Lecture in the virtual conference organised by United Nations Associations of Switzerland and the Swiss School of Public Governance of the ETH Zurich, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the UNO
October 24, 2020
from 10.00 to 12.30
Good Afternoon from Helsinki,
Thank you for inviting me to speak in this conference.
Finland joined the United Nations in 1956 and has been a member of the Security Council for twice, in 1969-70 and 1989-90. In 2012 Finland was a candidate but failed against Luxembourg for the period of 2013-2014.
For Finland, the UN membership was not an easy issue for her difficult geopolitical situation after the World War II. President J. K. Paasikivi (1946 to 1956) was skeptical on whether the membership in the UN was necessary or useful. He was afraid we could not avoid situations when voting against the Soviet Union is necessary. That would have caused bilateral problems. In his view it was better to stay outside the UN for national security reasons.
As the membership was finally accepted, Finland’s goal in the UN was to pursue a policy line which would permit us to strengthen neutrality. In our case that was a hidden method to say ”no” to the Kremlin but also to strengthen multilateralism as such. The Soviet diplomats were clever enough to understand that we tried to use the UN and later on the OSCE to weaken the Soviet influence and to strengthen Western orientation in Finland. Furthermore, military non-alignment offered an opportunity to play a strong role in peace-keeping and conflict resolution in the UN during the era of East-West conflict.
In 1969-70, during our first term in the Security Council, the agenda consisted to a large extent of African and Middle Eastern problems. Finland had balanced diplomatic relations to all countries in the Middle East which helped us to play a constructive role in the SC. An experienced Finnish UN peacekeeper, Lt. General Ensio Siilasvuo was appointed to serve as the commander of UNEF II (United Nations Emergency Force II) in 1969. Regarding the vote on the arson attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque on 21 August 1969, the UN responded by condemning the attack and called on Israel to void all arrangements that would alter the status of Jerusalem. Many Muslims believed the attack had been orchestrated by Israel, although the attacker was an Australian man with mental problems. Protests erupted across the Middle East.
On September 15, 1969, the United Nations Security Council adopted the Resolution 271 which grieved at the extensive damage caused by the fire and condemned Israel for failing to respect UN resolutions. Finland tried to find a compromise language of the resolution. After all, it was adopted by 11 votes to none; Colombia, Finland, Paraguay and the United States abstained which caused criticism inside the leftist parties at home and the communist camp internationally but strengthened our prestige in the West.
Finland’s permanent representative Max Jakobson introduced a number of initiatives which were objected either by the Soviet Union or the United States. The foreign minister of Ireland,Patrick Hillery was invited to speak to the SC about the violent incidents in Northern Ireland in August 1970 based on the request of Jakobson. The UK had tried to block the invitation but failed. In order to strengthen the UN, Jakobson also invited all the foreign ministers of SC member states to meet in a joint session in October 1970.
The first speaker was foreign minister of Finland Väinö Leskinen. However, the initiative did not get support in the long run. Jakobson also killed an initiative of the United States to limit the UN membership only to the countries having more than one million people. He delivered the shortest speech in the history of the SC: ”Goodbye Iceland”. The proposal was buried.
Jakobson himself became one of the leading candidates to replace U Thant as the Secretary General. In December 1971 he was vetoed either by the Soviet Union or the United States and Kurt Waldheim of Austria was chosen to the post. It was rumored in the Finnish foreign ministry that our delegation in New York was aware of Waldheim’s wartime background but this information was not used against him at the end of the campaign. The first two years in the SC were important for the national prestige and foreign policy in general. Regarding initiatives, the issues related to Namibia and anti-Apartheid and, as mentioned, to the Middle-East problems were advanced as a result of Finland’s activity in the SC.
In 1989-1990, during the second term as a non-permanent member of the SC, the Cold War was ending and a new world order based on the principles of the UN reflected the agenda of the Security Council. For the first time the UN agreed upon the use of force based on the Charter concerning the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq on August 2, 1990. As we know, the UN is not a pacifist organization, as Kofi Annan reminded several times during his term as the SG later on.
The Finnish permanent representative, Klaus Törnudd was one of our most experienced and qualified diplomats. In May 1990, he chaired the Council session in Geneva because Yasser Arafat was not permitted to travel to the United States and the SC wanted to listen to him on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the situation in the occupied territories. Törnudd supported plans to deploy peacekeeping forces to the occupied territories to protect civilians.
Later on, Törnudd chaired a working group of the SC which facilitated a consensus on a resolution about the occupied
territories which was a major achievement personally for Törnudd but for the SC in particular. In Törnudd’s view, Finland was able to play a constructive role because she had good relations with all countries in the region and was not entirely associated with the US-led Western camp. Today, as a member of the EU, the situation may have changed in this respect.
Finally, a few words about our failed campaign for a seat in the SC for the period of 2013-2014. There are several reasons for the less impressive voting result against Luxembourg in October 2012.
Since 1969 and 1989 the UN has changed in particular as a result of the increase of the number of the member states. I remember very well when Austria was narrowly voted to the SC in 2008. My Austrian colleague told me that the most important lesson regarding the successful campaign for them was that you should not trust the confirmations you receive before the voting in the General Assembly. Austria received approximately 20 to 40 votes less than the number of the received confirmations. We may have failed to understand this lesson.
In 2012, the Finnish campaign team underestimated three factors. First , it did not secure support of our own home base, the Western European and other states (WEOG). Second, the strategy of the campaign was based on an overestimation of our prestige - in particular that was the case with African countries. They seemed to have voted primarily Luxembourg. Third, you have to have experienced and appreciated people in the team to run the campaign, especially in New York. I do not blame our diplomats but good performance is not enough. You have to impress the member states and your foreign policy must be strongly supported in WEOG because the African and Asian countries get information about the situation in WEOG and they follow the suit.
To sum up the conclusions:
1. Having been a non-permanent member in the SCUN has been very beneficial for Finland in terms of her foreign policy and prestige as well as image both in 1969-70 and 1989-90.
2. The permanent representatives of Finland have been up to the job which facilitated a positive outcome in particular when chairing the SC. They proposed initiatives to strengthen the UN system as well as compromises regarding the drafting of the key resolutions.
3. In 2012, the failure to win a seat for the third time was a result of a number of reasons, like the increase of the number of member states, perhaps an overestimation of Finland’s popularity among African countries, the weakened support of the WEOG perhaps for being a non-aligned country but also the themes of a campaign strategy.
4. Although being an EU member state, Finland was not like Luxembourg which is also a member of NATO. This may have played a role too - but this is my personal view.
"The more you understand the world, the higher your chance of shaping it".
Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
Valtiotieteen tohtori, suurlähettiläs, tasavallan presidentin entinen neuvonantaja, professori ja kirjailija.
Kirjoituksia saa lainata. Lähde on mainittava.