Switzerland is about to be elected to the UN Security Council and wonders what a small country can do within this body. The example of Norway offers some clues.
This content was published on April 26, 2022 – 09:56
The Norwegian private jet landed at Oslo-Gardermoen airport in freezing January weather: Eleven bearded men in long robes got out in the snow. They quickly took their seats in black limousines parked on the runway, escaping the cameras of the few journalists previously aware of this special visit.
They were Taliban. For the first time since their violent seizure of power last summer, a delegation from this Islamist regime went abroad. Led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, she met representatives of Afghan civil society for three days, as well as diplomatic delegations from the United States, Britain and France, permanent members of the UN Security Council. This meeting took place at the conference hotel Soria Moria, located above Oslo, a place where potential government partners negotiate their coalition contract after the Norwegian elections.
“This visit does not legitimize or recognize the Taliban. But we need to talk to those who practically rule the country today,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt told SWI swissinfo.ch.
What she did not specify was that the destination and time of the Taliban’s first overseas trip was no coincidence. “This month, Norway held the presidency of the UN Security Council and was also responsible for the dossier of contacts with the Taliban,” explains Henrik Urdal, director of the PRIO Institute for Peace Research. Oslo and expert on Norwegian commitments within the main body of the United Nations: “This is currently the fifth time that we are a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council”.
The United Nations Security Council is dominated by the five veto powers, while the ten other non-permanent members are secondary actors with no real power. This is the general perception of the functioning of the world’s most important multilateral body, which is primarily responsible for issues of global security and peacekeeping.
There is great truth in this observation, because the veto is too often used to pursue a self-interested obstruction policy. But this criticism is not entirely justified: since the end of the Cold War, world politics has become more dynamic and therefore more opaque. The result is new interrelationships, often thematic and sometimes unexpected, that are not exclusively based on realpolitik alliances.
Luxembourg and its contribution to the creation of a humanitarian corridor in Syria
A seat allows small states to voice their concerns. Over time, they have developed strategies for placing their own agenda items on the Security Council. The Center for Security Studies (CSS) of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) has gatheredExternal link possible approaches for Switzerland, which can be summarized in these words: preparation, prioritisation, cooperation and continuity.
The following examples illustrate different possibilities: in 2013-2014, Luxembourg and Jordan, together with Australia, thanks to a coordinated action and despite the opposition of two heavyweights, managed to gain humanitarian access to Syria, a country in civil war, Russia and China .
Their persistent collaboration has paid off. This humanitarian corridor is still active: last year its continuation was unanimously approved in the Security Council, an unusual result thanks to the efforts of Ireland, another small state currently represented on the Security Council. “The United Nations Charter obliges us as members to pursue an active humanitarian policy,” Irish Ambassador to the UN Geraldine Byrne Nason said in an article published by the international online magazine PassBlue, which covers news of the United Nations.
Continuity through coordination of non-permanent members
Another example concerns the thematic issue of “women, peace and security”, which enabled Sweden to place its “feminist foreign policy” item on the Security Council agenda. The same goes for the “climate change and security” dossier, which is tackled year after year by non-permanent members who take turns. In this way, the desired continuity can be guaranteed through good coordination and the themes do not disappear from the table after a year.
The Swiss priorities in the Security Council have not yet been determined. Obviously they will be formulated based on the overall commitmentExternal link from Switzerland to the UN. For example, conflict prevention, mediation, climate challenges, but also a reform of the Security Council’s working method. Moreover, the war in Ukraine will undoubtedly dominate the agenda. So many question marks remain for the time being.
As former Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey – who launched the bid in 2011 – said in an interview with SWI swissinfo.ch, the Security Council seat is an opportunity for Switzerland to play its role as a traditional mediator on the international stage. . Swiss neutrality is also respected in the concert of powers and his voice is valued as a bridge builder.
Find Micheline Calmy-Rey’s interview here:
The visit of Taliban representatives to Oslo at the beginning of the year, mentioned at the beginning of this article, also fits in a different context: “Last summer we already organized a round table with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the issue of Afghanistan after the takeover by the Taliban,” explains Henrik Urdal, director of the PRIO.
Knowledge transfer in New York
He coordinates regular meetings between Norway’s representatives on the Security Council and experts from science and civil society in Norway: “We want to ensure that our diplomats take advantage of our knowledge and can use it during on-the-spot negotiations in New York” , emphasizes the director of the PRIO. But he also warns against the sometimes too high expectations that this type of consultation can evoke: “As a youngster in the concert of the greats, you have to play your own cards skillfully and at the right time”.
Was this the case during the visit of Taliban representatives to Oslo? The issue remains controversial. Yet the radical Islamist junta has since banned poppy cultivation. But the terrorist regime in Kabul has also renounced the Oslo pledge to provide education for girls at all levels.
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