known logo was being designed – the globe surrounded by two olive branches (a primeval symbol of peace) – it was felt that a new colour was needed: a colour that was not to be found in the flags of any of the member states. The pale blue used in the background was thus a new mix. The olive branches are an ancient symbol. Food for thought.
  • 1945, a long time ago. And there is no doubt that we were at a crossroads then – right after the Second World War. A disaster for the world. There are not many such crossroads – and we should be glad about that. However, it is a paradox that a disaster is needed to create such a surge of renewal of the international system. Indeed, we can ask ourselves, do we need a new disaster to create the new organisations we need? Or to improve the ones we already have?

1. I would like to take this as my starting point: the UN, the United Nations. What is the UN’s role today?

(Slide: Trygve Lie laying the foundation stone of UN Headquarters)

  • Here you see a Norwegian, the first UN Secretary-General, a working class lad from the outskirts of Oslo, laying the foundation stone in New York.The United Nations. This year’s General Assembly – the 63rd – is drawing closer. Every September, following the opening of the General Assembly, the UN demonstrates its unique role by gathering the world’s leaders to discuss the major challenges of the day. Heads of state and government, foreign ministers. This year the general debate will start on 23 September and will last until 1 October. 192 member states, all with one vote each. Unique. Bringing countries together.
  • But first, what do we mean by the UN? There is a great deal under the one hat – or the one umbrella – that bears the initials “UN”. The UN encompasses a large number of bodies: For example, there are 12 specialised agencies (such as ILO, FAO, and WHO – where I have worked myself), four bodies in the World Bank group (such as the IMF), 17 funds and programmes (such as UNICEF, UNHCR), five research and training institutes (such as UNIDIR), seven human rights and treaty bodies (such as CEDAW), three bodies established under the Convention on the Law of the Sea (such as ISA) and 10 environmental entities (such as IPCC, CITES). And we have WTO, which is also part of the larger UN family. A total of 60 different entities in other words.
  • Moreover, the Secretary-General of ILO (Somavia) is coming here tomorrow for a conference on decent work, which the WTO Secretary-General (Lamy) will also take part in.
  • We often focus on cases where the UN falls short of its goals, but every single day it delivers on its many tasks, and who is still out there on the battlefield when CNN has turned off its cameras and gone home? More than 100 000 peacekeeping  forces, for example.
  • I myself am going to New York next week for the General Assembly. So are the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Environment and International Development. Norwegian policy, the Government’s policy platform states that, “. . . it is in Norway’s interests that we have a UN-led world order, rather than a situation where nations take the law into their own hands.” The world order. Nations must not take the law into their own hands. One of the most important forums where we can follow this up is the UN.
  • What is the UN’s role today? What part does the UN play for Norway? What interests are we helping to promote there? How does the Government utilise the UN General Assembly in its work for Norwegian interests?
  • This year, some of the key tasks for the General Assembly are the following. They demonstrate the UN’s relevance. Not a set agenda, but an arena for promoting important issues. What will be important this year?

(Slide: Georgia. Dead brother)

  • Firstly: Peaceful resolution of conflicts. Afghanistan. And Georgia, Russia. Russia turned rapidly to the UN and the Security Council. Situation in Georgia shows both that the UN has a key role – and the UN’s limitations.
  • It is unclear how the conflict will colour the summit in New York. What will it mean for Norway? How can I use this opportunity – in my talks with colleagues? How will it affect my long-planned meeting in New York with Russia’s Foreign Minister, Lavrov? What are the FN–NATO–OSCE–EU connections? A huge security net.

(Slide: UN aircraft)

  • Secondly: The fight against poverty. And the high-level meeting on Africa (22 Sept.). The high-level event on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (25 Sept., Stoltenberg). We are behind schedule on these goals at the halfway point to 2015. But Norway is working actively and is playing a leading role in the efforts to meet MDGs 4 and 5 – including vaccination efforts.
  • And a third issue on the agenda: The Middle East and the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for Assistance to the Palestinians (AHLC). Norway plays a key role in the AHLC. Example of Norwegian engagement in global cooperation. Gives Norway an opportunity to raise other important issues. The UN Secretary-General takes part in AHLC meetings.
  • Fourthly, the need for dialogue and norms. Freedom of expression. Symposium on Freedom of Expression. Norwegian–Swedish initiative, together with foreign ministers from certain other countries. Shows how we address some of the issues on the UN’s core agenda, including in challenging areas such as freedom of expression, the cartoon controversy.
  • Fifthly: Disarmament, UN processes and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Norway combines active UN efforts with creative initiatives in the margins of or outside the UN. Building alliances. The Convention on Cluster Munitions can provide a stable set of rules. Just as the Mine Ban Convention did 10 years ago.
  • And other issues on the agenda, which I will come back to: China – the road towards Copenhagen next year, forest conservation. Financing for Development. Major UN conference in Doha in November and December. UN reform.
  • To sum up: The UN is a unique, historic institution:
    • A) as the world’s central norm-setter, an arena for drawing up rules that many are bound by;
    • B) as a meeting place and arena – and this is something the world community needs, and
    • C) as a legitimising body (influence) for joint action in the best interests of mankind.
  • I will go into this more in more detail, with more examples. In which areas has the UN demonstrated drive, relevance and strength?
  • Firstly. Take the UN as norm-setter. As the basis for a large number of conventions.
  • What rights would Norway have as a coastal state and oil nation (indeed, if we take into account Norway’s sea areas, we are no longer a “small country” in the world) without the Law of the Sea? Supposing we had discovered oil in the 1920s? Who would have had the rights then? An interesting question.
  • Secondly. As a norm-setter in the areas of human dignity and human rights. It is now 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. The universal aspect. The UN is the key player in monitoring and developing human rights norms. We see setbacks, but the UN is and remains key here.
  • Thirdly, the UN as arena and meeting place. As I mentioned. The UN is a meeting place for state leaders, colleagues, experts. Here the various ideas and ideologies of different states are raised and honed. This arena role is becoming increasingly important the more complex the world becomes.
  • As a meeting place for the climate change issue: There can definitely be no solution unless the UN’s norms and arena functions are used to bring states and actors together. To find common solutions. The UN sets the agenda. President Bush wants to find solutions outside the UN – hopeless.
  • Fourthly, the UN as a legitimising body. The Security Council, with all its internal tensions and need for reform, is still a unique “world court of opinion”. Legitimising the collective use of force in extreme cases. Has a strong normative force. As legitimising body, gives UN mandate to peacekeeping institutions.

2. This is all well and good – but so to the challenge: Today’s “world order” is being challenged. Reflections

  • So back to the title of our discussion this evening “Towards a new world order?” What is my understanding of this phrase? The article I wrote in Aftenposten in July. 

(Slide: Three empty chairs, “WTO shadows”)

  • This summer, Geneva, WTO negotiations. We made quite a bit of progress, but didn’t reach the target. Seven years of negotiations, not possible to reach agreement. By the way, WTO Secretary-General Lamy is coming to Oslo tomorrow.
  • Wrote a few reflections on the plane home, some impressions and questions, what I experienced: Is the world order coming to an end? Is it disintegrating? Are we on the way towards a new one? Is something else emerging in its place? Provocative questions – no easy answers – we need a debate on this.
  • Norway has always had a strong interest in a robust world order. It is not just weight that should count. A solid world order. It is being challenged.One thing is clear: The international institutions we have today are growing old. Indeed, many are well over 60, they were established at the end of the 1940s, and have not been through effective reforms that enable them to meet the challenges of globalisation well enough, quickly enough, challenges such as climate change, poverty, the food crisis and energy conflicts. This applies to UN organisations and institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.

(Slide: State leaders from India, China and Brazil)

  • Secondly – the question of legitimacy: New superpowers are emerging, such as China, India, Russia and Brazil. Challenge the established institutions at times. Not the same loyalty, the same ownership. China’s growing role, more active, taking greater part in international organisations, noticeable change during the course of a few years. There can be no international solutions without China.
  • How far will these big countries distance themselves from the value base that we associate with the UN and the world order today? What will they demand “in return” for cooperating with Western countries on continued global rules? Indeed, what will happen when the EU and the US are no longer able to sort things out “in the back room” in the WTO and elsewhere?
  • Take one particular field, in the area of global health (which I know quite a bit about), and a dilemma regarding patents:
  • In our globalised world, new countries will want to take part in deciding the rules. As in this case: infections spread fast with the communications systems we have today. We have to take rapid action to identify antigens and produce vaccines.
  • In recent years, the most deadly strains of avian flu have appeared in Indonesia. The routine is that virus samples are to be sent to the World Health Organization, so that vaccines can be produced. Important international cooperation. Can save millions of lives.
  • But, towards the end of 2006, the Indonesia authorities refused to hand over samples. They were no longer willing to allow viruses from their country to be used to produce commercial vaccines that ordinary Indonesian people would not be able to afford.
  • Holbrooke’s reaction: Indonesia’s refusal in one sense incomprehensible and irresponsible. Could have put the whole world at risk.
  • But in one sense an understandable reaction, also on the part of Indonesia. Indonesia wanted a guarantee that it would get its share of the potential value of these viruses.
  • But situations like this, where international cooperation fails, can have catastrophic consequences if a pandemic is allowed to spread unchecked. The UN as an arena.
  • Another example – somewhat along the same lines – that demonstrates the UN’s normative role and the importance of norms as a basis for a responsible policy:
  • In February, the Government opened the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard. A global safety net for crops that the world depends on for food supply. Duplicates of genetic material that could be lost forever if countries are hit by natural disasters or war. Widespread international attention. “Noah’s Ark”.
  • The interesting thing is that the idea was launched as early as in the early 1990s. But it was not possible to realise it at that time, because the developing countries were afraid that if they handed over genetic material, it would be used by the agricultural and pharmaceuticals industries in the West to develop new products and medicines that they would then have to buy back without being compensated for the value of the original genetic material.
  • There were no international rules or norms that could safeguard them against this. But since then, several binding agreements have been negotiated in the UN that regulate how gains from the use of genetic material are to be distributed. This has enhanced predictability and fostered trust between countries and has made it possible for the seed vault in Svalbard to be opened in 2008.

3. Now let’s take a closer look at Norway’s interests – at the very concept of “interests”. The Refleks project

(Slide: Refleks. Front cover of the book)

  • Norway has also had strong interests in a better world order. Not one where the strongest prevail.
  • This is why the debate on the world order of today, of tomorrow, on the future of the WTO, the UN and the whole multilateral system, all this is a debate on how we can best safeguard Norway’s interests.
  • This is also a key message in the book on Norwegian interests Norske interesser, which I launched together with the Refleks project team earlier today.
  • In this connection, “interests” means:
    • the principles of an international legal order, the integrity of the nation state, the principle that right must prevail over might, and the importance of cooperation and peaceful resolution of conflicts, and
    • the importance of a global ethics and solidarity that aims at a socially and economically inclusive globalisation  .
  • Why is this important for Norway:
    • We – Norway – a country of our size with a shared border with Russia, with a rich and vulnerable coastline, large sea areas.
    • An economy and export revenues that depend on well-functioning global rules. The salmon issue.
    • A basis in a European tradition where right prevails over might and conflicts are resolved by peaceful means.
    • We recognise that new global threats increase the need for effective global governance mechanisms. Climate change, health issues and infections, terrorism, the food crisis, migration. A challenging global reality.
  • The concept ”interests” encompasses all this – much to safeguard.

(Slide: The High North. The world seen from above) 

  • Some concrete challenges:
  • Firstly: Let’s look at the High North again. Issues relating to international law, including the Law of the Sea, new challenges, possible oil production, climate change in the Arctic, shipping routes along the Northeast and Northwest Passages. Which rules apply. Clearly shows how today’s legal order safeguards Norwegian interests. The Law of the Sea is key.
  • Shows how Norway is using this as a basis to further develop existing regimes and thus ensure that Norwegian interests are safeguarded.
  • The ministerial meeting in Greenland in May, attended by the US and Russia. The Arctic Ocean. The Law of the Sea. Agreement. The Arctic Council.
  • And there is a connection between this and key aspects of an international legal order, such as international criminal law. Karadzic. The major judicial processes in the Balkans, in Africa.
  • Another factor: International legitimacy is much sought after. There is a growing need to justify our foreign policy to those who have different views.
  • As I mentioned at the beginning: It is interesting to note that Russia itself raised the issue of Georgia in the Security Council, and requested a public debate. Why? They wanted international legitimacy.
  • But legitimacy also depends on representativeness: The Security Council has legitimacy today, but its continued legitimacy will depend on it having a composition that reflects the balance of power in our world. The Economist’s advice to the US: better to include more countries to give the Council legitimacy, but on the other hand, even more difficult to reach consensus.
  • Thirdly – I mentioned at the beginning globalisation, health challenges, climate change. We will not be able to solve the urgent problems of climate change unless the UN plays a central role.

(Slide: Humanitarian efforts. Girl in Darfur)

  • My point is that the UN is irreplaceable as a global arena that ensures that all countries meet, discuss and negotiate. This is more important than ever.
  • The issue should not be finding an alternative to the UN – but building further on the UN, renewing, improving and expanding the world organisation.
  • And a fourth point. Humanitarian efforts. The UN as a player and as a norm-setter. In times of war and crisis, it is the UN that can create order in a chaotic situation with many actors. The UN has unique legitimacy, a unique mandate and unique experience and expertise.
  • The UN’s humanitarian efforts are based on universal norms and rules, on humanitarian principles. The Geneva Conventions, the rules of warfare, which protect civilians and human dignity.
  • In many situations – Afghanistan, the Middle East/Gaza – Norway’s humanitarian support to the UN’s key efforts (UNAMA, UNRWA) constitutes important foreign policy instruments together with political and other initiatives. The UN’s humanitarian mandate and efforts around the world are of great importance. And this is one of the most important areas of cooperation between Norway and the UN. This is an area where the UN is doing a good job.

(Slide: Afghanistan)

  • And now a few words about Afghanistan: Shows how closely the world is tied together by globalisation and geopolitical change. By a new understanding of security policy. Shows how important war and conflict “far away” are for Norwegian interests and alliances.
  • But how are we to solve this task? NATO can help to provide security, but statebuilding is not and never has been NATO’s task. It is the UN that has statebuilding expertise, but it did not get started soon enough. Reconstruction.
  • I talked about this in my lecture here in Chateau Neuf last year. Afghanistan cannot be won by military means, but it can be lost by military means. We have to find political solutions.
  • This has been one of Norway’s priorities – giving the UN a stronger role as coordinator. Need for stronger and better coordinated international efforts with regard to security, good governance, development of the rule of law, human rights, and social and economic development. Better balance between the military and civilian efforts. The UN’s role as actor must be strengthened. Kai Eide. Promote Afghan ownership.

4. Now, some more issues and dilemmas – for the debate afterwards:

(Slide: Plane dropping food)

  • Firstly: We must continue the efforts to reform the UN (and the other global and regional organisations). Much good work is being done. But could the considerable resources that are at our disposal in the UN be better used in an organisation that was even more focused on reform?
  • We must make what is good better.
  • We must be a “good friend” but not an “enemy of the best”. We must be a “critical friend”. We must increase our expertise. In multilateral cooperation. In languages. We must not leave the role of critic to those who want less of the UN. We must be critical supporters of all those who want more of the UN, a better UN. We must make a good UN better.
  • In absolute terms, Norway is the organisation’s sixth largest financial contributor: USD 692 million or around NOK 3.6 billion.
  • And we must not give our support to all kinds of initiatives. We must use our resources strategically, directing them to areas that we have identified as the most important on the basis of Norwegian interests and values. We must ask: How does this cooperation serve our interests and values? A broad interests-based perspective. This is also a theme in the Refleks project.
  • We become actively engaged where we can, on boards and committees. We insist that the UN bodies work towards the goals the world community has set – human rights, democratisation, development and timely response to climate change. The Law of the Sea. Peacebuilding. Peacebuilding capacity.
  • These are my instructions to Ministry officials who attend meetings in the UN: have a clear agenda for increasing the UN’s effectiveness and improving its ability to deliver. Be a friend of the UN.
  • The reform work Prime Minister Stoltenberg helped to lead – on creating one UN – rather than many – that coordinates efforts at country level.
  • With regard to the Security Council. The likelihood of expansion is remote. It is therefore important that the Security Council works in other ways to safeguard its legitimacy. For the first time, the Nordic countries are speaking with one voice in the Council. They presented a joint statement last week calling for reform of the Council’s decision-making processes to allow more input from member states and the general public.
  • Secondly: The expectations of what problems the UN (and other global organisations) can solve have gone through the ceiling since 1990. We must be realistic and place responsibility where it is due – frequently with the states concerned and not with multilateral actors. At the same time, we must expect the multilateral organisations to earn the trust and responsibility we vest in them.
  • A third issue relating to both the WTO and climate change: How should we proceed to ensure that the large global apparatus in these important fields becomes more effective, democratic and legitimate at the same time?
  • We need creative global, national and local workshops on how climate change and trade/the WTO can be dealt with in global forums without ending in deadlock. How is this to be achieved?
  • Need for more flexibility. Need to accept that the major powers – the major emitters –should be given some room for manoeuvre. At the same time, it’s important that small countries are given a voice. Again, the issue of climate change will be the great test. It is only the UN regime that can draw all countries into the discussion and find sensible and fair ways of sharing the burdens. This is a question of effectiveness, legitimacy and flexibility.
  • Fourthly, look at the more informal regional and global initiatives that are emerging. Often where the formal structures have become too rigid or irrelevant.
  • For example: the cluster munitions process. When issues are left up in the air because no progress is being made, when they are receiving no attention at all, countries with the capacity and resources have to show willingness to take action.
  • We should take a positive view of these types of processes. But we must constantly focus on maintaining a good interface between informal initiatives and the formal multilateral structures. A case of both...and...
  • Fifthly: We should intensify our dialogue and cooperation with the “new superpowers”. We should seek a common understanding of norms and rules in global governance, in global organisations. Together with like-minded countries, we must intensify our efforts to convince the “new superpowers” of the importance of a norms-based and effective global system of multilateral institutions.
  • Examples: The health and foreign policy initiative – seven countries; the Seven-Nation Initiative on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation; and the Oslo Group in the WTO (more details of these). The Nordic countries a separate circle, including various groupings of Nordic countries.
  • And in a world such as ours, we must be realistic and accept that conflicts of interest are not something that you can organise your way out of in international organisations. Increasing global conflicts of interest will affect the UN’s ability to act. At the same time, polarisation makes this global arena for negotiation more important than ever.
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, Norway and the other Nordic countries took the initiative for a review of the UN’s development activities. This idea matured over time, and most of the conclusions reached are to be found in the reforms adopted by the General Assembly in 2006 and 2007. Perhaps one of the Nordic countries can again take the initiative to lead the way in the reform efforts in the UN’s many and important areas of responsibility?

(Slide: the UN flag)

5. Conclusion

  • Important that the UN is not met with unrealistic expectations or given impossible tasks. We must be realistic about what we ask the UN to do. The UN can’t do everything. In some areas it is powerless, but in others – for example the humanitarian area – it can achieve a great deal. Here the organisation has won respect, and to a large extent has the capacity to take a global leadership role.
  • The UN will never be better than what we make it.
  • Vision and goal: Norway must be “impatient” with regard to achieving a more effective UN and a stronger world order.
  • For there is no alternative to the UN.
  • We must oppose the concept of a “league of democracies” (McCain) as a kind of alternative to the UN. This is a bad idea. Which countries are to be called  democracies? What definition is to be used?
  • More than ever do we need the UN and related forums where everyone takes part and communication is kept open.
  • Because if we build an “Alliance of the West”, we will soon meet an “Alliance of the Rest”. And do we want that? The UN is irreplaceable. And a global league of democracies is no alternative.
  • We need the UN, and the world needs the UN. The UN is our most important tool to create a better world.
  • But this requires hard work. In 1955, US Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (and US delegate to the UN) put it like this: “This organization is created to prevent you from going to hell. It isn’t created to take you to heaven!”
  • We must take good care of this organisation.