«Switzerland’s compass and toolbox for a world of change» (en)


22.04.2013 Geneva: International Security Forum - Rede von Bundesrat Didier Burkhalter - Es gilt das gesprochene Wort

Rednerin/Redner: Bundespräsident, Didier Burkhalter (2014); Didier Burkhalter

Ladies and Gentlemen
Dear members of the international security community

I am very pleased to welcome you to the International Security Forum 2013. Welcome to Geneva, Europe’s capital of multilateral diplomacy.

I hope you all have had a chance already to sense the spirit of International Switzerland that is so well reflected through Geneva. It is not only the UN family that is very present in this city. There are also dozens of international organizations and hundreds of NGOs based in Geneva and its vicinity. And there are numerous major conferences taking place here every year. What better place to come together and discuss major trends of international security?

We live in times of major structural changes. Making sense of what is going on around us is no easy thing. This is why formats like the International Security Forum are ever more important. And this is also why this year’s ISF title “Facing a World of Transitions” is so aptly chosen.

As Swiss foreign minister, I come across the notion of “a world of transitions” almost every day. But what sort of transitions are we talking about? I will first try to briefly outline how I see the world changing. I will subsequently sketch Switzerland’s response to these changes.

Like any other country, Switzerland too will have to adapt to the global transformations if it is to safeguard its security and prosperity. But we also seek to affect the direction that these transformations are taking, as we are convinced that there is nothing inevitable about how the international system is being organized.

It seems to me that the basic structural changes that we are currently witnessing all have to do with a diffusion of power. This diffusion of power takes three different forms, but it is always rooted in the same ground, namely that of globalization.

What are these three forms of the diffusion of power?

The first form concerns the power shifts within the global system of states. Some observers have called this the empowerment of the global South. The Human Development Report 2013 points out that between 1980 and 2010, developing countries increased their share of world merchandise trade from 25% to 47% and their share of world output from 33% to 45%. Developing countries also sharply increased economic ties with each other. South-South trade plays a major role in globalization today.

What this implies is that the world is becoming less unequal. This is very good news. But the shifts of economic power have also affected political relationships and how the world is being run. The rise of a growing number of powers has raised questions as to the shape of global governance.

The recent financial and economic crises have accelerated this kind of global diffusion of power. Overall, emerging powers have suffered less from these crises than many industrialized countries. Although all emerging powers face their own enormous internal challenges, the economic gap between them and the West is further narrowing.

As for the second form of diffused power, I would describe this as the empowerment of non-state actors. Globalization has enabled the rise of multinational corporations of enormous size – and impact. Nongovernmental organizations too have gained influence on the narrative of events, not least due to the internet revolution.

Violent non-state actors have also become empowered. Terrorist movements and criminal organizations have increasingly gone transnational or even global. Al-Qaeda is the obvious example, but I am also thinking of drug cartels and other agents of organized crime.

The third form of the diffusion of power is perhaps the most important one, but also the least understood one. I am referring to the empowerment of the individual. The global diffusion of ideas through the internet has intensified a quest for dignity among people who have long felt powerless. At the same time, it has also created new opportunities to articulate needs and shape perceptions and policies. Just think about how individuals are able to shape the world’s narrative of an event simply by uploading a picture with a mobile phone.

When we talk about individuals and dignity, the upheavals in the Arab world are the obvious example. But I am also thinking of the Occupy Movement or the Indignants Movement in Spain. In my opinion, the news magazine Time made a good choice when it selected ‘The Protester’ as the Person of the Year in 2011. Having said that, recent events in the Arab world have also made clear that empowered individuals alone do not necessarily bring about a liberal political order, at least not overnight.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Defining the net effect of all these structural changes for international security is a difficult undertaking. Still, some characteristics of the evolving security landscape can be identified.

First, the world has become more complex and less predictable. There are more relevant actors, and they have more options at their disposal. We have to learn how to anticipate in such an environment, and how to adapt to rapid changes. Look at the Sahel region. Transnational movements find the weakest link, the most fragile state, and they try to destabilize it. How can we anticipate, how can we help to make such states more resilient?

A second characteristic is that the world is becoming multipolar. There are more power centers, more players at the table. The interests and values of the different power centers often diverge. What is more, many of these powers are preoccupied with handling domestic challenges these days. The US is no longer able and willing to take the lead in managing every conflict around the world. As for the emerging powers, they are as yet reluctant to step in and fully share the burden of global responsibility.

The current multipolar order is thus marked by a limited effectiveness of multilateralism and a deficit of leadership. The victims in Syria and in other conflicts know all too well that this can have real consequences. Another visible effect is the lack of progress on defining a joint approach to major global issues such as climate change or world trade.

In this context, there is a real risk of the return of the politics of power at the expense of the rule of law. There is a risk that powerful states create fait-accomplis and dilute or ignore international law. There is a risk that they enter into arms races. All this amounts to more insecurity.

Having said that, there is no need to be too pessimistic about all this. There is an unprecedented degree of economic and security interdependence between states, which suggests that there are strong reasons for the major powers to cooperate. In our modern world, the insecurity of one state is bound to heavily affect the security of others. The CSCE principle of the indivisibility of security is more significant than ever.

This is also because the relevance of national borders is decreasing as a result of globalization. For most countries, security challenges are no longer primarily territorial. Purely national answers to transnational challenges such as climate change, terrorism or organized crime simply will not work.

Ladies and Gentlemen

There is a good chance for cooperation. But what does it take to get to effective multilateral action? How can we make global governance work?

The first point is that the Western-inspired governance structures that were created after 1945 need to be adapted to the new realities. Rising powers should have a say in these institutions that reflects their increased significance. The composition of the UN Security Council is an obvious example. The challenge here of course is to make these governance structures more legitimate without diminishing their effectiveness.

The second point is that we should make these adaptations without eroding the liberal international order that has been constructed since 1945. Principles such as open markets and rule-based institutions must be vigorously defended. The good news is that these principles have not been fundamentally challenged so far. In my opinion, they are in everybody’s interest – and they are the best means of taming multipolarity.

A liberal international order must remain the cornerstone of global governance. It is our best guarantee for freedom and security.

As a third point, I would argue that complementary new rules, norms or institutions should be created where necessary. This applies to regions such as the Asia-Pacific, which is characterized by weak multilateral structures and growing political polarization.

But it also applies to new issues, such as private military companies, and to new challenges, such as cyber war. I am aware that defining common ground in these fields is easier said than done. But I am also convinced that it is possible to find common solutions, even if some interests and values diverge.

Finally, as a fourth point, I wish to emphasize the need to keep tomorrow’s institutions as inclusive as possible. The G20 summits, for instance, are certainly more inclusive than the G8 and do have a role in weathering the global financial and economic crises. But they also create new divisions of ins and outs, and they lack the legitimacy of the UN and other global organizations.

It is therefore essential that global governance in a multipolar world continues to give a voice to smaller states. In the case of Switzerland, we are committed to defining and applying global standards, currently for instance in the field of finance. It is of utmost importance for us that global standards are set and met. Switzerland wants to be involved and to contribute to this work. 

Ladies and Gentlemen

This brings me to the question of how Switzerland deals with the global transformations and how it contributes to international security.

We are adjusting Switzerland’s positioning in the world to the different diffusions of power. We do this in several ways. While Europe will continue to be the top priority in Swiss foreign policy, the Swiss government is strengthening economic and political ties with major non-European powers, old and new. Forging such strategic partnerships is a major investment in our future, and I am glad that we have been able to make considerable progress in this regard.

Reflecting the growing role of non-state actors, the Swiss foreign ministry is also working closely with NGOs and civil society. In addition, it has expanded its security concept to include a human security approach that is based on the principle of individual rights.

A strategic priority of Swiss foreign policy is to contribute to security and stability in Europe and beyond, and we are committed to increase our engagement in this field in the years to come.

But apart from repositioning ourselves to some extent, how do we go about this ‘world of transitions’? The answer is twofold: We work with a compass, and we develop and apply specific tools to shape the transformations as much as possible in accordance with our compass.

Our compass consists of the interests and values defined in our constitution. Key interests are the safeguarding of Switzerland’s independence, security, and prosperity.

As for our values, Switzerland is committed to combat distress and poverty in the world and to promote respect for human rights and democracy, the peaceful coexistence of nations, and the conservation of natural resources.

These values have rendered Switzerland a vibrant, prosperous, and resilient society. We believe that they can also do much good in the world. We do not seek to impose these values. Rather, we seek to engage in a competition of ideas. And we remain firm as far as issues such as the universality of human rights are concerned.

As for our tools, there are obviously many. Think of it as an actual toolbox. I will just mention five of these tools.

First, Switzerland is heavily engaged in promoting dialogue as a means to define common ground, build confidence, and resolve conflicts. As a country with no colonial past, no alliance, and no hidden agenda and vested interests, we have developed considerable experience and know-how in this regard.

Sometimes we facilitate dialogue between conflict parties, as was the case with the Geneva Talks between the P5+1 and Iran. But quite often, we also participate in mediation efforts – Switzerland was involved in more than a dozen mediation processes in 2012. We have recently offered our good offices in the Korea crisis. Switzerland stands ready to play its part if all relevant actors wish it to do so and if it can make a useful contribution.

A second tool consists of our efforts to render global governance more legitimate and effective. As the debates on expanding the membership of the Security Council are currently blocked, Switzerland pushes for reforming the working methods of this Council to make it more effective and more legitimate.

We are also engaged in supporting good governance by the private sector. We are currently chairing the steering committee of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights that contributes to the protection of human rights and the prevention of conflicts in connection with the extractive industries. Promoting responsible business behavior in this field on the basis of global voluntary standards is a priority concern for Switzerland.

Third, we are working with others to find legitimate and effective answers to transnational security challenges. The dreadful attacks in Boston, which Switzerland strongly condemned, have reminded us how vulnerable modern societies are. Switzerland regards the fight against terrorism as a collective effort. It is an active member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum and its various working groups.

We promote dialogue and build capacity on issues like financing terrorism and kidnapping for ransom. We are strict on the principle of ‘no ransom’ and seek to expand international cooperation in this regard.

A fourth tool I would like to mention concerns our efforts to promote the rule of law. As Switzerland is the depositary of the Geneva Conventions, our emphasis is on international humanitarian law. In this context, we are committed to fighting impunity in Syria, which we strongly believe is a necessary condition for a lasting peace in this war-torn country. We have thus called upon the UN Security Council to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court. 57 states have so far backed our initiative.

Together with the ICRC, Switzerland has launched an initiative to improve compliance with international humanitarian law. Also with the ICRC, Switzerland promotes international humanitarian law and best practices specifically with regard to Private Military Companies.

Finally, as a fifth tool, let me draw your attention to our policy of promoting a world of fewer weapons. We supported the process towards an Arms Trade Treaty and call on all countries to join the fight against the plague of small arms and light weapons. We have developed initiatives for disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

In our understanding of international humanitarian law, we see no possibility to use weapons of mass destruction while differentiating between civilians and military targets. Our initiative regarding the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons aims at delegitimizing all use of nuclear weapons.

Ladies and Gentlemen

The world is rapidly changing. None of us knows how things will evolve. But I strongly believe that the international community can actively contribute to make sure that the transformations result in effective and legitimate global governance and do not negatively affect peace and security.

This is why Switzerland pursues an active foreign policy. This is also why the Swiss government, with the backing of the Swiss Parliament, is expanding its efforts in development cooperation, in civilian peace promotion, and in military peace promotion. Switzerland is willing to share the burden of responsibility. We develop ideas, send experts, and deploy troops.

In 2014, Switzerland will have the presidency of the OSCE, the world’s largest regional security organization that provides an invaluable link between Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security.

We will work hard to advance both the security and the cooperation agenda of the OSCE and assist Secretary-General Zannier in tapping the full potential of this unique organization.

The OSCE brings many different actors to the table. It knows all too well how challenging governance in a multipolar world can be. But the fact that it unites the US, Russia, and the Europeans all under the same roof is also the OSCE’s major strength. Only through collective efforts can protracted conflicts be resolved, can conventional arms control in Europe persist, can transnational threats be effectively addressed, and can democracy and human rights be advanced.

Switzerland is also willing to share the burden of responsibility on the global level. This is why we have decided to run for the first time for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Building bridges and identifying common ground are major tasks in this ‘world of transitions’. A prerequisite for effective action is that we understand the issues and challenges that we seek to address. As I have mentioned at the beginning, formats like the International Security Forum play a major role in this regard.

I wish you an inspiring gathering. And I wish to thank all those who are contributing to this important event, in whatever way.

Thank you.

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