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Madame chair, ladies and gentlemen
In a little over a year, a vote in the United Nations General Assembly will determine whether Iceland is elected for the first time to a seat on the Security Council. I have high hopes that our efforts will be repaid; and it is clear that our promotion of Iceland at this final stage could be crucial. With this in mind, and together with the government’s undertaking to proceed with due moderation, we intend to intensify our efforts in the next twelve months.
In the international arena, nations can take nothing for granted; and none of the three member states which are competing for two Security Council seats in the Western Group (WEOG) for the 2009-10 term enters the election with any certainty of victory. The results are unpredictable for all three. We in Iceland are ready to take a seat on the Security Council, and this willingness marks an historical turning-point. Let us consider the broader context.
The modern Republic of Iceland was founded in the lead-up to the Cold War. Nearly fifty years of calm and passivity followed in Iceland’s foreign affairs. In the post-war climate, it made sense for a newly-independent small nation to cultivate its own garden. This is reflected by the fact that Iceland’s main initiative in foreign affairs at that time focused, quite rightly, on its territorial waters and the Law of the Sea. This prioritisation was entirely natural, while in other fields Iceland tended to be guided by its allies and friends. More recently, critics have alleged that the Icelanders have long been “passengers” in international cooperation, but that view is debatable.
The end of the Cold War fundamentally altered Iceland’s international situation; this coincided with great economic and social changes within Iceland. Both domestic and external conditions have been transformed. Today, the safeguarding of Icelandic interests in the global environment has become much more complex than before, and Iceland is far more able to safeguard its own interests. At the same time, it is clear that delegating such responsibilities to other nations is becoming constantly more difficult and less desirable. Iceland must above all work effectively with other nations, especially in the case of large-scale projects; but for Icelanders to hope that other nations will carry out tasks for them which they are quite capable of handling themselves is not compatible with our interests, our dignity, or our autonomy. In addition, Iceland must consider its moral and political duties as a participant in the community of nations, and the importance of upholding the values which have always unified the Icelandic nation.
It was in this context that the decision was made in 1998 that Iceland would be a candidate to the Security Council, for the first time since we became member of the United Nations in 1946. The decision reveals a new vision of Iceland’s position in the international arena and a new confidence and vigour in foreign affairs. It entails a view of Iceland as a robust small nation and a rejection of Iceland’s old self-image as a powerless mini-state. This is not an indicator of vanity or arrogance, but of a natural re-evaluation, and the ongoing quest to strengthen Iceland’s position.
I said earlier that nothing could be taken for granted in international affairs. Optimistic though we may be, Iceland may not be elected to the Security Council. That would certainly be a disappointment, but it would not affect Iceland’s position. Our objective is to safeguard Icelandic interests and to maintain Icelandic values, and a place on the Security Council is only one of many methods of achieving these aims. However, we carry on our efforts with the aim of demonstrating not only that the smaller member states of the United Nations have much to offer the Security Council, but also that their participation will reinforce the legitimacy of this key United Nations body.
When I took office as Minister for Foreign Affairs in the autumn of 2005, I decided to impose moderate limits on funding to the candidature to the Security Council. I stressed that Iceland should seek election on grounds of substantive arguments and fairness, rather than through lobbying and prodigal spending. This has been the basis of the candidature since then, and the government is in agreement that this will remain the case throughout.
In view of the situation I have described, and of future prospects, I shall briefly explain how the government plans to support informed debate on Icelandic foreign affairs and security. The previous government’s statement of 26 September 2006, on the occasion of the departure of the Iceland Defence Force from Iceland, states inter alia that a forum will be created for consultation between political parties on matters of security. This is reiterated in the policy declaration of the present government. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has specifically pointed out the necessity for establishing such a forum, as well as a dedicated and vigorous research body.
The government’s idea is to unite the forum for consultation and research activities in a Research Centre on foreign affairs and security. This would provide politicians, officials and scholars with opportunities to discuss and study Icelandic foreign affairs and security in a more focussed manner than hitherto. This would be carried out in collaboration with government ministries, public bodies, organisations and universities, as well as similar bodies abroad. This project will be further pursued in the near future.
Seminars, such as this one here today, may also be expected to stimulate debate and understanding of international affairs; I urge all those present here today to keep up with the symposium series which is scheduled for the coming months at universities around the country.