Spring Meeting, 18 April 2019
Room 2.02, Wijnhavengebouw, Leiden
University, The Hague
This year, the KNVIR devoted its Spring Meeting to the role the UN, and more particularly the UN Security Council, are playing in a world full of challenges, including attacks on multilateralism and, linked to that, fickle leadership in a broader sense. The meeting was jointly organised with the Netherlands United Nations Association (NVVN) (represented by dr Otto Spijkers), the The Hague University of Applied Sciences (HHS) and Leiden University (both represented by prof. Alanna O’Malley).
Introductory speeches were given by ambassadors Karel van Oosterom, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of The Netherlands to the United Nations and in 2018 the primary ‘occupant’ of the Dutch chair in the Security Council, and Peter Wilson, who was deputy UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017 and now is the UK’s Ambassador to the Netherlands and UK Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Commentators were asked to provide insights on three key topics: (1) water conflicts (dr Susanne Schmeier, TU Delft); (2) international criminal law and the Responsibility to Protect (Kirsten Meersschaert, M.A, Director of Programs of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court and the Responsibility to Protect of the World Federalist Movement Institute for Global Policy); and (3) the functioning of UN Peace Operations (Dr Jaïr van der Lijn, Director of the Peace Operations and Conflict Management Programme of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)).
The meeting attracted some 130 people. Buzz Master was engaged to allow the audience to respond to a number of questions electronically and to interact with the presenters. The screen shot below of the responses to the question asked at the outset and again at the end of the meeting gives a good idea of how well this worked.
Each of the individuals attending the event will have had his or her own ‘takeaway’s’. Some may have gained ideas that can be used for a BA or MA thesis, or benefited from the possibility to do some networking and thinking about future careers. Others may have been informed more generally about what is going on in the world and to what extent the UN are able to address these challenges.
It became clear once again that the manifold UN objectives – most prominently in the field of peace and security, development, human rights and climate change – are extremely complex and often lead to paradoxical situations. Working within
the UN is thus a process of give and take, often as regards problems for which no easy answers exist. It also became clear once again that the UN are ‘owned’ by states with totally different regimes and ambitions, that the organization has to make the best out of issues that in many ways transcend the member states’ capacities, and that even then the lack of political will regularly blocks workable solutions. And importantly: some UN member states ‘are more equal than others’ (the P5). Both ambassadors indicated they do not expect this is likely to change and that the focus should be on options bypassing that particular reform discussion, rather than accepting to be paralyzed by it. The ambassadors as well as the commentators demonstrated what it is like to work in the UN and what the main challenges are in that respect. Large parts of the discussion focused on the instruments the UN have at their disposal, including regularly the lack thereof, thus offering the audience a very interesting and multi-layered reality- check.