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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

The importance of the UN for Iceland

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS                                              - Check against delivery -



“The importance of the UN for Iceland”


Nordic House

 April 6, 2006


Mr. Hans Blix

Your Excellencies

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be here today in the Nordic House at the invitation of the Swedish Ambassador to celebrate the centenary of one of the most illustrious Nordic contributors to international affairs. 

From Tryggve Lie and Dag Hammarskjöld to Jan Eliasson and Jan Egeland and the very many Nordic representatives in the UN, the Nordic countries have made a contribution far beyond what would be expected given their relative size.  In so doing we have not only strengthened the United Nations in the interests of all – we have also strengthened ourselves, not through might and force of arms, but by consistent commitment to the idea of multilateral cooperation.

Iceland has been a member of the United Nations since 1946, although not a founding member. Membership of the new international forum of the UN had obvious attractions following the turmoil of the Second World War. The United Nations provided for universal membership of all the countries of the world; membership itself could be regarded as a permanent confirmation of the independence of the member states. Furthermore, as a small country with few means to defend itself Iceland had a fundamental interest in the foundation of an international set of rules to which all, powerful and not so powerful, subscribe.

Despite the criticism which the United Nations has received over the years, it is clear that the establishment of the organisation some sixty years ago was a remarkable watershed in international relations. Fifty states managed to agree on basic rules and objectives for all the countries of the world.

The United Nations has many achievements to its credit. Among other things the organisation has assisted nations on the path to independence, has been heavily involved in development and humanitarian relief and led the battle against hunger and poverty. Nevertheless, media attention tends to focus on the UN in relation to conflicts around the world. These events often overshadow the important work of thousands of individuals in a whole range of agencies.

The United Nations has changed over time. The number of member states has gone from 51 in 1945 to 191 today. The organisation has taken on a wide variety of issues, including in the area of science, education, law of the sea and social and anti-discrimination issues. Peacekeeping, which is not even mentioned in the UN Charter but was in many ways the brainchild of Dag Hammerskjöld, has developed into a role which the Organisation carries out all over the world. It is encouraging to see this concept taken a step further with the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission, following the UN Summit last year.  

As in 1945, security issues are at the top of the agenda for most member states and work is in progress to make the Organisation more efficient and more effective in dealing with these issues, in particular in the struggle against international terrorism. This is an important role which Iceland supports strongly.

Although some progress was made at the UN summit last year, many governments have expressed disappointment with its conclusions. For example, there was no agreement on further measures to deal with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and there is still a long way to go in making the necessary changes to the Organisation itself to make it more efficient and more credible.

Reform of the UN is much needed. Nevertheless, the UN should be particularly well suited to address the many problems facing the world and to carry out important projects. Globalisation has actually made the UN even more necessary. By the same token, the UN faces even great demands and expectations.

Changing times and greater demands require reform of the organisation and working methods of the UN. The Security Council is a case in point – it clearly does not reflect the world today. Iceland has supported radical changes to the way in which human rights is dealt with by the UN. Democracy and respect for human rights are key requirements for peace and stability in the world. We must ensure that the new Human Rights Council approaches human rights much more effectively than the discredited Commission.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The work of the UN has indeed had a direct bearing on our vital interests. It is hard to imagine the conclusion of the Law of the Sea in any other forum than that of the United Nations. Iceland was able, through the UN, to have a considerable influence on the development of the Law of the Sea. As is well known, Iceland played a key role in the development of economic zone and its extension to 200 miles. Indeed, we continue to take an active part in these discussions in this area. In recent years we have put particular emphasis on deliberations regarding the continental shelf where we have major interests to protect. It is under the ægis of the UN’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf that work is in progress on a report on the limits of Iceland’s continental shelf beyond the 200 mile limit.

Well aware of the importance to Iceland of the UN we have in recent years gradually increased the level of our participation not least in the area of development aid as well as human rights and social and economic affairs.

With regard to the UN specifically, we have sent three Junior professional officers to work in the field with UNDP and plan to recruit a further three this coming year to work for UNICEF and WFP. These young people will not only make an important contribution to the UN missions where they work, but will, I am confident, reinforce the scope of knowledge in our country on development aid and conflict prevention issues. 

With the establishment of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit in 2001, the Icelandic authorities made an important step in providing us, a non-military nation, with the capacity to provide practical assistance in peace keeping.  

I see Iceland’s candidature to the Security Council for the years 2009-2010 as a clear statement that Iceland is ready to take on further responsibilities and to share the burdens which the Security Council bears on behalf of the entire membership.

Ladies and gentlemen

I would like to thank the Ambassador of Sweden for taking this excellent initiative to commemorate Dag Hammerskjöld. As Bjarni Benediktsson, Prime Minister of Iceland at the time of Hammerskjöld’s tragic demise, said:  “Though the man has fallen his ideals live on.”


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