This is not about Russia, this is about multilateralism

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Ambassador Christian Wenaweser has been Liechtenstein’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York since 2002.
  • Opinion by Christian Wenaweser
  • Inter Press Service

A: The veto initiative is a simple idea, but we think it makes a lot of political sense. It simply states that every time a veto is vetoed in the Security Council, a meeting is automatically called by the General Assembly to discuss the proposed veto in the Security Council. So it is an automatic mandate. It is not subject to further intervention or decision. It is a mandate given to whoever is currently the President of the General Assembly to meet within the said time frame. It is open ended with regard to the outcome. It is completely non-prescription. All that is mandatory is the meeting and the discussions themselves.

Can you explain the motivation for this initiative? Why is this happening now?

We do it because we believe in strong multilateralism. We have followed with growing concern the inability of the Security Council to act effectively against threats to international peace and security arising from the very deep political divisions among the permanent members of the Council.

We are concerned about the negative impact this will have on the effectiveness of the United Nations. So if you look at our statements over the past five years, we have consistently advocated a strong role for the General Assembly in matters of international peace and security, as mandated by the United Nations Charter. This initiative is an important step in that direction.

The reason we are doing it now is twofold. First of all, we were close to launching this initiative in March 2020 when we were hit by the lockdown. This is not the kind of thing we can do online. So we have decided that we need the support of close sponsors to drive this forward. The lockdown is over while the pandemic isn’t, so that’s one of the reasons we’re doing it now.

The other reason is that we felt that the broader membership of the United Nations is now very much aligned with this initiative. Now people feel strongly that the United Nations needs to innovate itself and find other ways to do business.

Yes and no. If you look at the numbers, it’s clear who has vetoed the greatest number of resolutions in recent years. That is the Russian Federation – mostly with regard to Syria. But our initiative is not against Russia or against Russia. It’s just a matter of veto and institutional balance. It is about the role we believe the General Assembly should play in this organisation.

What are the chances of this resolution being adopted? It has been speculated that it will be discussed this week and that a vote will be taken in the coming days.

The vote will not take place this week. This week we have a formal presentation with the members. We will then look for a date in the General Assembly soon after. We get a lot of positive reactions to this. We are therefore confident that our text will be adopted.

Are you concerned that the initiative – if adopted – could be used as a political tool to bring other veto countries on the scene? Or that countries that are vetoed into their seat in the General Assembly then use the debate in the General Assembly to get even more attention for their views than they would have received in the Council alone?

It’s not about putting someone on the spot. Our resolution does provide that the delegations that have vetoed their veto in the Security Council will be given first place on the speakers’ list because we would like to hear from them why they have vetoed it, and why they think it is in the interest of the organisation, why they think it is compatible with the principles of the Charter. That is an invitation to them and, as is the case with any invitation, you can accept it or not.

It’s not about putting someone on the spot, it’s about responsibility. It’s about giving us a say in what we think are things we own. The United Nations Charter clearly states that the Security Council works on behalf of its members.

Are you surprised that your initiative is currently receiving support from Washington?

It is obvious to say that you should ask the American ambassador. But I like to share my opinion. The US has stated their reasons very clearly. We think what they say is very important as it comes from a permanent member of the Security Council who has had a mixed history with the United Nations over the years.

This US administration has supported a major step for the Security Council to invoke the Uniting for Peace procedure in relation to the Russian aggression against Ukraine. I think they’ve just come to realize that to stay relevant, the General Assembly has to go downtown. This is an important and hopeful sign for us. For us, this is a vote on multilateralism. This is not just to vote on a procedural mechanism that gives the General Assembly more power.

If we understand you correctly, it is not a vote on Russia either.

Not to us. Some observers clearly think we are doing this because of what is going on in Ukraine. That is not true. But what is going on in Ukraine and the lack of response from the Security Council makes it abundantly clear that what we are doing is the right thing to do. But in fact, we’ve been working on this for the past two and a half years.

Unfortunately, UN initiatives sometimes come in with some momentum, but then unfortunately nothing really comes out once they’re adopted. Consider, for example, the Mexican-French initiative to voluntarily restrict the use of the Council’s veto after the Council’s blockade in 2013. Are you afraid this could happen again?

Not sure I would agree with that assessment. After all, the Franco-Mexican initiative was never adopted. It was just something put on the table.

This will be a resolution of the General Assembly. This will be an intergovernmental mandate that the General Assembly creates for itself. It will be there forever and it will be implemented automatically. And it’s going to make a difference.

This interview was conducted by Michael Broning and Volker Lehmann.

Source: International Politics and Society published by the Global and European Policy Unit of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Hiroshimastrasse 28, D-10785 Berlin.

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