Speech/statement | Date: 08/12/2020
By Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide (Oslo, 8 December)
Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide's address to the Storting on Norway's membership of the UN Security Council.
Norway will assume its seat on the UN Security Council on 1 January. This is fully in line with our long-term policy of supporting the UN and multilateral cooperation, as well as with the longstanding principles of Norwegian foreign policy – which enjoy broad support in the Norwegian Parliament, the Storting. And it is in line with our interests.
Norway’s primary foreign policy interest is to prevent any undermining of the international legal order and multilateral governance systems because this is so critical for our security, economy and welfare.
We are taking our place at the table in the Security Council Chamber at a time when multilateral cooperation is under pressure. And paradoxically, at a time when the world needs more binding international cooperation, not less.
The past eight months have shown all too clearly what happens when a pandemic sweeps across the world. The past eight months have highlighted the importance of supporting international institutions. Global challenges can only be addressed through international cooperation.
Norway has an open economy based to a large extent on international trade. At the same time, we are living in a world where security tensions are running high. We are dependent on, and are best served by, a predictable, rules-based international order, which makes the world safer and more stable.
We are also best served by a multilateral world order where small and large states cooperate to find common solutions, where major powers are prevented from acting unilaterally, and where right prevails over might.
We must take responsibility ourselves for maintaining and further developing the international cooperation and legal order that we depend on as a nation. As a small country, Norway has a strong interest in upholding and strengthening respect for and compliance with international law.
There is no doubt that our membership of the Security Council is important for Norway and Norwegian interests, even though the work will be challenging. Our membership will provide us with a broad platform for promoting Norwegian positions and, overall, will expand our room for manoeuvre in foreign policy and increase our relative influence.
European cooperation is a good example here. Our membership of the UN Security Council may increase Norway’s relevance for the EU and our European allies. It provides a good starting point for further developing our patterns of cooperation with European countries and the EU in a way that will benefit Norway in the long term, in a European policy context as well.
Our term on the Security Council will increase Norway’s visibility, and provide us with access to information and key stakeholders – in short, it will increase our foreign policy capital. This will make it easier for us to take on a more proactive role, in European cooperation too. We need a common approach to ensure a united European response to issues that have direct security policy implications for Europe, and to prevent European countries from being used as pawns in a broader strategic, geopolitical rivalry.
It is in Norway’s interests to promote international stability by preventing new conflicts, resolving ongoing conflicts, and safeguarding international peace and security. A number of the current security challenges that have implications for Norway are unfolding in countries in the EU’s southern and eastern neighbourhoods.
Still, if modern conflicts and international terrorism have taught us anything, it is that the geographical dimension is less important than it was before. Wars, conflicts and terrorist networks far away from Norway can have a major impact on us too.
For a country that has an interest in ensuring respect for and compliance with international law, it is important that we – at regular intervals – shoulder the responsibility that goes with being one of the fifteen Council members that take critical decisions on international peace and security.
Multilateral cooperation can be difficult, but over time it pays off. Finding common solutions in partnership with others entails accepting compromises and making commitments that go beyond our own immediate interests. But we choose to do this because, all in all, multilateral cooperation has served, and continues to serve, us well. It safeguards our values and interests.
We have gained extensive experience from our long-term engagement and our policy of maintaining contact with all stakeholders in various peace processes, and this makes us a relevant partner in the Security Council.
This was something we highlighted throughout our campaign for a seat on the Council. Our independent voice, our clear and recognisable policies, our role as a reliable and constructive problem-solver, all underpinned by a commitment to uphold international law, make us a country that others listen to. This means that we are well placed to make a constructive contribution on the Council.
Norway’s candidature for a seat on the Security Council was launched back in 2007; a long and targeted effort lay behind our election to the Council in June this year. Successive governments have worked under shifting foreign policy circumstances to secure a place for Norway on the UN’s most important body.
In the election to the Security Council in June this year, Norway received most votes of the three candidates competing for the two seats reserved for our regional electoral group, and thus secured a seat on the Council in the first round.
Norway won broad support from all regional electoral groups and continents, and we see this as a strong vote of confidence from the UN member states. It gives us an important mandate as we take up our seat on the Council on 1 January 2021 and embark on what is one of the most challenging tasks in international politics.
This vote of confidence brings with it obligations and responsibilities.
I would now like to say a bit more about what Norway will focus on and what we are seeking to achieve in the Security Council.
Norway’s interests and respect for international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, will form the foundation for our work in the Security Council.
The priority areas we have identified are a natural extension of Norwegian foreign policy.
We will make use of our experience of peace diplomacy to strengthen the Council’s conflict prevention and resolution efforts. We will work to enhance the protection of civilians, including children, to promote women’s participation and rights in peace processes and to highlight security challenges that are exacerbated by climate change.
At the same time, we will maintain a realistic approach. This means that we will acknowledge the realities of the situation and the existing balance of power in the Security Council. The options available to us must be assessed in the light of the given conditions. We will communicate Norway’s interests and explain our point of view to other states.
Given today’s complex geopolitical landscape and the wide range of issues on the Security Council agenda, we will have to set priorities and decide where to focus our efforts.
Our targeted, performance-based efforts will be designed to bring about real change on the ground.
But Norway will not be able to achieve results on its own. It will be vital for us to maintain a good relationship with our close allies, including the US, while at the same time seeking support and cooperation across established dividing lines.
In our campaign, we stressed the importance of openness, inclusion and cooperation and of talking to all parties – whether they be other Council members, parties to conflict or country-level actors – both during the campaign itself and during our term on the Council.
Norway will also seek to invite human rights defenders, peacebuilders and other experts to brief the Council, and will maintain close contact with civil society organisations on issues on the Security Council’s agenda. It is in our interest that the Security Council is as transparent as possible and that important voices are heard before decisions are taken.
The UN Security Council has primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, and to this end, has a mandate to take decisions that are binding on all UN member states under international law.
The Security Council has a broad set of tools that it can use to maintain international peace and security, as set out in the UN Charter. The Security Council may, for example, call on parties to settle disputes by peaceful means or may impose sanctions on countries, terrorist groups or individuals, in order to put greater pressure on the parties to a conflict and promote a peaceful resolution.
In the final instance, the Security Council may authorise the use of military force to maintain or restore international peace and security, either in the form of a UN-led peacekeeping operation or a military action by UN member states.
There are currently 13 peacekeeping operations that have been established by the Security Council, most of them in Africa and the Middle East. The Council has also established a number of Special Political Missions and subsidiary organs to support its political work. These include the Secretary-General’s special envoys and representatives, who all report to the UN Security Council on a regular basis. In addition, there are currently 14 sanctions regimes in place that have been imposed by the Security Council and that are followed up by sanctions committees made up of Council members.
The Security Council’s agenda is dominated by a number of protracted conflicts. As many as 16 of the country situations on the Council’s agenda today were also being discussed by the Council in 2001-2002, the last time Norway was a member. But many new conflicts and situations have also emerged.
Over half of the around 35 country situations currently being addressed by the Council involve African countries. Around a third involve countries in the Middle East.
We will work to ensure that the Security Council’s conflict resolution efforts in response to these country situations are as effective as possible. But, we must also be realistic; a number of these conflict situations will in all likelihood still be on the Council’s agenda when our term comes to an end on 31 December 2022.
Norway will give priority to the country situations where our long-term engagement, experience and networks work to our advantage.
We have shown that we are able to play a constructive role in peace processes, for example in Colombia, the Middle East, Sudan, South Sudan and Afghanistan, all of which are on the Council’s agenda. The hallmarks of our engagement in peace and reconciliation efforts are in-depth knowledge, broad networks, contact with all parties and a long-term approach in order to build trust.
Given its longstanding engagement in Africa and the Middle East, Norway is in a good position to contribute to the efforts to find a peaceful solution to conflicts in both regions.
Over the years, Norway has built up extensive knowledge of countries such as Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. In recent years, we have also strengthened our engagement and networks in the Sahel region (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad) substantially, for example by opening an embassy in Bamako and drawing up a strategy specifically for Norway’s efforts in the Sahel region. Norway’s participation in international forums such as the Sahel Coalition and the Sahel Alliance has served to strengthen our dialogue with the Sahel countries on political issues, security and development cooperation.
Our long-term efforts and engagement in the Middle East, particularly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have gained international recognition, and as a result Norway is viewed as a key partner. As a member of the Security Council, Norway will use its credibility, knowledge and contact networks to try to advance progress towards finding sustainable political solutions to these conflicts.
At the same time, we are realistic about what can be achieved in the short and medium term. Several of today’s major conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, such as in Syria, Yemen and Libya, have in practice become internationalised, deeply polarised and deadlocked.
Several of the conflicts in the Middle East and parts of Africa are not just local conflicts; they have a major impact on regional and international stability and security and hamper regional growth and development.
In addressing the various country situations on the Council’s agenda, we will give particular priority to four thematic areas that are all closely linked:
The first is peace diplomacy. Over the course of many years, Norway has built up unique experience and extensive networks of contacts in the area of peace diplomacy. We will use the knowledge we have gained from our engagement in peace processes to strengthen the Council’s conflict prevention and resolution efforts.
We will use our networks of actors on the ground to ensure that the Council has the best possible information about the various aspects of a conflict before decisions are taken. We will work to ensure that the voices of people affected by the conflict are heard. This means not only the parties to conflict, but also the civilian population, victims, women and other groups that have an important role to play in bringing about lasting peace.
The second is inclusion of women. We have worked systematically over many years to promote women’s rights and participation in peace processes in which Norway is engaged. We have extensive experience and partnerships that we can draw on. We are aware of the challenges, but have also helped to find solutions.
Our focus will be on practical implementation and concrete results. We will work to ensure that the norms we have agreed on are followed up and implemented in the UN’s various activities at country level and in UN peacekeeping operations. In this way, we can help to ensure that UN peace and security efforts actually help to safeguard women’s rights and participation, which is essential for achieving lasting peace.
The third is protection of civilians. Norway will work to strengthen the protection of civilians in armed conflicts, including the protection of children. Norway will work to ensure that the Security Council promotes full compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law and thereby enhances the protection of civilians in practice.
As a major humanitarian donor and a humanitarian actor with a clearly defined policy, we bring knowledge and experience of this area with us to the Security Council. Our close cooperation and dialogue with civil society will continue.
In addition to the protection of children in armed conflicts, Norway will give priority to preventing and combating sexual violence in conflict and will draw attention to the ramifications of forced migration and internal displacement.
The fourth thematic priority area is climate change and security. Climate change and security are closely linked, and climate change often exacerbates underlying tensions and existing conflicts. Implementing the Paris Agreement and rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the most effective action the international community can take to limit the risk of future conflicts caused by climate change.
In the context of security policy, climate change is already recognised as a ‘threat multiplier’. Norway will work to ensure that the Security Council discusses climate-related security threats. We will seek to ensure that facts-based and scientific information on climate-security risks in specific country contexts forms part of the basis for the Council’s decisions.
Not all the Council’s members acknowledge the link between climate change and security. Norway will work to increase understanding of the threat that climate change poses to international peace and security, and ensure that this is recognised in the Security Council’s work.
Through our cooperation with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and research communities in Germany, we will seek to strengthen the foundation for understanding how climate change affects the security situation. This will also help to expand knowledge and expertise in the Nordic region in this field.
These four thematic priority areas are broad and complex, and following them up may prove challenging given the current dynamics in the Council. We will be faced with many dilemmas. We must be realistic when it comes to setting goals. But, by means of systematic, targeted efforts, we hope to be able to strengthen the Council’s work in one or more of our priority areas, knowing full well that certain Council members may consider it to be in their interests to weaken or obstruct the Council’s engagement and responsibility in these same areas. We will have to strike a balance between strengthening the normative and thematic framework and preventing setbacks, in other words, maintaining existing obligations.
It will be necessary to balance the need to put forward new resolutions in the Council and the need to promote other measures that could yield better results, for example relating to the protection of civilians or conflict prevention. These assessments must be made on an ongoing basis in consultation with like-minded Council members, civil society and other affected parties.
The Security Council has 25 subsidiary organs. Some 14 of them are sanctions committees, the rest are expert groups, ad hoc committees and working groups. Norway is expected to lead one or more of these committees and we will be a member of all of them.
The fields covered by these bodies are both demanding and politically sensitive and may dominate much of our work over the next two years.
Negotiations on the allocation of the chair positions for the subsidiary bodies between the five incoming members are still ongoing in New York, but we hope to have a decision by Christmas and are preparing to be given one or more of these roles. Norway’s aim is to take on special responsibility for the Council’s follow-up of certain country-specific situations where we have a significant engagement, for example the resolution on cross-border humanitarian access to Syria. The situation in Syria is very complicated and the Security Council is polarised on this issue. There is a risk that it will not be possible to renew the resolution on cross-border aid delivery to Syria.
We are taking up our seat on the Security Council at a difficult time. It is clear that the tensions between the permanent members are greater than they have been for quite some time.
In the UN Security Council, too, shifts in the balance of power and greater rivalry between the major powers have resulted in less willingness to cooperate on resolving conflicts.
In several of the most important issues on the Council’s agenda, one or more of the permanent members of the Security Council have direct or indirect interests and can use their right of veto to prevent joint decisions.
In recent years, the Security Council’s work in a number of areas has been dominated by heated discussions rather than attempts to reach a compromise.
Relations between the US and China have become far more strained. This is a trend we have seen developing over a number of years, as discussed in the white paper on multilateral cooperation, which the Government presented to the Storting in summer 2019.
At a time when the US under President Trump has changed its stance on important issues and pulled back from the multilateral arena, a more confident China has been seizing the opportunity to play a more prominent role, in part because of the gap left by the US.
The US is Norway’s most important ally, and we look forward to maintaining a close dialogue and cooperation with the US in the Security Council.
Even though we can expect to see a high degree of continuity in many issues that are important to us, the change in president in the US could enhance the prospects for closer cooperation with the US in certain areas, for example on global climate issues and global health. At the same time, it is likely that the Biden administration will have to devote much of its time to domestic issues. The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating impact on the US, the country is facing major economic challenges, and the incoming Biden administration has a huge and very difficult task ahead in seeking to reunite a deeply divided US.
Russia is a key and dominant member of the Council, whose basic approach is that national sovereignty takes precedence over individual rights.
Although Norway and Russia have differing views on many issues, we attach importance to maintaining a pragmatic dialogue, also when addressing international issues. However, we know that we are far apart politically and that this may make it difficult to deal with certain issues.
As China demonstrates growing ambitions in the multilateral arena, we are also seeing that it is seeking to take on a more visible role in the Security Council. This is further reinforced by China’s size and economy.
For China, it is of paramount importance that the Security Council shows respect for national sovereignty. One of the consequences of this is that China has made reservations that we believe are unfortunate in connection with several of the thematic issues on the Council’s agenda, not least normative issues. At the same time, we find China to be open to pragmatic cooperation in certain areas.
Globally, the balance of power has shifted eastwards. This has led to greater fragmentation and growing unpredictability in relations between the five permanent members. However, it is still the case that the majority of issues dealt with by the Council are promoted by Western countries, in particular the US, France and the UK, while the main focus of Russia’s and China’s efforts is to counter what they see as an overly strong Western engagement.
Europe is represented on the Security Council by both elected and permanent members. There is a high degree of consensus between the five European members, although the bloc is now changing, and next year the number of EU members of the Security Council will be reduced to three. Norway will make use of the opportunities provided by its term on the Council to strengthen cooperation with key European allies and with the EU. Cooperation with the EU and with the European External Action Service will be given priority in this context, and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and I have agreed to hold regular consultations during Norway’s term on the Council.
The three African Council members, together with the African Union, make up an important regional group. Norway will work to strengthen the partnership between the UN and the African Union. This partnership is critical to the success of our efforts on the ground in response to a number of conflicts in Africa, not least in Somalia.
Rivalry between the major powers and the changing geopolitical balance of power are also creating greater friction in the Security Council. I would, however, like to counter some common misconceptions about the Council and give a somewhat more balanced perspective.
Let me turn first to the impression that the Security Council is paralysed. Conflicts of interest between the major powers are clearly affecting the climate for cooperation in the Council in certain areas. But it is important to bear in mind that this does not apply to absolutely all issues; not all issues that are contributing to increased global tensions, for example trade policy, find their way onto the Council’s agenda. Nor is the Security Council the only international body that deals with issues that create increased geopolitical tensions.
The members of the Council still manage to reach consensus on the majority of issues they discuss, not least those relating to country situations in Africa. Of the total of 58 resolutions that were put to a vote last year, 52 were adopted, 44 of them unanimously. In 2019, three resolutions were vetoed (Syria twice and Venezuela once), while three others did not receive the necessary majority.
Secondly, the impression that the Security Council is isolated. The Security Council has only 15 members, but answers to all the UN member states. When resolutions are to be implemented, the Council cooperates with the entire UN apparatus, including the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Human Rights Council. The Secretary-General and his staff, and the Peacebuilding Commission and the UN’s 13 peacekeeping operations are important parts of this architecture, as are the UN’s development organisations and resident coordinators.
Thirdly, the idea that Norway will find itself caught between major powers, which will reduce our room for manoeuvre in foreign policy. The reality is that Norway constantly has to relate to the major powers. This is not something that will change the moment we take up our seat on the Council. This is part of the foreign policy reality for a small country with our geographical location, and we have long experience of dealing with this situation.
Fourthly, the idea that our membership of the Council will mean that we have to change Norway’s foreign policy. Norway’s foreign policy priorities are well established. We will not adjust or change our policy as an elected member of the Security Council. We will build on the longstanding principles of Norwegian foreign policy, and will continue to be consistent and predictable, and stand up for the values and core interests that are important to us. This was also how we ran our campaign for election to the Council; what we have done and what we have stood for over the years and the priorities we have identified for our term on the Council were at the heart of our campaign. Countries that do not agree with our foreign policy principles, for example our strong commitment to defending human rights, did not vote for us. Those that agree supported us.
Although our policy will remain unchanged and we will continue to defend the UN and the multilateral system, we will not succeed in gaining support for our efforts in all the areas we have identified as priorities. In areas where the core interests of the major powers are at stake, it will be difficult to make headway.
When it comes to certain thematic issues, the dynamics in the Council are difficult, and we must recognise that the best we can achieve in certain situations will be to prevent setbacks. But ensuring that normative texts agreed on previously through painstaking negotiations are not weakened is also an important task.
We will be creative and we will take the initiative. We are a small country without too many constraints on us. We have established relations with all five permanent members of the Security Council and have long experience of cooperating across spheres of interest and traditional partnerships.
The Council’s legitimacy is based to a considerable extent on the contribution of its elected members. The permanent members can use their right of veto to prevent resolutions from being adopted, but all resolutions require at least nine votes to be adopted. The Council’s elected members have gained greater influence in recent years. Particularly in areas where the five permanent members are divided, for example Syria, the elected members have played an active role, created new room for manoeuvre and helped to deliver concrete results.
We will play an active part in this cooperation, and this autumn I have already held consultations with both elected and non-elected members. Other senior officials have done the same, precisely in order to identify areas for cooperation and opportunities for alliance building – and to communicate Norway’s clear positions.
Elected members such as Luxembourg, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium – to name a few – have acted with agility. They have shown that creativity and long-term efforts can yield tangible, positive results in the area of peace and security, as regards both thematic issues and country specific situations.
Among other things, Sweden continued the important work started by Luxembourg and Australia in 2013 and played a pivotal role in securing support for key resolutions on cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria. This has helped over three million Syrians in need. This has been an arduous effort for several years, and it looks as if it will be even more politicised in the year to come. Germany, which will leave the Council when we take up our seat, has made a significant contribution during its term as an elected member, in particular in advancing the climate and security agenda.
The Security Council is both an arena for political crisis management and an arena where competing major power interests are played out. There is a great deal of routine work, but at times also a high level of tension.
For this reason, being a member of the Council is not only politically demanding, it also involves a great deal of work and requires a lot of resources.
We must also be aware of the fact that as a member of the Council we will become an object of greater attention and there will be more attempts to put pressure on us in a way that we are not used to. In connection with a number of issues on the Security Council’s agenda, there may be a battle to control the narrative in which all means are used, including disinformation. To counter this, we must be vigilant, and we must ensure that we have a thorough understanding of the situation by monitoring media reports and the discussion on social media. At the same time, we must take a proactive approach in our external communication about Norway’s positions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has added further complication to working conditions in the Council. During the Russian Presidency in October, an effort was made to hold a number of physical meetings in the Security Council Chamber for the first time since March, in line with strict infection control rules, but in November nearly all meetings have taken place digitally.
It is impossible to predict what the format of meetings will be in January when we take up our seat. The infection situation in New York will be the decisive factor, but there is no doubt that Covid-19 will affect the first part of our term on the Council. The inability to meet face-to-face is exacerbating an already tense atmosphere.
In addition, procedures are more complicated when the Security Council is unable to consider individual issues and adopt formal resolutions in a meeting room. Lack of agreement on working methods and a laborious written voting procedure do not make the situation any easier.
In normal circumstances, the Security Council often meets twice a day.
Norway’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York has been expanded and will spearhead Norway’s efforts in the Council, but the entire Foreign Service will be involved in this work. We have an extensive network of embassies and contacts in the field that we will draw on.
In the same way, we must make use of the whole UN system. We must work as a team with the Secretary-General and his staff and we must draw on the knowledge of the UN special envoys and the resident coordinators alike.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will coordinate this work in close dialogue with the rest of the government administration. A state secretary committee led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been set up to strengthen coordination within the Government and clarify potentially complex issues.
It is also important to ensure continued support for Norwegian foreign policy in Norway’s democratically elected bodies.
The longstanding practice whereby the Government briefs the Storting on important foreign policy issues via the Enlarged Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee will also apply, when there is a need, for issues related to the Security Council membership.
Throughout Norway’s campaign for a seat on the Security Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs attached great importance to transparency. I have briefed the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence twice during the campaign period, and the Security Council campaign was discussed in my foreign policy address to the Storting and the ensuing debate in March. During the campaign period, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also published reports twice a year on the campaign costs and what they covered, and on 29 September 2020, the overall costs of the campaign were presented. To the best of our knowledge, very few countries have maintained this level of transparency with regard to their campaign costs.
We are planning to maintain regular contact with civil society, humanitarian actors and the research community. And we will make use of our membership of the Council to promote a public exchange of ideas on international issues and security – both in Norway and at the international level.
A seat on the Security Council provides an excellent opportunity to support the UN, international law and the wider multilateral system, which are all vital to Norway’s security, sovereignty, economy and welfare.
It is in Norway’s interests to work to ensure that threats to international peace and security are dealt with by the Security Council, rather than directly between the major powers.
When we take our place in the Chamber in January, it will be the fifth time Norway has had a seat on the Council. We will gain better networks and closer contact with more countries that are important for promoting our own national interests and for maintaining and expanding our room for manoeuvre in the area of foreign policy.
But our membership of the Council may also provide benefits in other areas. Through our close daily contact with the major powers and other Council members we will acquire political capital and knowledge that can make us a more relevant dialogue partner in other arenas as well.