Question: What was learned and how was progress achieved at the UN’s 66th General Assembly?
Answer: Throughout the course of the statements made by heads of state and other leaders, we have a list of the world’s ills and threats. But what is often missing is how those very same threats can be opportunities; it just depends on how you approach the issue, because if you face a common challenge, it can at the same time galvanize countries to work together.
If we put into context the fact that there is such a huge congregation of leaders and ministers, I think in the period that we had, Indonesia really put itself on the radar screen. Our statement in the General Debate was deliberately and purposefully forward oriented. It wasn’t about lamenting over the opportunities lost or congratulating on the gains made, but just a reminder that we, member states of the United Nations, must be united in addressing whatever is ahead of us.
This time last year when we concluded the General Assembly session, no one could have predicted what was to take place in North Africa and the Middle East. No one can tell what will happen a year from now. And so what is needed here for a country like Indonesia, for the United Nations, is not to know all the answers but simply to know how you apply yourself when you face the problems. It is about partnership; it is about coming together, less of a me-first mentality, less groupthink, but more about connectivity and partnership.
In my statement, in Indonesia’s statement, we speak of waging peace. Don’t be ashamed of speaking about peace. It’s not soft. You wage aggressively for peace, you wage aggressively for development in the same way people prepare for war. That’s how I feel.
Regarding the political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, do you think the international community’s responses so far have been appropriate? What is it that needs to happen in the future?
First, the change that is taking in the Middle East, where in some countries people at large now have better opportunities to have their wishes respected — democratization, to put it simply — is fantastic. There is no way to describe this but by simply saying that this is a good development, a positive development that we must unashamedly clearly welcome.
The only footnote is of course the cost, the expense. In the case of Libya, where the use of force was actually necessary, it was an exception to the rule. But then again, it is easy to have the wisdom of hindsight. The reality back then was there was a real risk of the civilian population of Libya falling victim to the atrocious, heinous acts of the then government. So I guess something had to be done, but we wish the transformation could have been carried out in a more peaceful way.
Do you believe that the tide of war is receding in the region or are we about to see another episode of chaos?
The dust is yet to settle. Egypt is not a small country; it is a huge, extremely influential country in the Middle East. Libya has been as well. Tunisia is of course very important. Syria, we don’t know; the jury is still out. So regarding democratization in those very important countries, we are yet to digest the full geopolitical ramifications.
I had a very good conversation with my Tunisian colleague. I was telling him that when Indonesia went through democratic change in 1999, it was an isolated national development. We changed, but because we changed, our foreign policy tried to change the regional architecture with it by bringing the issues of human rights and democratization to ASEAN.
But referring to our Tunisian friend, their case is somewhat more benign in the sense that at the same time you have Egypt, you have Libya changing. What is needed now is to find some kind of commonality in the region. Otherwise, in the absence of a Middle Eastern or North African outlook on democratization, the script will be imposed on them. It will be others who will bring the solution.
At the UN General Debate, national leaders have highlighted the need for reform within the UN. What is the current state of reform, and what do you wish to happen in that regard?
Reform is no longer not an option. It is the basic, fundamental necessity for the UN. And by reform, it must be a comprehensive one, including the revitalization of the General Assembly, revitalization of the ECOSOC, of the secretariat as well.
But turning to the Security Council specifically, this is no longer a matter of trying to entertain the aspirations of certain countries that want to be permanent members. It’s about effectiveness. How can you have a council membership, especially permanent council membership, that better reflects 1945? The world is now changed. It’s 2011, for goodness sake. And it’s just self-
defeating, in the sense that the Council is not benefitting from the reality of the present world. So the council must be reformed, the membership must be enlarged — preferably both permanent and non permanent members. But this is easier said
Unfortunately in this whole exercise, countries come forward with reform proposals that often conveniently fit their own national agendas when in fact it must be the house that must be put in order first. And then whatever the order is, then countries can democratically compete in that new household, in that new structure.
As you said, many things have changed since last year. The Middle East has again taken center stage of the debate. How will this affect our regional agenda, especially in relation to the upcoming East Asia Summit?
Within the UN context, the development in Asia Pacific has not been at the center of attention. This means we are doing the right things; we are not bothering anyone. The Asia Pacific region is peaceful — it’s not burdening the UN. Those qualities do not come by themselves. They need a lot of nurturing, a lot of maintaining and conflict prevention. It’s hard work. And the East Asia Summit that is coming up in November is part of that maintenance of a benign regional atmosphere.
Indonesia took the initiative in revamping the East Asia Summit by bringing Russia and the US to the forum, because we feel that their inclusion makes the forum more complete — all the actors are in the same room. That is why our task is to give meaning. In Bali we will be laying down this concept of the Bali principles for peaceful relations among East Asian countries. That, to me, will be the greatest contribution of the forthcoming summit.
ASEAN, through the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, through its years of existence has basically made it the exception to the rule to have conflict among ASEAN countries. But when conflict does occur, it seems to be an exception that must be quickly put right. We wish to see the same norms applied to the entire Asia Pacific region.
The world view that we offer is the dynamic equilibrium that I have been talking about for the past year or so. Not preponderant power, no dominant power that can threaten anyone. But we bring that about not by containment, not by alliances, not by creating an us and a them, not to rally around against, but to simply generate an explosion of win-win common security, common stability, common prosperity. So the rise of a certain country is diluted or put into context into a wider context. The East Asia Summit has this potential.
We have our finger on all the issues. Our diplomacy is firing on all cylinders, but we must deliver. In the world of today, you have to have initiatives. So this is where we are.