TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer sat down with Miroslav Lajcak, Slovakia’s foreign minister and a candidate to be the UN’s next Secretary-General, to talk about his plans for the world’s top job:
What is the single most important thing that a UN secretary general can do to make the United Nations a more effective institution?
As a chief administrative officer, Secretary General must make sure that the Organization is always adapted to new realities and agendas and that the Secretariat is dynamic, competent and diverse. The UN management must be transparent and accountable; the highest level of professionalism, accountability and ethical standards of the UN staff must be demanded and ensured. The Secretary General should be able to effectively enforce management policies while also winning the trust and confidence of staff members and attract the best talent worldwide to work for the UN.
What aspect of the UN’s work do you believe is in greatest need of reform?
The three crucial reviews of United Nations safety and security architecture have been adopted over past year including important Resolutions of the UN GA and Security Council. As the threats to peace and security continue to evolve, these reviews hold a great merit in reflecting on our approach to collective peace and security. It will now be crucial for the Organization to build upon the generated momentum, champion the changes, build support for key reforms and make the UN peace architecture adaptable, modern and effective to cope with current challenges, threats and crisis situations. Prevention and mediation are the areas where we should do more; hence early action saves lives and resources which can be better used in other priority area – sustainable development.
In addition, there is a crosscutting area in need of reform – the irreplaceable contribution of women not just in context of peace and security but in all areas of the UN activities.
You’ve written that the number of major violent conflicts has almost tripled since 2008. What can the United Nations learn from its experience of the past ten years to ensure there are fewer armed conflicts over the next ten years?
I think much stronger investment (in terms of expertise and human capacities) is needed in prevention, mediation and support of political processes. The Charter calls us to „take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace“. Preventive action and impeding conflict to unfold saves countless lives and spares human suffering. I feel strongly that it should stand in the forefront of UN activities. We need greater political support – with minimal financial impact – for the prevention, to foster the ability to transform early warning into early action. Furthermore, we need to strengthen the security-development nexus and be better at tackling the root causes of crises, not only their violent symptoms.
You have highlighted the problem of youth unemployment in many countries. What can the Secretary General do to address this problem?
The youth represents our hope and our future; all countries must invest in young people and give them opportunities to fulfill their potential. The situation with more than 74 million unemployed youth is alarming and a great test of our time. The youth are one of the most vulnerable groups; marginalization combined with the lack of productive work may easily lead to social unrest. Fighting youth employment constitutes a part of preventive approach leading to sustaining peace and security. It also helps to prevent them becoming an easy pray to radical and extremist ideas.
Addressing unemployment, including youth was one of the priorities of my country when it presided over ECOSOC in 2012. It was during the Slovak presidency that the ECOSOC Youth Forum was launched. The United Nations has already taken many significant steps; including creation of the UN SG Special Envoy for Youth as well as intensifying the inter-organizational cooperation. The Secretary General should support and encourage further UN engagement with the young people and scaling up the youth focus in the existing programs. Young people are integral and indispensable part of our society, they need to be engaged, included in what we do – not as an outside object but relevant partner.
No institution can be all things to all people. What things do you believe the UN should avoid trying to do?
The universal character, legitimacy and convening power put the Organization in a unique position to confront challenges of the present day. UN is a universal organization, but not a universal cure. UN, for example, should not replace the role of other stakeholders – regional organizations, civil society, private sector – but should definitely improve cooperation and synergies with these relevant actors in global arena.
The Member States through the Charter gave United Nations and its bodies a clear mandate on what “to do”. UN must constantly strive to fulfill the requirement the Charter laid down. It must remain the leading forum to discuss emerging global threats and challenges, outline steps (provide guidance) for action and remain important partner to the countries in the area of development, peace and security and human rights. UN and the Secretary General have not only convening, but also convincing power to come up with ideas how to address problems, offer solution and, if mandated, effectively, timely put commonly agreed decisions into life.
There has never before been a UN secretary general from a former Communist-bloc country. As a citizen of Slovakia, how can the experience of your country influence the work you would do in this role?
The East-West divide has been felt all over the world, not only in East and Central Europe. When the Communist bloc crumbled I directly participated in the transformation of political, economic and social reality in post-Cold War Europe. In case of several countries these changes were violent and brought tragedies upon people. My country, fortunately, went through this process without any violence. It went through a massive transformation over the last 25 years. We have experienced many deep cutting changes in a few years – that constitutes a unique experience and this is very relevant for the work of the UN: trying to assist other countries with their own national processes related to peace, development, nation building, institutional building and reconciliation.
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