IT IS DURING the greatest challenges of our time that we, as a nation, can choose to step-up and use a hard earned authority to positively influence the course of history.
In a decade where conflict has caused extreme levels of hunger, displacement and human suffering our moment to step-up has arrived.
This week, at United Nations headquarters in New York, and with the help of Bono and others, Ireland formally launched its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council from 2021 to 2022. Canada and Norway are also in the running.
Is it worth it?
This would be the fourth time that Ireland has been elected to the Council, having served in 1962, 1981 and, most recently, in 2001. Some might question whether the amount of diplomatic time and resources that goes into such a campaign is worth the effort.
After all, the Security Council’s track record is marred by inconsistent stances and a frequent lack of unity around moral decisions. A stark example of its shortcomings is the use of the permanent member veto, where resolutions on the conflicts in Syria and Gaza were vetoed by Russia and the USA in the last year.
The humanitarian consequences of these failures, particularly in Syria, have been extreme, as we have seen recently during the siege of Eastern Ghouta in the outskirts of Damascus. Yet this is no time to disengage.
A time of volatility
The Security Council campaign comes at a time of extreme volatility around the world, with over 68 million people forcibly displaced and 134 million in need of humanitarian assistance. The number of countries involved in violent conflict is at its highest level in 30 years, and the number of people killed in conflicts has risen tenfold since 2005.
The United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, has called for a ‘Surge of Diplomacy’ to resolve and prevent conflict in order to get to grips with this spiral of violence and crises, but his plea has largely fallen on deaf ears, lacking tangible support at the highest levels of power.
It is clear that ethical leadership is needed. For this, Ireland should pursue with vigour its campaign to be a neutral, but outspoken voice – speaking with clarity for the starving, the displaced and all of those affected by conflict around the world.
Impactful foreign policy
Ireland can claim a truly impactful foreign policy that is at the same time neutral and non-aligned, and this gives us a unique diplomatic weight.
Our history of overcoming conflict, famine, oppression and poverty, affords us a powerful sense of solidarity and empathy with those in need, and has made us one of the most generous and outward looking countries around the world.
This national identity is globally recognised and for Concern, and other Irish Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), it is operationally invaluable, often affording us trust and access ahead of others in dangerous contexts.
This is ever more critical as the location of poverty has increasingly shifted into fragile states. It is part of the reason why Concern can push deeper into Syria and why we are one of the few international NGOs permitted to work in North Korea.
Security Council membership offers very clear opportunities for countries to take leadership roles. The work of current member Sweden in passing a historic resolution explicitly highlighting the link between armed conflict and hunger shows that small nations can be instrumental in passing difficult but essential resolutions. Ireland can and should build on the work of Sweden in prioritising this most urgent issue.
We have, through the work of the missionaries and NGOs, developed leadership in the areas of hunger and humanitarianism. Experience in Northern Ireland has given us a highly relevant insight into conflict resolution. As the government seeks to double the scope and impact of Ireland’s ‘Global Footprint’ by 2025, these are the areas, conflict and hunger, that we must focus on and though the Security Council campaign is only one part of Ireland’s broader ambition to make more of an impact on the world’s stage, it is a central part.
In Concern’s 50th year, we have been looking back to our roots in 1968 when the organisation was founded as a response to the starvation caused by conflict in the breakaway province of Biafra in Nigeria.
The world was on fire that year. There was famine in West Africa, war in Vietnam, a revolution violently crushed in Prague and hope was cut down in the United States with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
More conflict, more displaced populations
Fifty years on, we are at a juncture where there is more conflict, and more displaced populations, than at any time in recent memory. We must remind ourselves that violence is not inevitable; perpetrators and even entire societies choose to commit violence and can choose to stop.
Ending conflict it is not straightforward. It requires context-specific approaches, and most of all it requires renewed diplomacy and leadership.
Ending conflict needs to be centre stage at the United Nations. We simply cannot consign millions of men, women and children to the brutality of war or to lives half lived as refugees in displacement camps for decades, surviving on insufficiently funded humanitarian life-lines.
Ireland has already played a pivotal role recently at the UN through co-facilitating the process of agreeing the Sustainable Development Goals, which was a monumental achievement.
Ireland has a significant role to play now: in driving a real push for diplomacy and peace, in revitalising the movement towards zero hunger by 2030, and in refocusing donor nations on those who are genuinely furthest behind around the world. This is the opportunity. We should all get behind it.
Dominic MacSorley is the CEO of Concern Worldwide.