UN I T E D   N A T I O N S

Panel discussion hosted by H.E. Mr. Sauli Niinistö, President of the Republic of Finland: “Power and strength or a shared order?” as part of the annual Kultaranta Talks

[As prepared for delivery]

17 June 2018 | Kultaranta, Finland

“Thank you, everyone, for your warm welcome.

It is great to be here, as part of these Kultaranta Talks

Particularly because they focus on a topic close to my heart: multilateralism.

And I think this is a good location for it.

Not only for the obvious reasons! Not a bad view!

But, also, because Finland has multilateralism as part of its DNA.

It was part of one of the first cases ever put before the League of Nations – the predecessor of the United Nations.

And it is an active player within the UN system. Not only as a champion of gender equality, but also as a staunch supporter of mediation.

This is another topic close to my heart – and I am glad to hear that some of the top mediators in the world are meeting this week, in Finland, as part of the Secretary-General’s advisory board…. to talk about the role for mediation in preventing conflicts.

So…I want to cut to the chase and address the main question: power and strength…. or a shared world order?

Well, to me, the answer is simple.

It can only be a shared world order.

And I’ll make three brief points to explain what I mean.

First, I want to acknowledge that our shared world order is, indeed, under threat.

We have seen a move away from multilateral values and systems. And a move towards a system of power and strength.

Just think back to 2015. We were making our biggest, boldest promise to humanity – through the Sustainable Development Goals. ….We were taking a major step, to secure the future of our planet – by reaching the Paris Climate Agreement…And we were celebrating the conclusion of the Iran Nuclear Deal (reached by a small group of countries – but quickly integrated into our multilateral system).

But, now we are in 2018. And the landscape has changed – dramatically. We can no longer take our multilateral system for granted.

There are growing threats against it:

There are more voices speaking out against the United Nations – against a rule-based system.

We are hearing more questions like: “What can the UN do for me?” – rather than “What does the UN do, for all of us?”

There are more and more violations of the core principles we have relied on, for over 70 years. For example:

….negotiations carried out in good faith

….the idea that we stick to the agreements we have signed onto

…or seeing the use of force only as a last resort – once all possible dialogue has run dry.

And, there are other, practical challenges – including budget cuts and withdrawals by traditional donors.

But I, simply, don’t buy it.

OK, you can move away from the UN… You can disengage… You can reject the idea of compromise for common goals.


But, as my second point, I want to ask: what is the alternative?

Power and strength?…..Setting our own rules?….Pursuing our own interests, over the common good?

That all seems possible. Until we think about the biggest challenges  facing us today.

And the fact is: no one can go up, against them, alone.

…If we degrade this planet, to the point of no return, there will be nothing any one country can do, to escape the effects.

…Neither power nor strength can protect against the effects of a nuclear attack.

…Ignoring migration – and pretending it isn’t our problem – won’t make it go away.

…And, as we have seen, even the strongest, and most powerful countries, are vulnerable to terrorism.

So, unilateralism might look like an attractive option – now. But, it simply can’t last. Because the only way to overcome our biggest challenges, is to work together.

And so, I believe we need a kind of multilateral renaissance. And this is my third and final point.

And, I think it needs to start at the United Nations – as the core body, of our multilateral system. And the only truly global multilateral organisation.

Maybe I am biased, as its President, but also I think the UN General Assembly must play a leading role.

It does not always make the headlines, like the UN Security Council.

But, we cannot underestimate its power. It has a unique one country – one vote system. OK, this means it’s not the most efficient – or fastest body. And, we are having challenges with its agenda – which has grown to be nearly unmanageable.

But, none of this takes away from its stance as the most legitimate and most representative body in the world.

And I don’t think we’ve fully tapped into the role it can play, in a shared world order.

And I think there are three main things we can do, going forward.

First, return to dialogue

I probably need to explain this. Some people might ask: isn’t the United Nations already, all about talking? In fact, this is a common criticism– that it is just a “talking shop”.

But, actually, that is one of the main reasons it was created…. So we can resolve our issues around the table – not on the battlefield.

And the UN – and the General Assembly, in particular – offer the biggest and most inclusive space for dialogue in the world.

The issue is: we are not using it properly.

We are choosing monologue over dialogue…scripted statements, rather than interaction….defending our own interests, instead of compromising, for a common good.

We need to go back to real dialogue – if we want our multilateral system to reach its potential.

Second, modernise…. and reform

The United Nations was built in 1945. Now, we need to make sure it has the tools and equipment, to respond to the challenges of today.

And that is why there are many reform processes going on.

The General Assembly is bringing forward the Secretary-General’s proposals to reform the UN’s peace and security architecture… development system… and management. They promise to cut bureaucracy, and empower people in the field.

The process to reform the UN Security Council is also ongoing. And I want to be frank here: it is moving at an unacceptably slow pace. But, as long as it’s on the agenda, we need to think – not just about challenges – but also about opportunities.

So, in essence: we need to modernise multilateralism.

And third, mobilise as many voices as possible.

The United Nations belongs to all of us. That’s why the first line of the Charter says “we the people”. It is not, just, for diplomats or dignitaries or politicians. But people – all over the world. And we all have a stake in ensuring it survives -and it thrives.

So, we need to find ways to reach out…to educate…to raise awareness, of the risks we are facing….and to do so in a way that people can understand.

That is the only way to make sure that – for every voice speaking out, against our multilateral world order… that we have two voices, speaking up, in support.

And, an event like this one makes a big difference.

So, I want to thank President Niinistö for bringing us here.

Mr. President, you are a true champion of multilateralism –  and I hope you continue to speak out on this issue.

I also want to acknowledge Former President Mr. Martti Ahtisaari – our closing speaker tonight… and someone I have met in various capacities, and deeply respect.

So, ladies and gentlemen,

Maybe we are at the tipping point – between a shared world order…. and a world of power and strength.

But we – all – have the power and the voice, to tip us in the right direction. Or, as I see it, the only direction.

Thank you.”

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