Our role in Security Council is to prevent conflicts

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström
Photo: Kristian Pohl / Government Offices of Sweden
Minister for Foreign Affairs

We live in troubled times. The terrorist attack on Drottninggatan in Stockholm just a few days ago will leave us with a permanent scar. The fight against extremism and terrorism must remain at the top of the international community’s agenda. The challenges of our times require international cooperation, and Sweden has an important role to play in this.

One example is the response to the recent chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria. Under Swedish leadership and together with nine other countries on the Security Council, we tried to agree on a resolution on a serious investigation of this outrage so that those responsible could be held to account. It is regrettable that the permanent members of the Security Council have been unable to agree on this. This issue must be resolved in the Security Council; we must take joint responsibility for achieving a sustainable political solution. It is high time that the Syrian people are allowed to determine their own future.

As the war in Syria rages on, the UN is warning that we may be facing the largest humanitarian famine disaster since the Second World War. Countries such as Somalia and South Sudan have been struck by a severe drought that may have catastrophic consequences.

At the end of March, we also received the terrible news that Swede Zaida Catalán and her colleagues had been killed while conducting their UN peace and security duties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Strenuous and tough job

All of this has happened in the last 100 days. And all of this – and more besides – is what we have to deal with in our day-to-day work in the Security Council. It is a strenuous and tough job – but it has produced results. I would like to outline another three concrete examples.

Sweden has laid the foundations for conflict prevention to be placed at the centre of the Security Council’s work, and the new UN Secretary-General António Guterres took part in the high-level meeting on this theme that was organised during Sweden’s Presidency in January.

An acute crisis in Gambia was averted during our Presidency when the transfer of power from the outgoing to the incoming president was resolved through negotiations.

We have also given those affected by the Security Council a voice in the Security Council – not least women and representatives of civil society. At Sweden’s initiative, women’s organisations from Somalia and Nigeria and an archbishop from the DRC have been allowed to address the Security Council, for the first time ever. We have also introduced working practices that reflect the fact that the Security Council concerns everyone, and opened the work of the Security Council up to more people through active use of social media.

We also helped ensure that the Security Council agreed on a resolution that for the first time clearly outlines the link between climate change and security in the Lake Chad region of West Africa.

I like to think of these as examples of the Swedish model in action in the Security Council: clear working methods that systematically and effectively lead us towards a more secure world. We are proud to be able to contribute to agreement among the fifteen members of the Security Council – step by step, and word by word.

Dare to ask the big questions

But we also dare to look at the big picture and ask the difficult questions. How will the UN and the Security Council tackle climate change and its consequences for international peace and security? How can we guarantee that the UN’s zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse is followed? And how do we deal with the fact that the Security Council can never be more effective than its five permanent members – each of which have a veto – allow it to be?

The answers are not clear-cut – but the questions need to be asked. This is particularly important in times like these, when the international order is often called into question. But returning to a time when cooperation is replaced by national self-interest is not an option. All of us who think the world deserves better than war, poverty and abuses must instead pick up the pace.

Political solutions the answer

Because the answers can be found in political solutions. This is why Sweden’s seat on the UN Security Council is so important. It gives us an opportunity to work for global solutions for peace, gender equality and human rights where they are needed most – but also where they are most difficult to achieve.

Sweden’s voice will continue to be heard in the Security Council for several hundred days more – right up to New Year’s Eve 2018. We will maintain our grand visions – but also remain a voice for progress in the small victories of cooperation.

Sweden’s first 100 days on the Security Council have boosted my conviction that this is both necessary and possible.


Margot Wallström
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sweden


This opinion piece was first published by Goteborgs Posten ( in Swedish) on April 14