Jan Eliasson, Sweden´s Ambassador to the US since 2000, will become the next president of the United Nations General Assembly for its 60th session beginning in September 2005. Eliasson served as Sweden´s ambassador to the UN from 1988-1992 and was appointed the first Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs of the UN in 1992. He speaks about his new job, UN reform, and his hopes for the future.
Q. You take over as head of the UN General Assembly this year. What will your role be for this year?
I will chair the 191 member states of the United Nations General Assembly. We are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the United Nations during a crucial time of its history. By the way, former Secretary-General of the UN and a fellow Swede, Dag Hammarskjöld, would have been 100 years old this year.
Realities on the ground like the nightmares in Cambodia, Rwanda and Srebenica demand quicker and more effective action from the UN. Some question the legitimacy and accountability of the UN. In response to such concerns, we need to mobilize to reform the UN. On the table we have a high-level panel report on reforming the UN and reform proposals from the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly. There are now a great number of proposals providing different ideas on how to reform the UN. We ought not least to discuss the basic issue of how to combine the demands of security with the demands of development and respect for human rights.
The UN Summit in September is expected to bring together a record number of Heads of State and Government and will deal not only with reform but to what degree the rich countries of the world are fulfilling the Millennium Declaration and Goals in terms of dealing with the challenges of development.
It is a huge agenda and I would hope that the Member States are ready for reform and vitalization of multilateral cooperation.
Q. What results can be expected from the summit?
I hope we will make progress both in the areas of development, security and human rights. We will of course not be able to solve all issues at this meeting. Some matters will undoubtedly be referred to the General Assembly for further consideration and for implementation.
2005 is a year of reform for the United Nations and a year in which the commitments of the rich countries regarding development in the world should be given concrete form. This entails both a promise and a problem. The promise is that we will help the UN and multilateralism move forward. The problem is that the world situation is fairly bleak and that the UN is experiencing setbacks and problems. So the task I face as President of the General Assembly is challenging and, in many respects, very difficult.
Q. What about the UN and United States? You´ve spent considerable time in Washington as Ambassador. How do you see UN and US relations evolving?
It is very important for the UN to be in a dialogue with the United States. Recent events in the world show the need of working together, not only between the US and Europe, but also globally. Global problems require global solutions.
The United Nations is the organization that was created for this purpose and it is my absolute conviction that the UN can come out stronger after the reform process. I know of the criticism of the UN in the United States on Capitol Hill. It is important to have an open dialogue between Congress and the UN.
The UN will not be a strong organization without the support of the United States. I hope Americans realize that a strong UN is in the best interests of the United States. We need to focus on the constructive pursuits of the UN. Afghanistan could serve as an example. After the atrocious terrorist events of 9/11 there was worldwide solidarity with the United States. There was speedy action against the Taliban regime and against terrorism by the UN Security Council. Afghanistan is a contrast to what happened in Iraq.
But recently, the UN played an important role in the elections in Iraq. I am convinced that the UN could also play a role in the reconstruction of Iraq. With a different focus of the debate we could change attitudes on the UN.
Q. What do you hope the Summit will achieve in terms of global security and specifically security issues in the nuclear arena?
From events around the world, we are all keenly aware of the need to stay vigilant and sustain the momentum to keep strengthening security and the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
The UN Secretary-General — as well as the high-level panel of experts he commissioned to examine global security — has recommended a course of action, and they have rightly commended the IAEA and the key roles it plays for nuclear safety, security, and peaceful development. The Summit must accelerate the push for achieving higher levels of global security — in all of its dimensions.
Q. As President, how can you act to change the UN?
It will primarily be a matter of acting as a catalyst for the will to implement reform within the UN. It is not I personally who will play the most important role. It is what we together can achieve in order to translate declarations into action. At the same time, I can avail myself of the experience that Sweden has in the field of reform. Ingvar Carlsson, our former Prime Minister, headed a commission on UN reform in the early 90s and published the report The Global Neighbourhood. It is an important document and there is every reason to study it more closely while we go through the reform process in the UN.
Jan Eliasson succeeds Jean Ping of Gabon as UN General Assembly President. Sweden and Gabon co-chair the UN High-Level Meeting on 14-16 September, 2005.