Estonia has know-how to share with the world

Delegates of the new members of the UN Security Council from left to right: Niger, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Kazakhstan, Estonia and Vietnam

PHOTO: Manuel Elias/ÜRO

Expectations for Estonia in the UN Security Council cover what we promised in our campaign, paramount among which is cybersecurity. This gives Estonia the opportunity to extend its influence beyond its two-year member status, Gert Auväärt, head of the Estonian Permanent Representation to the UN, says in an interview.

It was said on numerous occasions during the flag installation ceremony on Thursday that the Security Council is convening in what are difficult times. Does the fact times are perhaps more difficult than they were a decade ago somehow affect Estonia’s membership?

What is difficult and what is not if, of course, subjective. The time of our membership is here and now, global foreign policy conditions being what they are.

We will use all of our know-how and allied relations to cover the topics that matter to us. We should seek unity and common ground to make sure the work of the Security Council would go beyond statistics and have a realistic effect in conflict zones.

USA has plotted its own course to some extent, China is rising and Russia has opted for a confrontational foreign policy line. Is that making the work more complicated?

Yes, it surely complicates matters. China has become the second largest contributor in terms of the UN budget alone, taking over from Germany. This, of course, comes with new influence.

The United States has gone its own way to some extent, as you said, but European countries are trying to keep their values and principles on the agenda with as much success as possible.

It will not be easy, but we can play a more neutral role as a small country and look for common ground or try to build a bridge. There are options.

While some moments will be more difficult than others, giving up achieves nothing. We need to propose constructive solutions, listen to both sides, maintain discussion.

It is also a broader issue. Several people have asked me what does it matter when the UN is just a bureaucratic chartroom. The benefit is people talking to each other, trying to explain their positions and looking at differences to see whether something constructive could come of them.

The Security Council is one of the more tangible bodies of the UN.

Absolutely. We have no experience from that body. So far, we have only sat behind the horseshoe table for open debates. Serving as a voting member and having a position on all matters is a new, interesting, intensive and difficult task.

Coming back to differences, Estonia might face a situation where countries that usually stand on the same side disagree on some matters and where we will have to make a decision. How will we act?

I believe we will follow both our convictions and recent behavior. Many issues have been on our table in different context, whether in the General Assembly or on the EU level where we will have a position from before.

It is simpler regarding questions where the EU has a common position in the shaping of which we have participated. It will also be Estonia’s position.

Matters that have not been discussed before will be the most difficult. Things no one has had time to discuss or analyze.

Not to come off provocative, but if the Estonian government changes where it stands on some foreign policy matter or other, how might it affect our position in the Security Council? We have the example of the migration framework where Estonia voted differently from most members.

Positions we will take to the Security Council will have been approved by the government. We will proceed based on the instructions we’re given. We will have to play by feel when something entirely new comes up. What you referred to was on the General Assembly’s desk.

Yes, but could it affect how other countries see Estonia?

Every foreign policy move, every vote or statement can affect how countries see and feel about Estonia.

Estonia’s membership will be over in two years’ time, while out goal is to broach new topics and look at the long perspective. How easy is it to raise new topics? How eager are members to go along with such initiatives?

The short answer would be that it is not easy. But it should not stop us from trying. One desire we voiced when meeting with representatives of countries during our campaign was to tackle the cyber topic. It is impossible to say in 2020 that cybersecurity is not a security issue. Raising awareness, facilitating a public debate is the least of what we must do.

One’s membership must not always result in a product, resolution or statement. It could also be facilitating a debate or pointing out it is a matter of consequence that should be discussed in other ways. Perhaps you will be allowed to pick it up later.

That is on the agenda for us for the coming months. The countries that voted for us expect us to raise the issue. We have know-how to share with the world, also in the Security Council.

Which topics will Estonia raise during its first presidency in May?

The agenda of the first presidency will have a lot of automatic items based on incoming reports.

We will definitely be discussing protection of civilians following the secretary general’s report. How to approach the matter is up to the presidency. The angle can be adjusted according to speakers and the region or aspect.

As concerns our own key issues, I would not lift the covers there yet. It is not sensible to ring out the bell before we get a feel for how members of the Security Council will react.

We should not get bogged down in the presidency. First of all, we have two presidencies and secondly, we can raise topics outside of those months by asking others to accommodate us during their presidencies.

It also greatly depends on what cannot be postponed. It could be extending the mandate for a peacekeeping operation lest the funding runs out and soldiers are forced to return home.

Does Estonia aim to adopt the role of an informal penholder on some issues?

Elected members have that chance. We will consider it should the opportunity present itself.

First, we will join the Security Council and try to serve as a constructive partner, not as a penholder from day one. The latter opportunity will be there for the duration of our membership, and we will hopefully use it.

In the next composition in 2021?

We will have a much better overview of how things work by then, both as concerns our team here, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the foreign service.

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