Yes, we should look critically at the UN. And so we do, just as we strive to reform and improve the organisation. But this is also a time to stress another point: the UN is more important than ever – to ensure development, security and a better organised world.
Nearly two weeks ago, millions of Afghans dipped their fingers in ink and voted. Were it not for the UN, they could not have done so. The UN has at its disposal the world’s leading experts on elections in countries that lack strong democratic traditions.
The fact is that much of what the UN does can only be done by the UN, such as democracy support and peacebuilding in societies in post-war transition or in the aftermath of a disaster. Here the UN is in the front line. Other organisations, such as NATO, are unable to do this – as are single countries and coalitions of countries. They simply lack the mandate, the experience and, in many cases, the legitimacy. But together with the UN they can, and must, contribute to building democracy, security and peace, brick by brick.
Let me give you some other examples: the UN played a crucial role by providing advisers and experts when Liberia elected Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, in November 2005. In Bhutan, the first free election between political parties, held in March 2008, could not have been carried out without support from UNDP. And East Timor’s progress towards democracy and independence would not have been possible without the UN.
The same can be said of the UN’s role as a forum for addressing the key issues of our time – climate change, security and disarmament. No other forum can replace the UN. And were it not for the UN, the world would not have seen the adoption of new, historic human rights conventions.
When the UN Secretary-General visits Oslo and Svalbard this week, we will be hosting the head of a multifaceted, global organisation that the world is dependent on in a time of complex crises – climate change, poverty and financial turmoil.
This is why Norway, as a nation that is in an economically and politically advantaged situation, provides political and financial support to the UN. When necessary, our support comes with advice, views and criticism, which we provide through well-established channels. The incumbent UN Secretary-General can always rely on Norway to support him in his endeavours. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will experience this supportive attitude during his visit.
Although times change, one thing stands firm: it is in Norway’s interests that the UN succeeds. Because much of what the UN stands for, such as an international legal order, is of vital importance to a state like Norway. The Law of the Sea is crucial to Norway as a coastal state that is responsible for sea areas and seabed that are six times larger than its land area. It is the UN that approves Norway’s claims in connection with the establishment of the outer limits of its continental shelf. It is the UN that invests us with the right to exercise responsible stewardship of the food resources and other resources off our coast, on our continental shelf and within our 200-mile zone.
It is also a key interest for Norway to ensure that it is not power and the right of the strongest that prevail. And it is through the UN we can seek to ensure that right wins over might. It is within the framework of the UN that we develop rules and measures to combat sexualised violence, such as the horrific wave of rape that is ravaging Congo. In our efforts to promote the Convention on Cluster Munitions it was the UN – and UNDP representatives in the field ¬– that supported us vis-à-vis other countries’ authorities by facilitating practical matters and giving us greater legitimacy.
When I am abroad, it strikes me how visible the UN is at country level, outside the focus of the TV cameras: the many specialised organisations, funds and programmes that belong to the UN family, for example UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR, OCHA, WHO, with WTO and ILO as part of the extended family – all in all more than 60 different entities.
When the microphones are switched off, it is the staff of these entities who continue to provide support for the most vulnerable. The UN provides food aid, water, health personnel, vaccines, malaria nets and many other kinds of assistance that help to save the lives of millions of children each year. The UN provides tents, fuel, schools and teachers in areas that have been laid waste by earthquakes and cyclones. The UN is vital to the hundreds of millions who live in poverty and deprivation. But this is also good security policy, because all of these measures make the world more secure for us all.
President Obama has said that the UN is an imperfect, yet indispensable, institution. I agree. It lies in the nature of the matter that an organisation with the UN’s mandate tends to be blamed for the woes of the world. We must therefore specify the following: we must work tirelessly to crack down on and improve bad governance and resource management wherever they occur. Our aim must be to further develop and strengthen the UN, precisely in order to make this global organisation an even more effective tool. So far I have not heard any convincing argument for an alternative to the UN.
In the light of the importance we attach to the UN, any erosion of the UN’s authority would be serious. Much of its authority derives from the position of the UN Secretary-General. But he alone is not able to strengthen the authority that comes with being the world’s most important global representative – or the holder of what is possibly the most impossible job in the world, as the first Secretary-General, Trygve Lie, put it.
Norway funds about 0.8 per cent of the UN’s regular budget and the budget for peacekeeping operations. Norway is also an important contributor to the UN’s humanitarian and development efforts. We provide more funding per capita than any other country. All of this gives us more weight in UN governing bodies. We aim to make use of the influence we have, and to become better “owners” of the UN.
There are major crossroads ahead of us. The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will be conducted under UN auspices. In 2010 we will once again take stock of what progress we have made towards reaching the millennium development goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015. Together with the UN, we will continue our campaign to significantly reduce the number of children who die of disease and hunger, of mothers who die in connection with childbirth, and of children and adults who die of Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. We will also be holding a major UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation – an area where developments in Asia are a cause of particular concern.
There is once again focus on the UN, now that President Obama has charted a course that is completely different from the one followed under President Bush. We will see this demonstrated when President Obama and other heads of state and government meet in New York in three weeks. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will rally the world leaders to address the global challenge of climate change, and Norway’s prime minister will be one of the participants. Here again, the UN is the global forum of our time. This is why climate change – possibly the greatest challenge facing our civilisation – will figure prominently in our talks with the UN Secretary-General in Oslo and Svalbard during the next few days.