Keynote address by Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides at the online discussion organised by 'Cyprus Youth Diplomacy' οn “Youth for Multilateralism: The UN we want”
“The importance of multilateralism: Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Establishment of the UN and the 60th Anniversary of Cyprus as a UN Member”
Allow me at the outset to express my warm thanks to “Cyprus Youth DiplomaCY” for organizing this event, and for their invitation to address this virtual Conference, celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the UN.
Prior to sharing my thoughts with you, I would also like take this opportunity to congratulate “Cyprus Youth DiplomaCY” for their invaluable contribution to public discourse, for facilitating young people’s meaningful engagement in political, economic and academic discussions. Rest assured that your role in promoting the vision and views of young people in these fields is greatly valued.
2020 marks a special anniversary for the United Nations. On October 24th 1945, after six long years of brutal war and unprecedented bloodshed, the Charter of the United Nations was ratified and the United Nations was born. Today, we celebrate its 75th anniversary.
Unlike its predecessor, the League of Nations, which was dissolved after 27 years of existence having failed to deliver on the challenge of peace, the UN has managed to address this age-old question with a fair amount of success.
Having started with 51 member-states, it has grown almost four-fold to 193. It now encompasses 38 specialized agencies, programs and funds and has launched in its long history 71 peacekeeping operations covering every corner of the planet. The UN’s achievements have been crowned with 12 Nobel Peace Prizes, the latest of which was awarded to the World Food Program this year.
In my presentation today, I will focus on a subject close to heart: multilateralism and specifically how it has evolved within the United Nations in the last 75 years, briefly touching on the cooperation between the United Nations and Cyprus, and the importance of youth involvement in UN decision-making and beyond.
The Republic of Cyprus has been part of the UN project since its independence in 1960. Much has been achieved in coordination and cooperation with the UN, an organization which has also been present on Cypriot soil since the early 1960s, not only through UNFICYP, but also through UNDP, as well as a plethora of other UN agencies. My attempt tonight will be interdisciplinary, shedding light on this subject both from a historical and a political perspective.
It is worth starting our discussion, by looking at why the United Nations was created. It is eloquently summed up I believe by a legendary Secretary General of the UN and a great statesman, Mr. Dag Hammarskjöld, who in a speech in California on May 13th, 1954, famously said that -
“The UN was created not to take mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell”.
This view, in my opinion, is a perfect blend of idealism with realism, informed by the sobering first half of the 20th century and its horrors. This very objective remains as relevant as ever.
Looking back to the circumstances that led to the creation of the UN, we can draw the conclusion that it was those same circumstances that also enabled the emergence and establishment of multilateralism. In fact, the very system, as well as ideals of the UN, are unimaginable without the concept of multilateralism, which, by definition, necessitates its participants to closely work together to ensure peace, justice and prosperity.
World War I was the product of a multi-polar, balance-of-power system in Europe, which finally collapsed under the weight of intricate alliances and rivalries. The Paris Peace Conference, which ended the War in January 1920, resulted in the establishment of the League of Nations, an inter-governmental organization, the first of its kind whose main mission was to maintain world peace. The diplomatic philosophy behind the League represented a fundamental shift from the preceding hundred years.
However, the effort was doomed almost from the start, as major powers, such as the United States, opted out, while others simply abandoned it as soon as it became apparent that it would not serve narrowly-defined national objectives. While indisputably it was the rise of Nazi Germany that brought the final collapse of this project, it must be underlined that the failure of many to buy into its multilateral ethos and to choose instead the path of isolationism, was critical in its ultimate failure.
It is a tragic reality that it took a second devastating world war for a new vision to emerge and for wiser statesmen to lend weight behind the only formula that could and would prevent a return to slaughter: that of international co-operation on the basis of clear rules and principles that would need to be collectively upheld and defended. True multilateralism was thus born. In 1945, 50 nations signed up on changing course, making a historic commitment to work together for peace. On April 25th 1945, representatives of these nations gathered in San Francisco, at the first UN Conference, initiating the drafting process for a Charter which was ultimately signed in June and ratified on October of 1945.
The desire to settle conflicts peacefully on the basis of common rules has since been converted into a universal system of institutions in multiple fields - political, economic, social, environmental, just to name a few. This system is centered on the values of the Preamble to the Charter of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The same ideals also underpinned the European project, only a few years later, which led to what we know today as the European Union. Though the Union started as an economic project, at its core, and this is also what its evolution proves, it is a project of peace through cooperation.
Given the circumstances surrounding the UN’s founding, it was inevitable that the organisation’s primary mandate was in the field peacekeeping. It is unquestionable that the Cold War often complicated this task, and yet one only has to imagine what would have happened, in all likelihood, if the UN did not exist during the Cold War era.
Some important examples include the UN peacekeeping force that was put together to end the Suez Crisis in 1956 - during which the symbol of the blue helmets was born, the UN Operation in the Congo in 1960 – the largest ever at the time. Following the end of the Cold War, there was a radical expansion of peacekeeping duties.
As decolonization unfolded, the UN’s membership saw an influx of newly independent nations as well as a shift to its secondary goals of economic development and cultural exchange. In fact, by the 1970s, the UN budget for social and economic development was far greater than its peacekeeping budget.
The Millennium Summit held in 2000 to discuss the UN's role in the 21st century culminated in the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, a commitment to achieve international development in areas such as poverty reduction, gender equality, and public health by 2015. It is true that progress towards these goals was deemed uneven and they were ultimately succeeded by the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to addressing global challenges, the UN expanded into the sphere of networked multilateralism engaging more with civil society and fostering a global constituency.
While multilateralism today is not called to mend the wounds of world wars as in the 20th century, there are substantial challenges that I believe can only be tackled through enhanced levels of international commitment and multilateral cooperation. The UN has been at the forefront of a large majority of these. Cyprus, as a member since its independence in 1960, has stood by the core values of the UN system as an active member, and has been involved in numerous initiatives. I will outline a few.
On the political and security issues, since the second half of the 20th century, the multilateral framework has proven essential in tackling issues relating to non-proliferation and nuclear weapons. It is precisely through the multilateral framework of the UN that avenues of negotiation exist to address these very difficult issues. Despite the fact that we have a long way to go on these, one cannot but wonder how dire the situation would be in the absence of this framework.
In the field of peacekeeping and security, an area of particular interest to Cyprus considering the 1974 illegal Turkish invasion and continuing occupation, UN peacekeeping missions perform a vital role in both containing and on certain occasions even preventing the escalation of conflicts, while also striving to protect civilians. UNFICYP, for instance, has been absolutely instrumental in the task of peacekeeping on the island. The benefits of its work cannot be overemphasized and its presence remains indispensable, so long as the military occupation of a part of the Republic of Cyprus continues.
As far as the international dimension of threats is concerned, a by-product of globalization has been to spread their effects across the globe, meaning that gone are the days when countries could afford to attempt alone to guarantee stability regionally and internationally. Without multilateralism and respect for a rules-based international system, the risk of a full return to power relations and great-power competition is all too-great, as is the specter of an unending spiral of conflicts and strife.
Cyprus, through its membership in specialized committees and fora of the UN, as well as of the EU, has been steadfast in its commitment to the principle of international co-operation, lending its voice and tangible support to all relevant efforts seeking to advance this concept.
To this effect, Cyprus is an active member of a number of international efforts, including the Coalition Against the Islamic State, and the Aqaba Process. Cyprus has also actively contributed to the collective efforts of the international community for the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal, following UN Security Council Resolution 2118, servicing as the host country of the support base of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons- UN Joint Mission, and offering its infrastructure and facilities to other States which participated in the multilateral mission. Moreover, Cyprus facilitates the deployment of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) by hosting UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force whose primary task is the preservation of peace and security of the shores of Lebanon in a highly volatile region.
I could not talk about the UN without briefly mentioning to what extent our membership in the UN has had an impact nationally in an array of fields.
In 1960, we made our first request for technical assistance to the then United Nations Technical Assistance Board, which later became the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). As a result, an in-depth study of the economic potential of Cyprus, known as the “Thorpe” report, was developed. This constituted the basis for the country’s first development programme. Since then, the cooperation between Cyprus, UNDP and the UN Development System has covered a wide variety of activities in many socio-economic sectors.
From agriculture to industry, from macro-economic sectoral planning and policy formulation to institution building, from natural resources surveys to pre-investment studies, productivity improvement and vocational training.
In fact, the partnership with the UNDP has involved almost the entire UN System of specialized agencies and offices, having covered numerous socio-economic sectors. Cyprus itself has a solid presence in these international bodies and cooperation has become a two-way street, with Cypriot institutions and experts being called upon regularly by the United Nations System. Many Cypriot institutions which were originally set up with assistance from the UNDP and the UN System, such as the Planning Bureau, the Agricultural Research Institute, the Higher Technical Institute, the Hotel Institute, the Cyprus Productivity Center and many more, are now offering their knowledge and experience to other countries. The strong bonds between Cyprus and UN Institutions continue unabated to this day, with close collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, The United Nations Institute for Training and Research, UNICEF, UNESCO, UN Women, just to mention a few with which we have worked in 2020.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The UN is marking its 75th anniversary at a time of great disruption in the world, compounded by an unprecedented global health crisis with severe economic and social impact. The Coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing health and economic crisis have presented additional challenges for the United Nations, which has had to deal with what according to Secretary-General António Guterres is the "worst global crisis" since World War II. The pandemic has caused amongst other things, food crisis, worsening inequalities and weakening of health systems. It had become a stark reminder that we need to cooperate across borders, sectors and generations. Our response will determine how fast the world recovers, whether we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and how well we handle pressing challenges: from the climate crisis to pandemics, inequalities, new forms of violence, and rapid changes in technology.
But just when we need collective action more than ever, support for global cooperation has been flagging. The rise of nationalist policies that reject global cooperation and turn to isolationism, threatens the legitimacy and scope of the organization. In many countries, public trust in traditional institutions is in decline and relations between countries have been under strain. Reverting to isolationism is not the answer.
As tempting as it may be to blame multilateralism at times of difficulty, the reality is that it provides the only platform on which challenges can be solved; and we must collectively work to strengthen it. Despite its shortcomings, the United Nations remains the only institution that brings together all the countries of the world under one umbrella. It remains front and center in meeting head-on the many and multi-faceted challenges and threats that plague our planet. It ought to be self-evident that redoubling our joint efforts within this system is the only way forward, also by intensifying co-operation with other organizations, including the European Union and the African Union.
As for the Republic of Cyprus, even though reunification of the country through a comprehensive settlement fully in line with UN Security Council Resolutions, international and European law, remains our number one priority, in recent years we have embraced a wider foreign policy agenda.
Our effort is to move beyond strictly national objectives and looking at how a more diverse, poly-thematic approach can deliver solid dividends for the common good. In this context, utilizing Cyprus’s unique characteristics, amplifying our geostrategic role, and promoting a vision for our region as already outlined are of course all crucial.
An important component of this agenda is the creation of mini-multilateral structures in our region, the Eastern Mediterranean, where we are working tirelessly to foster a network of trilateral cooperation initiatives whose overarching purpose is to create conditions of regional stability, security and prosperity. We cooperate closely with like-minded neighbouring states – Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates - in the context of an inclusive, positive agenda where the most fundamental rule is adherence to international law and good-neighbourly relations.
The re-drawing of the energy map in the Eastern Mediterranean – done in full adherence with international law, including UNCLOS - coupled with our conviction that the region’s natural resources can be a catalyst of cooperation and synergies, has gradually become a driver of positive change and transformation well beyond the field of energy. Let me also note that during the pandemic there was close cooperation through these cooperation networks to tackle the health crisis
The promotion of respect of the indivisibility and universality of human rights as enshrined in our Constitution is also a foreign policy priority. Taking into account the need to address current global challenges especially in the area of human rights, Cyprus has promoted initiatives on several issues including gender equality, the protection of the fundamental rights and the human dignity of the most vulnerable persons. At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to establish an annual Human Rights Award for outstanding contribution in the defense of human rights in Cyprus. The award, which will be known as the "Stella Soulioti" Award, is a tribute to the unique and multi-dimensional legacy of this remarkable figure in modern Cypriot history, who inspires successive generations of Cypriots.
On the occasion of 75th anniversary of the establishment of the UN, the General Secretariat has launched the UN75 initiative under the name “Shaping our future together”, to establish a global dialogue that will examine the main priorities of our era and look for ways to build a better future for everyone. I could not agree more. There is substantial work ahead, for all of us, and this is a time for all to declare their unequivocal commitment to a vision of peace and prosperity. We cannot, and must not, rest on our laurels. Further progress needs to be made and the level of our ambition needs to be stepped up. I am convinced that multilateral dialogue and international cooperation is the only way to go.
This dialogue must include our youth. Enabling the engagement of youth in formal political mechanisms allows them to act as multipliers, contributes to better and more sustainable policies and contributes to restoring trust in public institutions, especially among the youth. We must build on the work that has been done with the support of the United Nations, the UN Youth Envoy and civil society.
But this much is crystal clear this time: this cannot be another example of excluding from the table the very segment of the population whose future we are actually discussing. Now more than ever, political institutions and processes need to youth up!
Young people are fully conscious about the importance of the UN for our rights and freedoms. As active members of the society, they benefit by the human rights standards set by the UN and also the programs specifically designed to promote youth participation and opportunities.
Cyprus is fully committed to supporting the continued engagement of the youth to the work of international Organizations. This is why we are working on promoting the vision and views of young people in our foreign policy initiatives. By supporting youth activities, young people become human rights advocates and act as multipliers to promote the rule of law and participation of young people in their societies. For example, in the context of the trilateral cooperation mechanisms with neighbouring countries – Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon – we have purposely included in our action plans activities on the promotion of youth exchanges, bringing these trilateral mechanisms closer to the citizens of our countries.
The UN was created 75 years ago in the aftermath of the horror of two world wars, with the vision of bringing countries together and international institutions to support them. It is now time for a younger generation to begin looking at how this vision can be transformed in a manner that safeguards our planet and ensures a viable, prosperous future for all humanity. May the older generations’ wealth of experience be a guide in this process, leading to a renewed San Francisco moment.
Thank you for you kind attention.