By William Moore, Executive Editor
On Friday, 12/1, Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations’ World Leaders Forum hosted Miroslav Lajčák, the President of the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in the Main Lounge of Seton Hall’s University Center. While the resolutions of the General Assembly are not legally binding for member states, in Mr. Lajčák’s own words, “The power of the General Assembly is the moral weight that its resolutions impart, as well as the convening power that the body has” in reference to the fact that the GA is the only UN body in which every member state is represented and is able to have its voice heard by the world.
Mr. Lajčák’s visit to Seton Hall represented the first stop in a tour of several universities around the country that Lajčák is giving entitled “Toward a New UN.” The purpose of the tour is to go out and spark discussion and engagement on the subject of problems facing the world both now and in the future, as well as how international diplomacy and the UN will address them with the help of young people today.
Lajčák is a Slovak diplomat, who has spent essentially all of his professional life pursuing diplomatic service. As part of his storied career, Lajčák has represented both the Slovak Republic and the international community on posts in Brussels, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Lajčák was serving as an assistant to the Ambassador of Czechoslovakia in 1993 when the country peacefully split in the Czech Republic and the Slovakia, after which he took on the role of Director of the Cabinet of the Foreign Minister in the newly-formed Slovak Republic to help build the Slovak national foreign service from the ground up.
Throughout Lajčák’s career he has worked in diplomatic functions in both his native Slovakia and the European Union, helping to brook many deals throughout the eastern-eurpoean region and the EU as a whole. From 2010 to 2012 he helped lead the newly formed diplomatic service of the EU, the European External Action Service, by serving in the position of Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia. At the time of his election to President of the General Assembly, Mr. Lajčák was serving his third term as Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic and as Deputy Prime Minister of the same – a position that he had held since April of 2012.
Mr. Lajčák bagan his talk with a mix of good news and bad news; “the good news” he said, “is that the UN has great potential. The bad news is that it is not living up to its great potential.” In order to correct this, and improve itself, Mr. Lajčák stressed that the UN would have to be open to criticism, but that there is “a distinction between criticism that is constructive and seeks to improve the performance of the UN, and that which simply attacks the UN on the basis of rejecting multi-nationalism.”
Lajčák continued by speaking about the importance of priorities when setting out to take on a large, open-ended job such as directing the UN – if you try to do too much, you flounder and accomplish nothing. For that reason, Lajčák laid out 5 key priorities that he said would be the central focus of his term as president.
The first priority that Lajčák enumerated was the “peace priority,” and dealt with the UN’s role in pursuing and ensuring global peace in the coming decades. Lajčák said that he felt the UN is losing its ability to control the world’s development when it comes to peace. To tackle this issue, Lajčák stressed the importance of promoting a culture of dialogue where the need for diplomacy is well understood. People feel that “If you speak, they do not listen…” and this is the type of environment that promotes misunderstandings and the break-down of diplomatic relations, ultimately leading to conflict.
The second priority that Lajčák stressed was the issue of mass migration occurring now throughout the world. Millions of people are on the move, oftentimes fleeing conflict in their homelands that have made it impossible to stay where they are, but there is no instrument, no document to regulate the movement. For this reason, Lajčák plans to bring leaders together on the subject of what to do with these international, often stateless migrants to move the global stance on the issue from one of reactionary policy to one of proactive involvement.
The third priority that Lajčák discussed was his commitment to sustainable development for member states in the coming decades. Specifically, Lajčák touched upon the 2030 Program, which recently identified 17 sustainable development goals for nations to try to achieve by the year 2030. One of the biggest issues with meeting these goals is a lack of funding, and Mr. Lajčák said that linking sources of money throughout the world with the problem at hand and those best equipped to deal with it would be a problem for both his and future sessions of the General Assembly to tackle. One of the issues involved in development that Mr. Lajčák stressed the most is the importance of water. Going forward, he said, we would have to learn to treat water with the respect it deserves in order to prevent future scarcity, which would inevitably lead to war.
The fourth priority that Lajčák emphasized was that of human rights. Mr. Lajčák stated that human rights violations are “the first indicator that something is going wrong [on a deeper level]” which could potentially lead to disasterous problems later on if left unaddressed.
The fifth and final Priority that Mr. Lajčák identified for the UN during his session would be reform. “The world has changed since the UN was made” he said, “and we have to change with it.” Currently 5 reform processes are in progress at the UN, the most visible of which is the change occurring within the Security Council, but change is also occurring within the general assembly and in other parts of the UN as well.
The list of goals that Mr. Lajčák has laid out is certainly an aggressive one. Time will tell exactly how much of his agenda he will be able to address during his tenure as president of the General Assembly. As he concluded his presentation, president Lajčák stated that one of his greatest sources of worry was concern about the continued of the relevancy of the UN. Going forward “we have to fight for the central role of the UN” if we want it to realize its great potential.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, December 12th print edition.
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