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H.E. Ms. Eva-Maria Liimets at an International Conference: Small states in the UN Security Council: Ambitions and achievements of Estonia and Norway

18. November 2021 - 9:56

Dear Minister Huitfeldt, panellists, audience and all of you watching us online,

I am happy to be here with you today. I would like to thank Kristi and her team and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs for organising this conference.

Estonia’s first ever elected membership in the UN Security Council is coming to an end very soon. Therefore, the time is ripe to draw some conclusions and talk about our experience at the centre of global crisis diplomacy.

I still remember when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs adopted the first action plan on Estonia’s campaign for UN Security Council in 2010. Looking back today, I can only say that it has been quite a ride. I am sincerely happy that all our efforts have paid off. I am grateful to our diplomats in New York and in Tallinn for their hard and tireless work. I would also like to thank Norway for our excellent cooperation at the Council. We both have learned that cooperation is the key to accomplishing anything at the Council.

Estonia and Norway became elected members of the Security Council at a time when multilateralism was under extreme pressure. For us, in our everyday work, it meant that finding any agreement at the Council was becoming more and more difficult. However, supporting multilateralism, international norms and a rules-based international order where international law, human rights, democracy and rule of law are respected is even more important for small states. Here it is appropriate to recall the words of President Lennart Meri who said that international law is the nuclear bomb of a small state.

As the Security Council lies at the heart of the multilateral system, it is highly relevant to discuss how Estonia and Norway have performed on this arena. Firstly, I will make some general remarks on Estonia’s experience and thereafter reflect on Estonia’s achievements in its priority areas.

Dear audience,

For Estonia, the UN Security Council membership has been a great responsibility as well as an opportunity. We have raised our foreign policy profile and broadened our foreign policy reach. Security Council membership has therefore allowed Estonia to reinforce its security. We have been working closely together with all the permanent members as well as elected members of the Council, including those that are not like-minded. We have also been strengthening our relationship with allies and attracting new partners. I have had several meetings and phone calls with my colleagues all over the world.

Based on Estonia’s experience, I can conclude that a small, elected member can also have a clear impact at the Security Council. In order to be successful at the Council, we must be ambitious, but also remain realistic.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a great impact on Estonia’s membership period. The Security Council was able to adapt and move its work to the virtual world, but it has also been a challenging time for diplomacy. However, we have managed to make virtual diplomacy work for us. Estonia has organised several virtual Security Council informal, so-called Arria-formula meetings. Thanks to the excellent technical quality of these meetings, we have set a new standard for organising virtual sessions and solidified Estonia’s reputation as a leading digital state in the world. Moreover, this initiative has given new impetus to this format of Security Council meetings.

With the aim of achieving results at the Council, we have invested a lot in coalition-building. We have prioritised close coordination and cooperation among EU member states and with other like-minded partners as well as among elected members of the Council. EU members of the Security Council have made stakeouts together with partners on priority topics such as European issues, the Middle East and so on. This practice has been a useful strategic as well as public diplomacy tool for advancing the EU’s positions and standing for the strong image of the EU.

Dear audience,

The Security Council’s agenda is always greatly affected by global developments. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has added an extra layer of difficulties. Nevertheless, Estonia has managed to stick to its guiding principles.

We have drawn attention to grave human rights violations and human suffering, be it in Ethiopia, Myanmar, Yemen, Afghanistan or Belarus, and serious violations of international law. Together with our like-minded partners, Estonia has been working hard to prevent some countries from diluting human rights norms, and standing for the idea that human rights, including the women, peace and security agenda, must be an integral part of all UN Security Council discussions and their outcomes.
Furthermore, issues related to the protection of children affected by armed conflict, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on grave violations against children in conflict situations have been clear priorities for Estonia as well as Norway. Children remain the primary victims of war. The high number of children being killed or maimed in conflict is alarming. For example, in the first half of the year, regime forces in Myanmar killed at least 75 children. Several children were shot while playing near or inside their homes, as soldiers and police were raiding residential areas and shooting at random. Among them was 6 years old Khin Myo Chit, who was shot dead while she sat frightened on her father’s lap when regime forces broke into her house. Such stories are the reason why international community and the Security Council in particular must step up and do the utmost to prevent such atrocities. 

Furthermore, considering current turbulent times Estonia has put much effort into keeping the Security Council and international community focused on our region’s security, for example on Belarus, Crimea, and Georgia. We have prioritised enhancing cooperation between the EU and the Security Council on peace and security matters, including by inviting the High Representative to brief the Council. Our work on the Belarus file has been the most challenging. However, international community has reached a broad consensus that the activities of the authorities of Belarus have implications for international peace and security. This is clearly demonstrated by the strong press stakeout by like-minded countries on the instrumentalisation of migrants last week, as well as by the fact that the latest Arria-formula meeting on the situation in Belarus in October 2021 was co-sponsored by 32 countries from five continents. We are counting on our partners to keep a close eye on the situation in our region and draw the attention of the Council to these developments.

Small elected members can acquire influence and prestige thanks to their readiness to assume a greater role and more responsibility in the work of the Security Council. Estonia took the role of the main negotiator for the mandates of the EU operation IRINI together with France and a co-penholdership for Afghanistan together with Norway. Hereby, I would like to thank Norway once again for our excellent cooperation on Afghanistan. I wish you every success in taking this difficult file forward next year.

The role of the rotating presidency offers the elected members, including small member states, another opportunity to influence the Security Council’s work. Estonia strongly believes that the Council must remain seized on emerging security threats. Therefore, Estonia has used its two presidencies to pave the way for cybersecurity to reach the Council’s agenda. Our thorough work has paid off – Estonia managed to hold a first-ever official Security Council meeting on cybersecurity during its Security Council’s Presidency this June. We consider it one of our greatest achievements. I hope that the subject will remain at the Security Council’s table for years to come.

One of Estonia’s objectives as an elected member has been to promote greater transparency and openness in the work of the Security Council. To that end, Estonia has tried to include as many civil society representatives as possible, with a particular focus on female briefers, in the Council meetings and encouraged other member states to do the same. Civil society briefers provide a broader view of the impact of conflicts. It has been worthwhile and very useful to us all.

Dear audience,

In conclusion, allow me to reiterate that despite their size, small states can be successful at the Security Council. Elected membership provides small states with an opportunity to play a role in global affairs that is disproportionate to their size. I wish Norway every success for their second year at the UN Security Council.

Thank you and I wish you a fruitful discussion.

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