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Strengthening the UN and the Security Council

"Germany is especially committed to the rules-based international order", says UN Ambassador Heusgen.

Friederike Bauer, 02.07.2020
In the UN Security Council: Christoph Heusgen, Ambassador to the UN
In the UN Security Council: Christoph Heusgen, Ambassador to the UN © dpa

In July Germany will assume the presidency of the UN Security Council again and, during this time, wants to stand up especially for the preservation of a rule-based international order. An interview with UN Ambassador Heusgen.

At the beginning of July Germany will take over the presidency of the UN Security Council again for a month. What are your plans for the period?
Germany assumes the presidency of the Security Council for the second time in 2019/2020, and at a special juncture. First of all, because this takes place at the beginning of Germany’s EU Council Presidency, so that Germany currently has a particular responsibility in central international forums. Secondly, because here in New York an alphabetical coincidence in May, June and July has given three EU member states the presidency in a row – Estonia, France and Germany – after Belgium's turn in February. We’re coordinating the content of this "European Spring" closely. In this way we also want to strengthen the EU in New York and emphasize the importance of multilateralism. Germany has from the start stood for a strong European voice in the Security Council.

At the moment, one has the impression that nationalistic tendencies are lurking everywhere.
Yes, the international system is under heavy attack from many sides. From the World Health Organization to the International Criminal Court, from the Climate Agreement to the World Trade Organization and massive disregard for human rights. It’s therefore all the more important to promote steadily a rule-based international order. Because we want international organizations like the United Nations to be able to act.

Isn't it an irony of history that the UN is being questioned like this in the 75th year of its existence?
I would argue the other way around here. If you compare the 75 years since the United Nations was founded with the previous 75 years, between 1870 and 1945, you can see that in the former period we had three terrible wars in Europe alone. Since then we have resolved conflicts in Europe by political means – for example, before the European Court of Justice. That is a qualitative leap which can’t be praised highly enough. Therefore we, as Germans, as Europeans, have always put the international idea in the foreground, and will continue to do so in July.

Apart from this general concern, what are your main priorities?
We have four priorities in particular: first, pandemics and security. It’s already clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an immense impact on the world and will continue to affect it. This is especially true in terms of health and economy. But the Security Council must deal with the fact that the pandemic also has security-related consequences, because the spread of the virus can weaken states and exacerbate existing conflicts, particularly humanitarian emergencies. We are therefore putting this topic on the agenda of the Security Council, and Federal Foreign Minister Maas will come to New York virtually and lead the meeting on this topic.

What are the other priorities?
A second focus is the relationship between climate change and security. Although the subject has been pushed into the background somewhat by the corona pandemic, the consequences of climate change remain a very big challenge from a security policy perspective. The effects are palpable in regions such as Lake Chad, Sudan or Afghanistan. This should be the topic of an open debate. In addition, together with 10 Security Council members who support our initiative, we are exploring the options for a Security Council resolution. Third, we will put human rights related to peace operations on the agenda. In our view, blue helmet missions can function sustainably only if they take the values of the United Nations, most fundamentally human rights, to heart in their work. The Federal Defence Minister will chair this meeting.

At the last presidency, you highlighted the fight against sexual violence in conflicts. Will that play a part again this time?
Right – as the fourth priority we will link up with the focus of our last Security Council presidency and in a Security Council debate look at the fight against sexual violence in conflicts. Last April we succeeded in adopting a resolution that for the first time focuses on the survivors of such crimes and paves the way for holding the perpetrators accountable.

In addition, there are various conflicts that have become long-running issues in the Security Council: Syria, Libya, Yemen, etc. What will you be particularly concerned about here?
The central task of the Security Council is to safeguard world peace and international security. That is why numerous crises and conflicts are on the agenda of the world body every day. The continuing dramatic situation – for example, in Syria and Yemen – comes up regularly in the Council and will keep us busy in July. As co-leader in humanitarian aid to Syria, we want to ensure that the UN can continue to deliver the urgently needed aid to people. We also want to put a special emphasis on Libya. The civil war there continues unabated, fuelled by a number of countries that intervene with arms deliveries and mercenaries and thereby violate Security Council resolutions. After the Berlin Libya Conference at the beginning of the year, it’s crucial to continue the process for a political solution.

You said at the beginning that the international system was under attack. The Security Council has certainly not remained unaffected by this. What is the mood like there at present?
Not the very best, but we believe in the multilateral system and are committed to strengthening it. We therefore hope that the Security Council will soon be able to meet again physically at the UN. The switch to digital formats has been successful, yet in the long-term you can’t do without the personal exchange, the discussions at the margins of meetings, which is of the very essence of diplomacy.