At Time of Global Turmoil United Nations-German Partnership Needed More than Ever, Deputy Secretary-General Says During Berlin Event

DSG/SM/819
11 November 2014

At Time of Global Turmoil United Nations-German Partnership Needed More than Ever, Deputy Secretary-General Says During Berlin Event

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the 2014 Willy Brandt Lecture, held at Humboldt University in Berlin today:

I will start my remarks in German, recalling my memories from my first diplomatic posting in Bonn and then return to English.

Before I start, let me tell you how much the world shares your joy and celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the shameful Wall.  This weekend was an emotional and historic moment for Berlin, for Germany and for Europe.  To a troubled world full of bad news, it was good news and a great tribute to hope and peaceful change.

As grateful I am for the Willy Brandt Stiftung for inviting me, I believe that even they are not aware of just how much this means to me — which I will explain in a moment.

I convey special thanks, as well, to Humboldt University.  You hosted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon three years ago.  You are hosting me today.  But, most importantly, you are hosting so many young scholars who will soon go out into the world and make their mark.  Thank you for Humboldt’s great contributions to international understudy over the years.

I stand before you as someone with a strong personal and professional attachment to this lecture’s namesake.  My formative years as a diplomat, as a European and as a concerned citizen of the world coincided with the period in which Willy Brandt was at centre stage and at the height of his influence.

You may be aware that I have spent decades working in the Swedish foreign ministry and in the international civil service.  My overseas career started here in Germany, with my first diplomatic posting in Bonn in the late 1960s.  Brandt was foreign minister at the time, having already served as mayor of Berlin.

I recall vividly my first visit to this city.  I was deeply disturbed and transfixed by the reality of Checkpoint Charlie, by the sight of barbed wire in the middle of a major European city, by the bright lights on one side of the wall and darkness on the other.

During that period, I watched how Brandt displayed his diplomatic skills.  Years later, as a collaborator to Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, I came to see Brandt close-up.  I served as a note-taker for meetings between Palme, Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, and Brandt — by then elevated to Chancellor — they navigated the perils of the cold war.

Brandt gave me hope during those dark years.  Even at the peak of the arms race, mutual suspicion and conflicts by proxy, Brandt conveyed a sense that the Cold War would not last forever.  Ostpolitik, his great achievement and legacy, was truly visionary.  Together with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, it changed Europe’s map for the better, laying to rest, we hoped, territorial claims that had the potential to spark tensions and violence.  And it showed the power of dialogue over confrontation -- what he called “Wandel durch Annäherung", or change through rapprochement.  Ostpolitik was a precursor to the end of the ideological rivalry, as well as to reunification of Germany and Europe.

Willy Brandt was, in short, ahead of his time — and I was privileged to have a front-row seat.  Well, actually, note-takers tend to sit at the far end of the main table, but you know what I mean.

So, it is a special honour to be with you today to modestly share some thoughts about the world today, Germany’s and Europe’s place in it, and how Brandt’s legacy can continue to guide us to a better future.

I am a Swede, and I am a European.  But I am also a world citizen and a proud representative of the United Nations.

Willy Brandt was instrumental in paving the way for the entry of West Germany — along with the German Democratic Republic — into the United Nations in 1973.  Brandt was the first German Chancellor to address the United Nations General Assembly, on 26 September 1973, eight days after West Germany became a United Nations Member.

With Henry Kissinger and Andrei Gromyko among those in a packed General Assembly Hall, Brandt renounced the use of force, even as huge arsenals around the world continued to grow.  He condemned racism as “inhuman and the cause of the most terrible crimes” in a clear reference to the Holocaust.  And he called for a "larger community which gives us peace, security and hence freedom".

Since then, Germany has made these objectives and ideals the cornerstone of more than 40 years of engagement in the United Nations.  Germany is today an important and generous host of the United Nations family.  Bonn is the centre of our work for sustainability and our fight against climate change and desertification.  It is also the place from which we dispatch United Nations volunteers across the globe.  These are just three of several United Nations activities, which draw strength from their presence in your country.  I was impressed to learn that there are about 1,000 people working for the United Nations in Bonn.  We also welcome the plans to soon open a new Conference Centre there, which will provide an important platform for dialogue and negotiations.

Germany is the third largest financial contributor to the United Nations.  It is a significant donor to our agencies, funds and programmes.  Your country has served five times as a non-permanent member of the Security Council.  You have played an active role in promoting stability in Afghanistan, Lebanon and other hot spots around the world.  You are a strong supporter of conflict prevention and peacebuilding.  You were one of the founders of the International Criminal Court — a major blow against impunity for genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Germany has, on another international scene, also been at the centre of the historic drive for European integration.  This seminal process has allowed the European Union to serve as a model in overcoming the wounds of the past and promoting stability and prosperity through regional integration.

Let us in this context recall that there is a link in the United Nations Charter between regional and global cooperation in the form of Chapter VIII, which deals with regional arrangements.  I encourage and foresee greater emphasis on regional approaches in the future, both when it comes to conflict resolution and development challenges.

For all these reasons, Germany is a close and reliable friend of the United Nations, upholding universal values and recognizing the necessity of multilateral problem-solving, burden-sharing and action.  At this time of global turmoil, the world needs the United Nations-Germany partnership more than ever.  You have an obvious and growing global role to play.

This is indeed a time of turmoil and turbulence as well as a time of challenges.  We face conflicts from Iraq and Syria to South Sudan and Central African Republic.  Youth unemployment, stark inequalities and greenhouse gas emissions are increasing.  Too many States are unable, or unwilling, to meet the expectations of their citizens for basic human rights and a decent life.  There is shock and outrage and, I believe, a certain numbness and resignation in the face of the sectarian extreme brutality that characterizes so many of today’s conflicts, not least in Syria and Iraq.

Our time is also an era of transition.  New economic and political powers are emerging — impatient to play the international role they expect and deserve.  Urbanization and migration are on the rise as a result of population and poverty pressures.  We are striving for and soon will be negotiating a more sustainable and equitable path of development.  The border line between the national and the international is becoming less distinct.

The global security landscape is shifting dramatically.  United Nations peacekeeping is being called on to do more than ever, across vast spaces and in sometimes dangerous terrain.  There is often no peace to keep and no peace agreement to defend. 

Organized crime, not least drug trafficking, is interacting with terrorism in new and alarming ways.  New technologies are indeed advancing human health and well-being.  But they are also creating vulnerabilities, prompting concerns about cybersecurity and enabling small groups to inflict large-scale damage.

This new global landscape represents a multifaceted test for national institutions and multilateral cooperation.  Building a strong nation on the basis of inclusion and justice is not only a contribution to a better life for its citizens.  It is also a contribution to regional and international security.  Likewise, good international solutions are in today's world in each country's national interest.

The United Nations is attempting and aiming to rise to these challenges.  There have been improvements in readiness and prevention since the tragedies of Rwanda and Srebrenica a generation ago.  The protection of civilians has come to the forefront.  The norm of responsibility to protect was accepted in the General Assembly in 2005.  The rule of law and institution-building are increasingly central goals for the United Nations in peacekeeping, development and the work for human rights. 

I know personally how important strong and well-functioning institutions are.  My own country of Sweden was one of the poorest nations of Europe in the early twentieth century.  When I asked my father what made Sweden rise to prosperity during the second half of the century, he outlined three main reasons:  Firstly, a comprehensive investment in strong and efficient infrastructure.  Secondly, the creation of a free and fair universal education system, giving everyone a chance to study and learn.  Thirdly, strong and well-functioning institutions created trust between the citizens and the Government.  These were all important factors that contributed to building a just society based on accountability and the rule of law.

At the global level, slowly, but steadily, a culture of shared responsibility is taking shape.  A new United Nations initiative, Human Rights Up Front, is emphasizing action on human rights violations, not waiting for mass atrocities before taking action.  When civilians were again threatened uncontrollable hostilities in South Sudan last year, the United Nations opened the gates of our camps, providing shelter to civilians and by that saving thousands of lives. 

The pillars of peace are to a great deal anchored in economic and social development.  The Member States of the United Nations are currently shaping a development agenda, aiming for a set of new sustainable development goals that will build on the Millennium Development Goals.  This new agenda is to be adopted at a Summit at United Nations Headquarters in New York in September next year.  As you know, States have also pledged to reach an ambitious new agreement on climate change next December in Paris.

This means that the year 2015 represents a once in a generation opportunity for the United Nations and its Member States.  Our goal is to place people in the centre and to protect our one and only planet.  We may have a plan B sometimes, but there is simply no planet B.  So, our duty is to aim for ending poverty in a sustainable way.  We must combine poverty eradication with the imperative of sustainability.  We must leave no one behind.  We must build lives of dignity for all.

The world looks to Germany for active participation in all these efforts at the United Nations.  Your country has long been a driving force for environmental protection.  Your remarkable generation of renewable energy is an example for others to follow.  We welcome Germany’s role in the recent pledge by European leaders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.  This decision will set a new standard for climate ambitions.  It will help us address a threat to development gains and to the stability of many societies. 

We welcome Germany’s commitment, at the Climate Summit in New York, to provide $1 billion to capitalize the Green Climate Fund.  We look forward to the Fund’s meeting next week here in Berlin.  We call on all countries to support this Fund in order to finance environmental protection in developing countries.  As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns, we need to act before it is too late to avoid a climate catastrophe.

I am confident that Germany will also give valuable impetus to the work of the Human Rights Council during its Chairmanship of the Council next year.  It is especially important for Member States to embrace the Human Rights Up Front approach both in Geneva and in New York.

I would also like to thank the German Government and the German people for their substantial contributions to help resolve the Ebola crisis, both by financial support and by offering hospital treatment for infected patients.

Germany has also played a constructive role in the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme.  Less than two weeks ago, I visited Tehran.  My message to the authorities there, and to all others involved, is that they have a unique opportunity to reach an agreement before the dead-line of 24 November.  It is essential to have a win-win solution based on mutual respect, both for the sake of nuclear non-proliferation and for helping resolve dangerous and destabilizing conflicts in the Middle East region.

Further to this, I would like to make a special appeal for Germany with respect to United Nations peacekeeping.  Germany’s contributions to current United Nations peacekeeping operations are deeply appreciated.  This goes for the troop contingent with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  And it goes for the German police and experts who are helping us in Mali, Western Sahara, Darfur, Liberia and South Sudan.  Let me also express gratitude to those many Germans making valuable contributions to the United Nations system, including Martin Kobler, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), and Angela Kane, who is the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

Germany is the third largest contributor to the International Security Assistance Force/North Atlantic Treaty Organization operations in Afghanistan.  As the international military engagement in Afghanistan now winds down, I hope that Germany will contribute to other situations where well-trained peacekeeping troops and police are sorely needed for the United Nations.

From peace and security to development, from human rights to the rule of law, every country in today’s world needs to project not only its national and regional identity, it also needs to give attention to its global identity.  Germany's contributions to global values, security and development are highly welcome and would strengthen the work of the United Nations.

I am keenly aware that I am speaking to you around an historic date in the German and European calendar.  Two days after the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we should be reminded that we cannot afford new walls between people or countries, whether it is in the Middle East, the Americas or here on the European continent. 

Sometimes we seem to forget how much effort and political will went into creating the post-war institutions and arrangements in Europe and the world.  We may believe that the disappearance of a wall is irreversible.  But during the Ukraine crisis we have seen cold war ghosts come out of the shadows.  Preserving peace is a work of constant watching, constant tending and constant building.  We must be firm on principles of international law and at the same time keep dialogue alive in the spirit of peaceful settlement of disputes.

Despite many threatening clouds in the world today, there are bright spots and reasons for hope.  International cooperation is growingly seen as a necessity and as being in the national interest in a globalized world.  The empowerment of women is high on the national and international agenda, bringing new hope to the work for peace, development and human rights.  Young people are becoming agents for positive change as never before, despite the disappointing high levels of youth unemployment.  Technology and science continue to improve peoples’ lives and the environment.  Knowledge is power.

Finally, I draw hope from the enduring vision of Willy Brandt.  His belief in regional integration and international solidarity remains greatly relevant in a world of turmoil and at a time of divisive politics, strains over migration and pressures on institutions and the European project.

Brandt’s commitment to social progress should inspire us towards a bold post-2015 agenda.  As he told the United Nations General Assembly in 1973: “Where there is hunger, there is no permanent peace.  Where abject poverty reigns, there is no justice.”

His belief in reconciliation highlights that peace is not just the end of conflict.  It requires healing and accountability.  Who can forget the image of Brandt on his knees in the Warsaw ghetto?  Willy Brandt shows us the power of leadership based on passion and compassion.  He was anchored in history, but he refused to take Germany's history as an excuse for inaction.

The people of Germany know the price of war.  Your country has risen from the ashes of the Second World War to become a global actor and one of the most respected members of the international community.  This transformation is remarkable and opens perspectives for an ever stronger international role for Germany.

Finally, let us recognize that what united Germany at the end of the cold war also liberated the United Nations.  During the cold war, the Organization was often hobbled and prevented from action.  The fall of the Wall and the following geopolitical upheaval moved the United Nations to the centre of many international challenges and actions. 

Along with this new diplomatic space came rising expectations that the United Nations would take on larger responsibilities and a greater role to deal with the remaining obstacles to peace, development, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

We are well along that new road today, having made major gains but also experiencing painful setbacks.  We continue our efforts to place peace and the problems at the centre, to identify our partners and then cooperate for the global common good. 

Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.  The United Nations can sometimes be in the lead and sometimes be a catalyst for our joint work and joint responsibility for a better world, whether we represent Governments, parliaments, international organizations, the private sector, civil society or the university world. 

Our job is to see the world as it is, but also the world as it should be.  If we can start closing the gap between the two, we are on the right track.  In this pursuit, we need the support of Germany and the German people.

Last night I listened to the Vienna Philharmonics play Schubert's wonderful unfinished symphony.  I could not help thinking of our own unfinished business — the urgent need for the nations and the peoples of the world to unite and harmonize their efforts to create a world of peace, development and a life of dignity for all.

Ich danke Ihnen für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit.

For information media. Not an official record.