The ancient legend says that Babylonians were so arrogant that they wished to build a tower to reach the skies and treat gods as their equals. They were severely punished for misbehavior and unlearnt to understand each other.
The UN Headquarters in New York is a modern Babylon, with representatives of 192 countries of the world working in one place and often failing to understand what their neighbor says or means despite immense efforts of hundreds of translators and interpreters. We asked Belarus’ Permanent Representative in the United Nations Andrei Dapkiunas how people can get along in this huge organization and in the whole world.
— As is known, the UN was established back in 1945, right after the war, with an objective of averting any conflict of the kind in future. The world has experienced many conflicts and wars since then, though, and human blood did shed. Lebanon is the most recent example. A natural question would be “is the organization capable of resolving world crises as they are now?”
— The UN certainly has enough potential to settle conflicts, and it has managed marvelously many times. We just tend to speak about achievements much less than about failures, but it is quite natural. As for the Middle East, the situation indeed proved very tough for the UN, and the organization did not deliver this time. The Security Council appeared unable not only to take efficient measures, but also to shape its position.
— So we seem to pin hopes on the UN in vain?
— No, our hopes are reasonable, but we must not have great expectations. I can say on behalf of the people from the system of diplomatic relations that some 15 years ago we had a very strong vision of some global “sweetness and light”, as they call it, as we thought any conflict could be resolved by this or that organization or agency. We used to place most of our hopes on the UN, the most authoritative and versatile organization of all, but it is evident now that it is running short of efficient instruments to respond to modern challenges.
— They seem to be talking more and more about the unavoidable reform of the United Nations, but they used to raise the issue 10, 20 and even 30 years ago. Is the present situation any different from what we used to have?
— The world has for the first time had a chance to do some thinking about the new world order since the time the USSR disintegrated and the bipolar world as we knew it during the Cold War came to an end. It appeared that the unipolar world with excessive powers enjoyed by a single nation may result in abuse of authorities. The nation in question may even use its authorities in a way that runs counter to the will of the world community, like it happened before the war in the Persian Gulf. The UN seems to have the necessary levers to deal with this unipolar pattern, but the organizations sometimes fails to use them. A reform for the sake of reform timed to yet another jubilee session is totally uncalled-for. We all need to understand that it would take much time and efforts to reform the United Nations. This process started very well and somewhat pompously, but the closer we get to the real reform the more evident it gets that the states have different positions on how the issue should be dealt with.
— Is Belarus taking part in these discussions or are there only the superpowers from the Security Council to decide, just like in case with the war in the Middle East?
— I believe we have witnessed a very positive moment recently: the process of decision-making now involves as many countries as possible, as everyone wants to participate. It has not happened in years, as the Security Council was the only body to make decisions of the kind.
— What are the reasons for this change?
— The world has got much smaller and narrower — we don’t have the notion “global village” for nothing. Any developments, positive or negative, are immediately reported worldwide via communication channels or mass media. The notion of “global outskirts” is being revised now. The role of every tiny component of the world order is as important as never before. There is another crucial thing, though: the challenges are different. War had been topping the list of global menaces, until terrorism came into limelight. Other challenges are international crime and drug trafficking. The role of smaller countries is growing, there is no way the global chain may neglect one of its links, as this link would be enough for efforts to struggle against terrorism to fail completely.
— For a small country like ours these are major advantages, aren’t they?
— They really are for Belarus, although I would not call this country a small one. We leave many countries behind in terms of the territory, population and development. Belarus is an appreciable member of the international community with serious achievements in many domains. As for the UN, Belarus has been with the organization from the day it was established. We may seem modest, but we possess a very valuable experience that many countries may dream of. Besides, our geopolitical interests have never been our geopolitical ambitions. These interests always guide the efforts of Belarusian diplomats in the UN and elsewhere. Belarus’ key goal in the UN may be put in the following way: we must form an image of the country in a way that would facilitate extensive contacts with other countries, especially in trade.
— Does Belarus have any special interests in the UN?
— Of course there are certain areas in which we are interested as no other nation. I am talking about the whole range of Chernobyl-related issues and the difficulties that Belarus experiences being an economy in transition. Other interests and concerns are shared by all other UN member-states.
— You mentioned the Chernobyl disaster. We remember that Belarus was first mentioned independently in connection with the Chernobyl accident. The issue was widely promoted by Belarusian diplomats, and Minsk used the UN as a platform to introduce itself to the world, speak about its trouble and ask for help. Have the objectives of Belarusian diplomacy changed?
— We are realistic about the situation, and we do not hope that the Chernobyl issue will reappear among the priorities of the world community or that international support will increase. Nevertheless, the very fact that Chernobyl remains on the agenda is essential for Belarus. Chernobyl still means a lot despite controversial viewpoints and a number of other disasters that have happened since then. We have always appreciated international help, but Belarus tends to rely even more on its own strengths.
It is crucial for Belarus to provide the adequate information about the aftereffects of Chernobyl to the UN for the UNDP and UNICEF with their incredible potential to provide a more active support to this country. I guess we have been doing good job. Last year a new resolution on Chernobyl was launched. It had 69 co-authors, a record high over the past 13 years for the UN General Assembly. This is not a mere formality, as the member-states might have just as well endorsed the initiative without signing it as co-authors. But they all wished to give a signal that they supported us. What encouraged us even more that among the co-authors were not only the countries that we had been expecting to back us, but also the states that we sometimes have some minor disagreements with, for example, some members of the European Union.
— Belarus seems to have shifted its focus in the UN. Our presidency in UNICEF is mentioned more often. The very fact of being elected — is it a formality or the recognition of our status?
— Of course it is the implementation of the country rotation principle exercised by the UN, but it is just one reason. This was a true election, though, and the choice of the member-states was not fortuitous. UNICEF is one of the largest bodies of the United Nations, with an annual budget of over $3 billion. It will turn 60 years old this year. UNICEF was established to help young victims of WWII everywhere, including Belarus. The situation has changed, though: because of its economic expansion Belarus will inevitably turn from a recipient of international assistance into a donor. There is also an informal point in our presidency: we take part in UNICEF field trips and have visited numerous destinations to meet with local administrations. In many countries we have been the first Belarusians to talks to local state leaders and top officials, so acting on behalf of the United Nations we also work as Belarusians and for the sake of Belarus.
— Do you think our policy in the UN will succeed?
— I do. Belarus is now associated with its efforts in the Children’s Fund, which is extremely good for the international profile of the country. We also stake on creative projects that are significant for Belarus. The initiative of our president to step up efforts to stop human traffic is a good example. Belarus has a rich experience in this area, and we are eager to share. Our major task in New York now is to prepare a relevant resolution of the General Assembly. The problem cannot be called a recent challenge, and some countries have been talking about it for decades, but now they see Belarus with its fresh initiative. Why Belarus, they may ask. But when they understand it is not for the sake of praise the attitude changes. We can prove that the efforts to struggle against human traffic are unconcerted and call on UN member-states, international institutions and civil society to coordinate their activities to fight traffic in human beings. This is the key objective. We are regarded as a serious partner, and we work together with representatives of Russia, the U.S., the European Union and the leading developing countries.
— Belarus is one of the founders of the United Nations. Our diplomats must have some traditions or rituals in New York. Are there any?
— We have one good tradition that I guess diplomats from other countries can envy us. I don’t know when this tradition took roots, but twice a year, in autumn and in spring, we have so-called Belarusian outings, or meetings of friends and colleagues. Belarusian diplomats working in New York, their families and the Belarusians working in the UN Secretariat gather on a weekend to have some quality time together. There are some twenty Belarusian diplomats in New York, but they are prominent members of the UN staff that improve the image of the country. To my mind, the way the Belarusian “community” in New York values and cherishes mutual friendly relations and feels the requirements and needs of the home country can explain why Belarusian diplomacy has achieved so much in the United Nations.