Today I want to focus on the fact that Small States are too often being marginalised in global politics. And this is happening too much at the UN.
We see this demonstrated often in the Security Council. But the problem is not just the Security Council. The problem exists more widely as well.
In recent years global politics have become more complex. The size of the international community has grown, and as a result more and more “big boys clubs” have emerged. For example we now have the G20. We have self-appointed “Groups of Friends” of this or that proliferating everywhere. The space for small states is being squeezed relentlessly.
So we need to thank Singapore for convening this meeting. It is important that a small country like Singapore has called for some time out to focus on the problem so we can begin to work on solutions to widen the space for small states.
There are 104 small states. Small states are the UN. But all too often we see small states as the objects of UN focus and not given a decent hearing or opportunity to put their views – even when the decisions being debated affect them directly.
The Security Council, for instance, continues to resist the reasonable expectations of states on its agenda that would have the opportunity for meaningful participation in its deliberations. This is not what the Charter intended. Articles 31 and 32 speak clearly of the participation of non-members. The articles exclude them from voting, but they say nothing about excluding them from the room! This practice of the Council hits hardest on small states which don’t have the resources to compensate.
Recently, when Costa Rica was a member of the Security Council, they argued that at the very least the Council should give countries on the agenda the respect of being heard first when a public debate on that country was being held and before the resolution was put to the vote. But Costa Rica’s initiative was pushed back by larger players.
We recall that when Singapore was a member of the Security Council it staunchly tried to improve transparency for the benefit of smaller states. But the improvements in working methods achieved by Singapore were rapidly dropped after Singapore left the Council.
Small states are often significantly affected by sanctions resolutions. These resolutions are almost always crafted by larger members but they often cause special economic problems for other states. The Security Council rarely, if ever, agrees to apply Article 50 which calls for consultation to find solutions to such problems.
Too often smaller states have been unable to get the UN machinery to work, even in situations of grave urgency, because of resistance from larger countries.
We recall the failure of the Security Council in 1993 to adequately resource and mandate the protection of the safe areas in Bosnia. Bosnia suffered the tragedy of Srebrenica as a result. The failure of the Council and the UN as a whole to address the crisis in Rwanda in 1994 resulted in the dreadful genocide in that small country. The violence in the DRC followed on from the Rwanda genocide. It has affected many small states in the Great Lakes region for more than 15 years.
Turning to today, we see the flood of refugees into a small state like Jordan because of the murderous violence in Syria. We see many small states in the region deeply worried that the situation in Syria will undermine their security. It is difficult to understand the failure of the Security Council to act in such circumstances.
But the case of Syria also reminds us of another concern that is deeply held by many small states. It is the need for prevention, for early multilateral action at a point when there is still time to avoid an all-out war. How often have we heard of the need for active preventive diplomacy? The time for that in Syria was early in 2010.
It is time for a change of culture in the Security Council. It is time to acknowledge that the small states of the S5 were on to an important issue when they raised the question of Security Council working methods.
They were told, in effect, that the workings of the Security Council were not the business of non-Council members. But the workings of the Security Council are surely the business of every UN member.
New Zealand, in common with other small countries, has a huge stake in effective multilateral institutions and clear rules for acceptable behaviour.
As I have just illustrated, there is much to be done to improve the ways in which smaller nations have their interests served by the United Nations.
I thank Singapore for the strong leadership they have shown in promoting the interests of smaller nations and for organising this seminar, so that collectively we might work on making some necessary improvements.