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Speech by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen on the occasion of the open debate on multilateralism in the Security Council of the United Nations - November 9, 2018

09.11.2018 - Rede

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This month and particularly today 9 November: remember end of World War One.


After this war, our predecessors started an audacious experiment in global cooperation – the League of Nations

League of Nations was not able to withstand the storm of nationalism and racism unleashed in Europe leading to World War Two – my country, Germany,   sadly, was at the core!

It is worth taking a closer look at the fate of the League of Nations because - as we say in Germany –  He who closes his eyes to the past will be blind to the present.

One key lesson from the experience with League of Nations:

International institutions need political backing, cannot be taken for granted.

If we want to uphold a multilateral order, we have to invest in it. We have to nurture it every day, particularly when the sands start shifting under the foundations.

Germany is convinced: We need to do more collectively to uphold our international rules-based order. We need to maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of our stakeholders: Our peoples.

This is a long-term investment: it might not always entail an immediate benefit for oneself, but it will bring about an order to rely on when needed.

International rules are not a constraint; they create reliability, predictability and acceptance.

The United Nations are at the core of this order. The only truly legitimate global institution, the „Parliament of Women and Men“. We need to support this, our, institution. We have the responsibility to make it work!

Question: how do we go about this?

First: Strength of the Charta: it provides a moral compass, a set of guiding principles.

These are not lofty ideals. Rather, they are the backbone of a just and legitimate international order.

Because when we say: „multilateralism“, we do not mean a free interplay of powers with changing alliances in which the strongest dictate the rules. That is not a desirable state of the world.

When we say „multilateralism“ we mean an international order that is based on rules agreed upon by all. We need to stabilize and strengthen this global order.

An absolute imperative is that we accept legally binding decisions by international courts and tribunals – including when these institutions rule on their own competency to decide on a case, and even decisions that go against immediate national interests. Because we believe that in the long-term, the rules-based system itself lies in all of our national interest.

When we say „multilateralism“ we speak about an international order that protects and promotes human rights for everyone and everywhere. Commemorate the 70th birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year: need to take our responsibilities seriously.

The dignity and worth of the human person are at the foundation of the UN Charter - as they are of the German constitution, in Art. 1 of our Basic Law.

The UN’s founding principles need to be upheld - such as the Charter’s call on all Members of the Organization to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.

Brings me to my second point: many of these principles are timeless. At the same time: we should not be complacent, we need to be innovative so that our institutions correspond to the challenges of today.

In practical terms: have to be bold enough to change outdated practices and structures.

This is also relevant for the Security Council itself. For instance, Germany strongly advocates for improved working methods.

Even more crucial: We need a reform of the Security Council. We need to ensure continued authority and legitimacy of the Council at the heart of our multilateral order for peace and security. Again: We have to make it work!

Innovation is also needed when it comes to dealing with emerging threats to international peace and security. We need to look beyond the immediate crisis - do more on crisis prevention, e.g. address catalysts of conflict such as the effects of climate change.

On this, I see great potential in the contribution that regional and cross-regional cooperation can make to international peace and security, human rights and sustainable development. Regional organizations are in many instances important building-blocks of the multilateral order.

Debate shows: Many of us are deeply concerned that our current order is under threat. But it is not enough to simply lament a supposed „end of rules-based multilateralism“.

Germany: ready to work with partners who stand up together for the preservation and further development of the rules-based order.  Who rally around issues that are best addressed together.  

Also during the next two years in the Security Council, Germany will be a steadfast partner for all those who are also ready to invest political capital to defend multilateralism.


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