Nordic Influence at the United Nations

By Hinrichsen, Don | Scandinavian Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Nordic Influence at the United Nations


Hinrichsen, Don, Scandinavian Review


The five Nordic nations have long been strong supporters of the United Nations, advancing their foreign policy goals through the U.N. Secretariat and actively backing the agendas of the U.N. specialized agencies. In this first of two articles, the author discusses the Nordic role in foreign assistance. A subsequent article will consider how the Nordic countries are taking the lead in complying with the Millennium Declaration, which calls for the developed world to tackle by 2015 eight of the most oppressing development issues confronting humanity .

"The United Nations was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell. "

-Dag Hammarskjold, second Secretary General of the United Nations

THE END OF THE COLD WAR IN 1990 AND THE BREAKUP OF the former Soviet Union were supposed to usher in an era of peace and prosperity-a permanent hiatus from the threat of nuclear annihilation. Such a period would buy time for governments to sort through the knotty issues that underlie wars and civil strife, ethnic and religious divisions, deepening poverty, food insecurity, the marginalization of women and how to promote economic growth without consuming the planet's finite resources in the process, among other pressing matters. The celebrations were short-lived. History did not end, as argued by Francis Fukuyama in his 1992 book. Instead, the post-Cold War period has proved to be among the most convulsive and unstable in recent memory, characterized by heightened tensions, dozens of little wars that have had a nasty tendency to spill across borders, the rise of religious fundamentalism (and its spawn, terrorism), a growing divide between the "haves" and "have nots" and the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology.

Today, the United Nations is more important than ever. Over the past 15 years the world has become more complex and fragmented, despite globalization. The United Nations is the only multilateral organization that can promote peace building and head off conflicts before they ignite into hot wars. Despite the irony that the main force behind the formation of the U.N. in 1945, the United States, is now one of the organization's most outspoken critics, preferring unilateral confrontation to consensus building, the U.N. is still the only truly international forum for preventing conflicts, aiding strifetorn regions and building peace and security.

The five Nordic states - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden - have been active since the early years of the founding of the UN in 1945. Denmark and Norway joined as founding members in 1945, followed by Sweden and Iceland in 1946. Finland was admitted in 1955. Since the 1960s these five states have worked tirelessly as a block to push the international development agenda, speaking up on behalf of the poor world and urging the super powers to lay the foundation for lasting peace and security by promoting human rights, sustainable development and the rule of law and doing it through diplomacy and negotiations rather than confrontation and war.

It is not surprising that two of the U.N.'s nine secretary Generals have come from this region. The organization's first secretary General was the Norwegian politician and diplomat Trygve lie, who served from 1946 to 1952. The second secretary General was the consummate Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld, who served from 1953 until his untimely death in 1961. Both men helped shape the U.N., establishing its basic mandates to promote peace and security, fight poverty, advance human rights and support the rule of law.

The five Nordic countries "have been instrumental in building consensus over the past 50 years by keeping countries, both developed and developing, focused on the fundamentals of development-peace and security, poverty alleviation, human rights and the rule of law," notes one prominent U.N. diplomat from the Netherlands, who has worked closely with his Nordic counterparts for the past two decades. …

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