Speech ”Strengthening partnerships, increasing Nordic influence in the UN”, Hanaforum 13.9.2013

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to start by thanking the organizers of this seminar for choosing a very topical theme, which indeed deserves attention. I am also delighted to welcome our guest, Urban Ahlin, to bring the Swedish perspective to the discussion, His Excellency Mohammed Ariad, Ambassador of Morocco, and Ms. Anneli Jäätteenmäki, Member of the European Parliament.

The issue of Nordic image in the United Nations has been under a lot of discussion during the past year, and rightly so. Recent setbacks for Nordic countries in key UN elections have made us ask ourselves how the world has changed around us and how we can adapt to the new circumstances. These are the questions which I will now address. I would like to start by first drawing a picture of the Nordic countries and their values and how this all comes together in the UN.   

Nordic Values and the UN

The Nordic countries and peoples share the same history, culture and geography. For centuries, our histories have joined our countries and peoples. We have all, in slightly more than a hundred years, developed from poor agricultural countries into modern ones.

Today, the Nordic countries often figure at the top of the lists when the positive issues, such as human development, gender equality, or quality of life are measured by country. I have many times referred to Finland´s status in the yearly published index as the least failed state in the world. But we could also justifiably call this remot Nordic corner up here in the North the least failed region of the planet. It is no wonder, therefore, that there is more and more interest in the so called Nordic model also in the developing world.

One reason behind this development is the fact that our societies are based on values such as respect for human rights, equality and non-discrimination. These are values which are at the very core of the United Nations and its Charter. At the UN these values translate, for example, into support for sustainable peace, poverty reduction, human rights and gender equality, and international law. Sustainable development is a top priority for all Nordics. All of us respect the UN Charter and strongly disapprove of anyone acting outside or against it. We read and interpret it as it was written, and we try live up to the ideas behind the Charter.

This has given us a reputation as good UN citizens. The Nordic countries are strong supporters of the UN in word and deed. We are major political and financial contributors to the UN. Many Nordic citizens have played important roles within the organization and many more have served the UN in various roles. Nordic countries have a good reputation as peacekeepers. All in all, our role in the UN has been more significant than our size might lead one to expect.

Examples of Nordic Cooperation in the UN


Sharing similar values and interests, the Nordic countries are natural partners in the UN. The Nordic cooperation in the UN has traditionally been and continues to be very close, broad, active and easy.

Let me highlight some examples from New York.

The Nordic Heads of Missions meet weekly in New York. Nordic statements are common in the Security Council open debates, especially on thematic issues. In the executive boards of funds and programs, such as UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women, we often act as one with a statement, comment or speech. It is noteworthy, that the Nordic countries are generally amongst the biggest donors to these programs. The ultimate example is UN Women, in which Finland, Sweden and Norway will by far be the top three donors next year.

One of the most important forms of Nordic cooperation in the UN has for decades been the rotation scheme for the most influential organ dealing with international peace and security; the Security Council. Every four years, one Nordic country has been seeking a non-permanent seat in this body. This has been one of the most tangible forms of the Nordic foreign policy cooperation on a whole.

What can we learn from the Nordic failures in UN elections?

The recent election setbacks show that our excellent track record had lulled us Nordics into a false sense of a perpetual special status in the UN. Our defeat in the Security Council elections last October was a bitter one and we have tried to analyze the reasons behind it. Of course, no one reason exists but the reasons underlying vary.

The Finnish failure can be seen in the broader context as one of the other recent failures of Nordic campaigns in UN elections. Iceland lost their bid for the Security Council in 2008 and Sweden even more heavily for the Human Rights Council in 2012.

These setbacks have prompted some soul searching. The Nordic countries have very similar images in the UN. It seems that people do trust us, but not everybody wants to trust us with leading the United Nations.  

What exactly can we then learn from where we are now standing?

Firstly, it is clear that the dynamics in global politics have changed. The number of key players has increased along with the growing potential of the rising powers of the global south. The number of players in general is also much greater than before. It is it is evident that competition within the UN has increased tremendously. More and more countries are seeking a Seat the Security Council or Human Rights Council or any other UN body than ever before. And not only willing, but also able! This readiness to stand for UN Office and take on the responsibilities this entails is in itself a very welcome phenomenon.  One of our lessons learnt is that we must form new kind of partnerships and reach to global partners beyond our traditional peer group.

Secondly, we have learned that we must be cautious in the way we promote our core values. What we in the Nordic countries take as granted, may in some countries be viewed as an attitude of moral superiority. And even if all countries pay, for example, at least some lip-service to gender equality so important for us Nordics, it is not among the top priorities for many others.

Thirdly, it is also evident that Finland should position itself more clearly. This is a continuous process and needs regular updating. It should be crystal clear what we stand for and that our behavior is predictable. There is a need for a sharper focus in Finland’s UN profile and activities.

Tackling these trends in Finland – the new UN Strategy

All Nordic countries are facing these same challenges, both as individual countries and as a group. The ways that Finland is meeting these challenges are set out in the new UN Strategy of the Finnish Foreign Service. The strategy was published in July 2013 and it will help us to work more effectively and consistently to further our goals in the United Nations. The following remarks are made from Finland’s national perspective, but in my view, they pretty much can be applied to the other Nordic countries as well.

With the new strategy, Finland will focus its efforts on the areas in which we have worked for long and where we can bring added value. The strategy specifies four spearhead themes in Finland’s UN Policy: 1) conflict prevention and resolution; 2) the promotion of gender equality; 3) support for democratic institutions and for the development of rule of law; and 4) the eradication of extreme poverty, the reduction of inequality and the promotion of environmental sustainability.

One of the objectives of the new strategy was to narrow down the range of themes that we actively advocate. The chosen themes are not necessarily considered to be more important than certain other themes. The reality is, that a country the size of Finland, cannot take an active or leading role in all matters it considers essential. Prioritizing gives us a better chance to put more effort into fewer issues, and thus hopefully more substantial influence.

It will also help us in acquiring a clearer UN profile. Mediation, which is one of the sub-themes in our conflict prevention and resolution activities, is already very much associated with Finland in the UN. Another subtheme, Strengthening the role of Special Political Missions in UN crisis management, is also becoming more often linked with Finland in the minds of other countries. And that is how our profile is steadily shaping.  

Regarding partnerships, our traditional reference groups, the EU and the Nordic countries, are duly acknowledged in the Strategy. Although the EU is still the single most important reference group for Finland in the UN, the painfully slow progress in the field of common foreign and security policy has in reality once again increased the demand for Nordic collaboration.

A novelty idea in the Strategy is that of stronger global partnerships outside our traditional peer groups. Finland has actively sought such partnerships and we will increasingly do that in the future. In the upcoming High level week of the UN General Assembly, Finland will organize three different events in the margins of the assembly. All of these are organized with respected and inspiring global partners. First one of the events is the traditional meeting of the friends of mediation which we will organize with Turkey. The other one is a peacekeeping event which we will organize with Uruguay. The third one is an event on gender equality which we will organize with Liberia.  

Reaching out to new partners does not been abandoning our old ones. I believe Nordic cooperation is more important than ever. I am convinced that we have a responsibility to promote our common values –human rights, rule of law, gender equality and social coherence. We have this responsibility towards the people – although their leaders might not always appreciate our efforts.

To avoid stepping into a minefield of moral superiority, we have to look for new innovative ways to convey our message. We have to be results-oriented in a way that we do not bang our head to the door but rather find ways to crack it. We have to respect different cultures and different ways to achieve the same end. We have to support rather than dictate.

We should not set ourselves as model students but emphasize that promoting these values is a universal task and a continuous challenge in our own countries too. One of the examples is the alarmingly high ratio of gender-based violence in Finland. Its elimination is our national challenge.

We have to be modest enough and keep our tone right. At same time we need to be clear that we are not reneging on key principles. Also, we must strongly signal that we are not shying away from promoting controversial issues, such as girls’ and women’s rights. We shall keep our principled positions, but our policies shall be gauged and tuned in the appropriate way. With clearly defined areas of action, openly articulated positions and the appropriate partnerships we can create a more responsive atmosphere for our message.



How to make Nordic cooperation more efficient

I am convinced that the Nordic cooperation does help in achieving greater leverage in the United Nations. This helps us further our aims more effectively. Influencing will require concerted, systematic and focused effort. I believe it is time for the Nordic countries to step up our cooperation and focus our activities on commonly shared priorities.

One of the areas, which clearly is a Nordic priority, is the promotion of gender equality. In the past two decades the general atmosphere for the promotion of equality has become less favorable, and the Nordic countries must work to achieve a change for the better. To Finland’s satisfaction, the Nordics have been very active in advocating sexual and reproductive health and rights in New York. This theme has gained surprisingly much momentum during the past year, not least because of the participation of several other partners from around the globe.

As to partnerships outside the Nordic countries, I think we are on the right track. Building up on the models of the Nordic+ configurations and the high-level meetings with certain regional groups (like CARICOM, SICA and ECOWAS) the Nordic countries should continue searching closer cooperation with other like-minded countries and groups of countries in a flexible manner. These wider global partnerships can be applied on a case by case basis, whenever considered efficient. Joint initiatives with other regional grouping would certainly help the Nordics further our causes, for example, in the post 2015 process.

The Nordic countries have been major contributors to UN peacekeeping over the decades. We are all looking into ways and means to give a real value added also in the future. The environment of peacekeeping operations has grown more challenging, the mandates more complex and the needs for resources more demanding. The Nordic countries have capabilities and expertise that would be valuable also for today´s UN peacekeeping. For example, like other international actors the UN has made efforts to improve its rapid reaction capabilities. This demand is likely to grow, due to the environment in which peacekeeping takes place – conflicts arise and expand fast, and draw the attention of the international community accordingly. The Nordic countries have developed their rapid reaction capabilities through the Nordic Battle Group, and could consider offering their expertise in this respect for the benefit of UN peacekeeping. Also, the Nordic countries have solid experience in combining military and civilian crisis management, as well as all other aspects of a comprehensive approach to conflicts. One of the rising tasks for international actors in crisis situations is capacity building, and here the Nordic countries have much to contribute.

There is also room for improvement of the co-operation between the EU and UN in crisis management. The operation in Chad and Central African Republic was one model for co-operation – the EU started the military crisis management operation, which then was continued by the UN. Finland was involved in this operation both under the EU as well as under the UN, and this was also an example of good Nordic co-operation in peacekeeping.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last but not least: The Nordics must continue their well-established practices in UN elections. Competition to key UN organs has increased tremendously. Nordic response to increased competition cannot and must not be shying away from seeking a seat in the coveted organs. There is room for examining whether the current frequency of Nordic candidatures is too high for certain positions. However, we should strive to have a Nordic Country on a regular basis in the Security Council or Human Rights Council and many other organs – not for the sake of it – but to influence world affairs from a Nordic perspective.

In order to be successful in future campaigns we need to have a common understanding on the rotation scheme. A key factor here is that we declare our candidacies early, preferably as the first candidate for a certain position.  As to the Nordic rotation in the Security Council elections, I find it hard to imagine a rotation system that would be more favorable for us than the current one. Nevertheless, it can be discussed whether the frequency should be modified to perhaps six years instead of the current four.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We must learn from our failures and successes to make the best of Nordic cooperation, and to adjust to changing circumstances. This is a continuing learning procedure, and we will do our best to evolve. Although at times it may be challenging to get our message through to other countries, we must keep on trying. We have to be creative and find new ways of trying. The message, in my view, is too important to be changed.

Thank you.