Australia and the UN: Interview with Matthew Kronborg, National Executive Director of the United Nations Association of Australia
The formal makings of the United Nations first began with the declaration of St. James’ Palace in 1941 where, hoping to avoid the atrocities of more World Wars, Australian representatives and those of fifty-one other countries – including Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand and France – ratified a declaration proclaiming an intent to work together for enduring peace. Four years later, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Frank Forde and Minister for External Affairs Herbert ‘Doc’ Evatt played a significant role in the drafting of the UN Charter during the 1945 San Francisco Conference.
As outlined by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, our foreign policy since 1945 has been guided by the underlying initial principles and goals of the UN: which are, maintaining international peace, securing, developing friendly relations among nations and global cooperation. As such, Australia regards the UN as the essential forum to influence world affairs, promote stable international law based order, defend Australia’s security and sovereignty, pursue trade and economic interests and promote Australian values. Australia has made pivotal contributions to the United Nations for more than 60 years in the areas of peace and security, human rights, development assistance as well as social, economic and environmental affairs.
Australia is also the 13th largest contributor to the United Nation’s regular budget, as well as providing voluntary funding to many UN agencies based on their relevance to our national aid program, and focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is arguably the most powerful body of the United Nations. Made up of representatives from fifteen member nations, the UNSC is the only UN organ that can authorize the deployment of troops from UN member countries, order cease-fire during conflicts and impose economic penalties on countries.
Five of the aforementioned fifteen members – the United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia and France – hold a permanent seat on the Council and each holds the power, often controversially, to veto any matter voted upon by the Council. The remaining ten non-permanent members are chosen based upon various regions of the world. The ten non-permanent members serve two-year terms and half are replaced in each in annual elections. Each region votes for its own representative and the United Nations General Assembly has to approve the selections.
Along with Canada, Israel, and New Zealand, Australia is part of the Western European and Other Groups and has been a member of the Security Council on five separate occasions over the past 70 years.
Could you please elaborate on how Australia works alongside and within the United Nations?
Australia has a long history of success as a member of the United Nations system. The UN consists of a number of core organs – specialized agencies and other activities. For example, most of your readers will be aware that for the period 2013-2015 Australia held a temporary seat on the UN Security Council, where it achieved a number of outcomes to the benefit of Australia and the world overall. These included the initial response to the Ebola outbreak, the initial response to the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine and helping to coordinate the UN global response to the Syrian crisis. Australia has been successfully and intimately involved with the UN since the founding of the organization over 70 years ago. I believe Australia will increasingly work through to UN system to achieve its foreign policy aims in coming years.
What is Australia’s standing within the United Nations?
Australia is a full member of the United Nations – one of 193 member countries and holds full voting rights within the General Assembly. It is within the top 20 contributing nations and is, in fact, the 13th largest donor.
Why is the United Nations so important to both the world and Australia?
There are a number of reasons why the UN is vital to both the world and Australia – but namely because the UN system facilitates positive relations between states and provides a forum for discussion and peaceful law based resolution without the need to resort to unnecessary violent conflict between members. Additionally, the 15 special agencies of the UN are absolutely crucial to the modern world as we know it. Most go about their important business without many people even realizing they exist. To name just a few, for instance, The International Civil Aviation Organization sets the international rules on air navigation, the investigation of air accidents, and aerial border-crossing procedures. The World Health Organization is responsible for global vaccination campaigns, responding to public health emergencies, defending against pandemic influenza, and leading the way for eradication campaigns against life-threatening diseases like polio and malaria. The World Intellectual Property Organization protects intellectual property throughout the world through 23 international treaties. The World Trade Organization is a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements and a place where member governments try to sort out the trade problems they face with each other.
What is Australia’s priority when working with the United Nations?
This is generally up the Australian Government of the day but recurring themes include the pursuit of peace, freedom and justice for all.
What have been some of Australia’s greatest achievements within the United Nations?
Historically, Australia has a strong track record of successfully working within the United Nations as an upstanding global citizen – a personal favourite of mine is Australia being one of the original authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
What does Australia’s future involvement with the United Nations look like?
The United Nations is only as strong as its member states allow it to be. Each member needs to sacrifice a minor part of its sovereignty for the greater good. As we are living in an increasingly fast-paced and interconnected world, Australia will need to continue working within the United Nations’ system to secure productive flows of trade, labor, and resources, as well as working to ensure all international disputes are amicably resolved without violence.
Would you like to add anything?
To quote Dag Hammarskjöld, the second UN Secretary-General, the United Nations wasn’t primarily created to take us to heaven; instead, it exists to keep the world from hell. I think it’s very important that we keep supporting the UN as the key global umbrella multilateral organization critical to our modern world.