The United Nations Security Council has been in the news recently. In the past days it has considered how to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. There is no alternative to the council – though the crisis in Syria has laid bare its shortcomings and its limitations.
The council is also doing quieter and more effective work. In recent days, as reported in this newspaper, it has been reviewing its peacekeeping operations. It supervises some 16 missions around the world, most in the Middle East and Africa.
This is vital work and Ireland has a direct interest in its outcome. Last week, we saw the wonderful image of Army trooper Jessica Slevin being welcomed home by her young daughter, Zoe, after a tour of duty with the UN Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan Heights in Syria. Every year, more than 1,000 Irish men and women serve as peacekeepers under UN mandate. They do vital work, often in the most difficult circumstances. They need clear directions and strong backup if they are to be effective in their work protecting civilians.
It is in our interest to be a part of this highest of decision-making bodies
That’s one reason why Ireland is seeking election to the Security Council as a non-permanent member for the 2021-2022 term. It will have been 20 years since Ireland last served on the council. In that time, Irish peacekeepers will have completed more than 10,000 tours of duty under the flag of the United Nations. Ireland’s deep sense of pride in our peacekeepers was particularly evident on the centenary of the Easter Rising when our peacekeepers marched in the parade, proudly wearing the blue beret of the UN.
It is right that Ireland should seek from time to time to be part of the body that shapes the policy under which our soldiers operate. Indeed, there is a responsibility on us to do so.
The Security Council is far from perfect. At times it has been wholly ineffective. Syria is only the most recent and glaring example. I am in no doubt about the challenges faced by the small states which join it for a two-year term. But this is not a reason to shy away from participation or to mark ourselves absent. On the contrary, it is a strong reason to be there.
I don’t wish to exaggerate the point, but small states can certainly make an impact at the UN. Few have a reputation to match Ireland’s. We have been active members of the UN since we joined in 1955. Our UN engagement has been a key part of Ireland’s independence story – taking our place among the nations of the world.
At a time when the rules on which the international system is based are being widely challenged, Ireland needs to reaffirm support for the institutions which have allowed us to prosper
When we were previously on the Security Council, we played a decisive role in bringing peace and stability to Timor Leste and in helping end the civil war in Angola.
Two years ago, we played a critical role in securing agreement on a set of goals and targets – known as the sustainable development goals – that could transform our world for the better over the next generation. Ireland was not chosen at random to lead these negotiations: our reputation, commitment, capacity to build strong relationships with other countries, as well as our historical experience made us the choice of many.
Recently, New Zealand, a country whose size and foreign-policy profile are similar to ours, took the opportunity of its Security Council membership to sponsor and pass a historic resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements have no legal validity and are a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution.
It is also in our interest to be a part of this highest of decision-making bodies. At a time when the rules on which the international system is based are being widely challenged, Ireland needs to reaffirm support for the institutions which have allowed us to prosper. Much more than powerful countries, small states depend on the international system the UN has helped to build.
Last year, the EU agreed a new global strategy which set out a distinctly European response to the turbulence around us: “Our interests and values go hand in hand. We have an interest in promoting our values in the world.” This is true for all EU member states. For Ireland even more so than most. And now more so than ever. A seat on the Security Council will give us a platform from which we can promote those values.
Charlie Flanagan is Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade