Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all let me thank all the speakers for their excellent presentations, which have highlighted the larger role of small states in the 21st Century.
We are truly grateful to the speakers and the guests from all corners of the world who have participated in this interesting debate, and hope we can continue this challenging discussion with all of you in the months and years to come.
We decided to hold this conference today because we believe that small states can, and should, have influence on the international agenda.
The headline Small states – emerging power? with a question mark was put to challenge the speakers to address the role and potential power of small states in this century, and allow for the exchange of ideas without jumping straight to the conclusion.
At the end of this interesting discussion here today, I am however comfortable enough to state that we don’t need the question mark; we should rather put an exclamation mark at the end of the statement Small states – emerging power! The speakers today have given thoughtful and adequate arguments for the larger role that small states can now play than ever before.
In fact, the influence of smaller states is limited only by their own actions; their own ambition; their own vision. We should not approach the tasks that face us today with any sense of inferiority. The right combination of confidence, conviction and realism yields the best results.
We wanted to understand how the changes in the world are affecting small states, their potential to cooperate for common interests and the possibilities for them to contribute to global solutions.
The world has changed a lot since large empires divided the world between them, in many cases ignoring the will of smaller nations and communities. Through devastating world wars in the last Century and the cold war which followed, the scope for small states influencing world affairs was limited. As Colin Keating mentioned, decolonization and the end of the Cold War led to a growing number of independent small state becoming members of the UN. The points he made, as well as those from Kevin Casas, underlined the importance of participation and redefining the rules and values of a changed world.
In the interdependent world of the 21st Century, it matters little where good ideas are born – as we have heard from our distinguished speakers. Small states have much more to offer than ever before and their different points of view call for their participation. They can work together for shared causes, and team up with other nations to address common challenges.
This morning we concluded the series of lectures which have been organized in cooperation between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and all the universities in Iceland about the roles and responsibilities of Iceland in international affairs. We have looked at the benefits derived from open correspondence with other nations.
This afternoon began with our president addressing the growing power of small states in light of Iceland’s development in the last few decades and how small states have in recent years emerged as influential players on the global scene.
Minister Elisabeth Rehn pointed out in her presentation that “peacefulness” and “non threatening nature” gives Small States an advantage in Peace-Building efforts around the world. They do not constitute a threat to warring parties and they are clearly genuine in their Peace Building Efforts. They do not have any ulterior motive for their efforts other than peace by itself.
The growing international power of small states derives from their contributions to the international community in a globalized world and their understanding of the importance of sustainable development for the future. Most small states are traditionally heavily dependant on their environment. They learnt the importance of sustainable use of natural resources in order to survive.
We must realize that in the new world of today, the size of one’s territory, economy or military power does not necessarily determine what a nation can offer to the international community. The emerging power of small states does not derive from military strength.
Small states tend to be peaceful out of necessity. Partly this can be explained by the fact that they simply do not have the military strength to engage in armed conflicts. Furthermore, small states cherish their resources and are reluctant to spend them on futile and unproductive exercises such as war, from which they ultimately can only emerge as losers.
Angus Friday, the Permanent Representative of Grenada and current chair of AOSIS, talked about collective action by small island states. A great example of small states coming together to work on issues common interest is the Island Growth Initiative between Iceland and Small Island Developing States. We can collaborate on clean energy, fisheries resources, ocean governance and gender issues. As small states we have much in common, and much to gain by working together
Dunya Maumoon, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Maldives, showed us how small states can become leaders on crucial international issues. The Maldives have taken the lead in highlighting that the preservation of our environment should be considered as an important component of human rights. Humankind relies on its environment for its existence. And the world community must realize that it does have the right to destroy this environment, thereby robbing future generation of the right to a viable future.
Finally, it has been nearly eight years since we announced our first time candidacy for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Elections take place this autumn in New York, and we remain cautiously optimistic about our chances.
No matter the outcome of these elections, the decision to run was an historic milestone in Iceland’s foreign policy. It was a statement and an affirmation of our national identity; that Iceland is a full fledged member of the international community; that we are prepared to contribute to the preservation of peace and security in the world.
In the Security Council, Iceland will strive to ensure that the Security Council of the UN will take the interests of small states into consideration in all its deliberations.
In fact, small states should always have a representative on the Security Council ensuring that their interests are not overlooked. Iceland would in the Security Council strive to act as such a representative, functioning as a bridge between small states and communities and the large powers which have traditionally taken the liberty of shaping world affairs for the purpose of their own interests.
Icelanders have hitherto not seen themselves as active participants in the operational aspects field of peace and security. We must realize that in the new world of today, the size of one’s territory or economy does not necessarily determine what a nation can offer to the international community. I am convinced that today, more than ever, smallness is but a state of mind. Our influence on the global stage is determined not by our size, but by our ability to achieve consensus through peaceful means.
As President Grímsson pointed out, we are experiencing a fundamental global shift. The world is no longer divided into blocs. Part of that global paradigm shift is the diversity in cooperation among states. Countries are allied and teaming up in many different ways. Innovation can come from every corner of the world, as we have witnessed here today. This discussion has been a learning experience; very valuable for all of us who realise that globalization challenges our views and vision in the new millennium.
Let me reiterate my gratitude to all our guests who have travelled from afar and all participants here today.