“Old tools and approaches are not always enough to solve current complex crises.” This is according to former Finnish President and United Nations envoy Martti Ahtisaari, who highlights the importance of reforming the Security Council, as he reflects on the UN’s 70th anniversary in a new book published for the occasion.
To coincide with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the UN, Rizzoli publishers have released The United Nations at 70: Restoration and Renewal, a book that celebrates in words and photographs both the Organization itself and its landmark headquarters on the eastern edge of midtown Manhattan.
The book opens with a foreword by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who looks back on the accomplishments of the UN, and an introductory essay, ‘Personal Reflections on the United Nations at Seventy,’ by Mr. Ahtisaari, who has served the world body in many roles.
In 1989, Mr. Ahtisaari went to Namibia as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to lead the UN Transition Assistance Group, and helped pave the way for the country to achieve independence from South Africa. In 2005, he was appointed as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Future Status Process for Kosovo.
After his tenure as Finland’s President from 1994-2000, he founded the Crisis Management Initiative, which, among other projects, helped Aceh achieve special autonomy from Indonesia. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his work in Namibia, Kosovo and Indonesia.
In his essay, Mr. Ahtisaari reflects on his work with the UN, outlining his involvement in both Namibia and Kosovo, and also pondering larger concerns affecting the Organization today. Among them is a subject that Member States have been grappling with for some two decades – Security Council reform.
“I have learned from my tasks that cooperation with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council is crucial,” the former envoy writes, noting “There are instances when the permanent members of the Security Council abstain from obstructing the process. Benign abstention can also be a silent contribution to the settlement of a difficult issue.”
Speaking to the UN News Centre following the book’s launch at UN Headquarters last month, Mr. Ahtisaari reiterated his belief that the support of the Council’s permanent members is essential to solving crises such as the ongoing tragedy in Syria.
“We have looked now at UN reforms and also looked at the Security Council reform,” he said, “and I think it is important that we get new Member States. And our proposal is that we can’t have new permanent members who have a veto right – that will never be accepted by existing ones.” But, he said, the term lengths of temporary members might be continued so that, in effect, they become permanent seats, “as long as the Member States are supporting that particular country there.”
He also said that “we could also look for voluntary promises from permanent members that they don’t use their veto in cases where there is a national disaster that needs to be addressed.”
In the book, he notes that “crises take many shapes and no two crises are likely to be identical, or even related or comparable,” adding that “what is crucial is establishing a human relationship with the parties and acting in a manner that convinces them of the sincerity of the mediator.”
His experience in Namibia “was pivotal in reaching an understanding of the kinds of issues I would come to deal with later on,” and that he realized that “idealism and realism are not mutually exclusive.”
“I think idealism means that – I said it in my speech in Oslo when I got the Nobel Peace Prize – that all conflicts can be solved. You have to believe in that,” he said during the interview.
He also singles out the problem of growing inequality in his essay, calling it “the most serious challenge of our time,” and noting his happiness that it has been included as a goal in the new 2030 Agenda, which Member States adopted in September to guide their efforts over the next 15 years as they seek to end poverty, promote prosperity and well-being for all, protect the environment and address climate change.
Asked about his hopes for the UN for the next 70 years, Mr. Ahtisaari said that, having worked with five Secretaries-General and approaching his 80th birthday, he was not too keen to play an active role himself. He reiterated his belief though that the UN was “badly needed in the world,” and that the international community should ensure that the Organization becomes even more effective in order to manage the multiple challenges it faces.