Tuesday, January 10th marked the first formal presence of the new UN Secretary General António Guterres at the Security Council, which convened to discuss the issue of conflict prevention and sustaining peace. In his briefing to the Council, Guterres underlined the need for new and strengthened efforts to build and sustain peace across the world through conflict prevention as the main avenue of achieving this. “We spend far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them. People are paying too high a price […] we need a whole new approach.” These conflicts, he added, are fueled by a multitude of issues and only exacerbated by others, such as climate change and population growth. “While the causes of crisis are deeply interlinked, the UN’s response remains fragmented.” Guterres stressed the need for reform in UN operations to remove bureaucratic obstacles that stand in the way of proper functioning. Guterres also cited gender equality and totally inclusivity as imperative in the quest for conflict resolution and peace, despite the unequal gender representation in the immediate circle of the Council itself. “All groups need to see that their individual identities are respected, while feeling that they belong as valued members of the community as a whole.”
The UN Secretary General argued for a greater effort to address and fight youth unemployment, another risk factor of escalating conflict. Guterres also stressed that the peace process ultimately lies with the member states, and that no more opportunities to prevent conflict should be lost due to questioning motives and concerns over national sovereignty. He, once again, reiterated his plea to make 2017 a year for peace. Throughout the entire intervention, Guterres emphasized the need for prevention, above all, as the key to building and sustaining a lasting peace in the world. “Prevention is not merely a priority, but the priority. If we live up to our responsibilities, we will save lives, reduce suffering and give hope to millions.”
Later on in the meeting, Angelino Alfano, Italy’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs, also addressed the Counsil. Alfano illustrated the strengths that Italy, as a Mediterranean country, brings to its tenure on the Security Council through “its natural disposition to ‘build bridges’ across all sides.” He stated that inclusivity is “the key to effective multilateralism and to address our common challenges.” Despite the failure of the Swedish delegation to mention Libya in its January agenda, Alfano mentioned the North African country first, as one of the areas where effort is needed to support reconciliation and legitimate systems of governance. He also stressed the importance of changing vision to action, and laid out three objectives to achieve this goal.
The first objective was comprehensive reform of UN systems that may potentially entail “a revision of the Secretariat structure or a new distribution of roles and responsibilities.” The second objective was the encouragement of the effective use of “early warning indicators of violence, radicalization, extremism, and assaults on human rights, religion, and culture.” Alfano spoke out sharply against terrorism and said that to fight against terror means “fighting for our freedom.” The third and final objective was “focused on the root causes of instability” in order to prevent conflict. Alfano gave examples of climate change and food security as critical root causes of crisis that must be addressed to understand and prevent conflict before it has a chance to flourish. He concluded by saying that Italy is committed to working with other member states to solve and prevent conflict in order to build lasting peace across the globe. (the Italian Foreign Minister’s press conference following the meeting)
When United States Ambassador Samantha Power (video above, starting minute 45:25) took the floor to discuss the UN potential and state sovereignty, echoes of Cold War tensions could be felt, as she openly called out Russia for its role in the Syrian conflict and its invasion of Crimea, “even as Russia has used its veto to insulate itself from consequences in this council for trampling on Ukraine’s sovereignty,” she said. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, in his own rebuttal (video above, starting minute 1:52:12), stated “it is a violation of sovereignty by the United States that led to the very dire situation in a number of regions of the world, which we now have to tackle,” citing Libya and Iraq as examples.
After the Security Council meeting, Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström, gave a press briefing to journalists. La Voce asked, in light of the escalating tension between Russia and the US in recent months, if she hopes that the relations between those two countries on the Security Council will improve with the new US administration and Trump as president. Walström responded a bit in chastisement of both Russia and the US for their behavior and actions in creating the strong tension on the Council. “We have been worried about the bad atmosphere,” she said, continuing that it “does not help any situation. It does not help the dialogue, it does not help the contact between the Secretary General and the Security Council.” Walström emphasized the importance of negotiation, respect, and compromise among Council members, even when there is disagreement. “If a new US administration will help to create the better atmosphere, that will always be a good thing. As long as they don’t agree to do bad deals for the peace,” she concluded, perhaps only half-jokingly. (Video here, starting minute 7:00)
Below is the video of the Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano’s Press Conference with a partial English translation of the speech.
After the Security Council meeting, the Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano went on a stakeout to answer the journalists’ questions. Speaking in Italian, Alfano began by declaring that 2017 will see Italy as a protagonist in the international arena. In fact, Italy is not only on the Security Council but this is also the year of the anniversary of the Treaties of Rome and the presidency of the G7. In his introduction to journalists, Alfano wanted to make clear that along with those historically important issues of the SC, such as peace, security, development and environment, Italy also regards the prevention of international terrorism and the Mediterranean issues as top priorities of the Security Council.
“There is nobody here today who can deny that the issue of the Mediterranean is a central issue for global security. When compared to the oceans, that sea may seem like a small lake, but there the destiny of the world is at stake.”
Alfano, at that point, explained why Libya is at the center of the focus of Italian foreign policy. “I think that the opposition to human traffickers is a key point in the strategy of the Mediterranean. Opposition to human traffickers means understanding the origin of trafficking… In the meeting that I will have with Guterres, I will talk about these things.” “I believe that this year Italy will be a protagonist. Italy can influence the direction of the international agenda and give higher priority to those global issues that lately have been designated a lower ranking of importance”.
At this point the minister opened the floor for questions, and the first question was given to La Voce di New York, who had noticed that the topic of Libya was present in Alfano’s speech at the Security Council while also being noticeably absent from the UNSC January agenda. The problem of Libya and migrants in the Mediterranean is destabilizing for all of Europe, but due to the absence of Libya in the January agenda, we asked Minister Alfano how worried he is that this is an important concern only for Italy and not for the rest of the world.
He responded “Libya’s stability is of enormous interest to Europe. For us the migration issue is equal to Libya. Above 90 percent of arrivals in Italy come from Libya. We have two elements: first, the question of the world agenda. In this agenda we have peace, security, human rights, development. Here, we have to be very clear and say that Libya must be a top priority. It cannot stay at the bottom. Then, there is the European story. There is the question of how to prevent more departures because when these departures happen, there are only two options. You handle this when they arrive or you let them die on the sea. For those that chose, like we did, to not let any one die on the sea, while at the same time not wanting to increase the number of migrants in our territory, you need to act first. For this we now have a strategy that is composed of three points of attack: one is the question of Libya. And for this we sent our ambassador Giuseppe Perrone to work with the goal of diminishing the departures. Second, is our relationship with Niger, where a lot of migrants come from or are in transit through. We are working now for an agreement with Niger, and when we will have this we will have thousands and thousands of fewer migrants. The other element in our attack strategy is Tunisia because we think that we share a common interest to cut off human trafficking in the Mediterranean, and for that on January 19th I will be in Tunisia. We have a very concrete and clear agenda on those issues. And we hope to persuade all of Europe to realize this. Italy is going to convince Europe to do the same thing with Libya as it did with Turkey, by providing a package of resources to stop the trafficking of migrants along the Balkan route. We must do this with Libya, we must do this with the central Mediterranean route across the sea. To do this, obviously, we need stability in Libya. The difference with Turkey is that in Libya we need somebody who is able to sign the agreement, and this is exactly the direction we have been working towards with the moves that we have made in the last hours.”
Concerning the other questions, Alfano was asked about the relationship with Moscow and the tension between the US and Russia. He recognized that the relations between the US and Russia are “at the worst moment since the Cold War” but when he was asked about the new American administration, Alfano showed optimism. “I am very hopeful for the coming of the new administration. I am not worried. I think that it is a duty to have hope. I am one of the few that didn’t judge any of the US candidates during the elections because I think that this great democracy and the great American people are perfectly capable of choosing their president without the need of the opinions of Italian ministers. I think that the world needs a great American government that will work for peace and the development of international relations that are able to stop a series of conflicts around the world. If this is the premise, the consequence is we must be hopeful and not worried.”