Lithuania's Linkevičius says Estonia better run for UN Security Council

Oliver Kund
, reporter
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A member of UN Security Council two years back, Lithuania paid next to nothing for its campaign to get there, claims foreign minister Linas Linkevičius as interviewed by Postimees.

-Lithuania sat at UN Security Council in 2014–2015. Why?

I think ever member state should try that challenge. UN is the elite of the global political arena. Security Council is the most visible body in the organisation. It is one thing to talk about effectiveness, but speaking about opportunities it is very hard to argue against that. Belonging among the 15 members of Security Council is an important position indeed. Even at this very moment, there is quite a competition in the Western-European group between Sweden, Italy and Holland (time span 2017–2018 – O. K.). There are two vacancies and these nations are doing a very active campaign.

-And yet, there is a debate in Estonia at the moment whether this makes sense. The government and the President take opposing views.

We did have a debate in Lithuania but not whether to run or not; rather, it was how to get the seat. We had a very intensive campaign during our EU presidency (second half of 2013 – O.K). We took that as an opportunity to advertise ourselves – especially in the eyes of nations on other continents. It isn’t easy to get the Security Council seat and, honestly, we did doubt in Lithuanian whether we’d get it.

-At final voting, Lithuanian managed to get 187 yes-votes from 193 nations. How?

We got 14 yes-votes more than we have diplomatic relations with! Like Estonia, we were not too well known in certain parts of the world like Africa and the Caribbean. It was a big challenge. We had to consider having points in our programme attractive for them as well. One of our strengths was being small, wherefore we really felt solidarity from small nations. Secondly, it is always advisable to have clear, understandable goals among your priorities. For Lithuania, these were following the principles of rule of law, as well as defence of civilians and journalists. The latter isn’t dealt with too often and among some nations is not popular at all. So success depends on how you play on quality, not quantity.

-Was the advertising campaign costly?

For the campaign, Lithuanian spent minimally; to be honest, we spent nothing. We used up our position at EU presidency. When it comes to costs or expenditure, I do not see any.

-What would you tell those who doubt whether getting in the council is worth the trouble?

I do not think the question should even arise. It’s for Estonia to decide of course but for a small nation the visibility isn’t a matter of ego, but for economic and cultural connections. Convening the global political elite, Security Council is probably the best place for doing that.

-How would you assess Estonia’s chances?

It is all up to competitors.

-Will Lithuania support us?

(Laughs.) Usually we always support our friends! But my idea is that Estonia’s network of embassies, as Lithuania’s, isn’t very large. For a successful campaign, this is very important. But it’s worth the effort.


Estonia to hunt for small nation votes

The soon-to-begin campaign will target the small nations of the world. The first €1m will mostly go for presentations in New York and flights to meetings in capitals of the world. 

Former permanent representative of Estonia at UN Margus Kolga told Postimees that Estonia’s primary campaign message will be: we are a small, coping, and emphatic nation wanting to have a say in global issues. Among others, the message should speak to small nations in areas where Estonia is not well known or is unknown – like Africa and Latin America.

«In these, there are very many small nations. We are a small nation which came out from under occupation. We may serve as example to them, that this is possible and that a small nation has another perspective on the world which needs to be represented at the council,» said the diplomat.

Secondly, Estonia intends to emphasise adherence to, enforcement of, and inspection of international law. These are exactly the messages used by Lithuania in 2014 as it got a seat.

According to Mr Kolga, the debate over money spent is exaggerated. «Most nations have spent far above the million we intend to,» claimed Mr Kolga who said this would be the minimum.

Meanwhile, due to austerity policy Estonia is faced with closure of Embassies in Czech Republic, Brazil, Portugal and Kazakhstan, and main consulate in Shanghai, China which «does serve to make the campaigning harder, reducing the spots to works from,» consented Mr Kolga.

Last week, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said he saw no point in Estonia belonging to the security council, referring to veto rights of permanent members. Declining to comment, Mr Kolga said Mr Ilves has earlier brought forth various messages at UN which the foreign ministry will now seek to use.

In the current security situation, Baltics be better represented at the council, thinks Mr Kolga. «I think that once in every 20–25 years Estonia ought to try to have a seat,» he said. Oliver Kund



Mart Laar, former prime minister

I know it will take very much money. To seek the seat, we must cut embassies which is totally unacceptable. To get this pointless seat, we will also have to do foreign policy elsewhere and polish relations with Communist China and Russia. Looking at UN, today the organisation does not make much sense.  

I do not doubt that for diplomats it is a very prestigious opportunity, but I am not talking about that which is important for diplomats – I am talking about what is beneficial for the state, and I ask: is this really the main ambition of Estonian foreign policy or do we wish to stand out with something else?

Alas, no-one but the outgoing President touches this aspect. Only he has, in these past times, raised these sharp issues in foreign policy which are interesting but are not commented at all.  

Estonia’s foreign policy goals might be broader. We might quietly begin by getting the embassies network in order, and get the ministry working decently as a structure. I am not excluding that we might actually shut down representation in some countries, but this must be carefully considered, what to do and how.