Address By The President Of The Republic Of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves At The General Debate Of The 69th United Nations General Assembly

September 24, 2014
Mr. President, Secretary General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

in the 364 days since I last had the honor to address this assembly, the world has changed dramatically. We have seen a profound change in the global security situation. We see unprecedented threats to peace and security in Post-World War Two Europe and the world, while terrorism, climate change, human rights violations and the spread of the Ebola virus continue to be global challenges.

We need a concerted effort to achieve peace and stability in Europe and the Middle East, and to restore the credibility of international law.

No circumstances can ever justify terrorism in any form. By signing UN anti-terrorism conventions, states have promised to prevent and investigate terrorist crimes as well as to refrain from supporting or tacitly tolerating those crimes.

ISIL poses a serious threat to the people of Iraq and Syria as well as the broader Middle East. This terrorist organization executes prisoners, kills civilians and commits genocidal acts against religious and national minorities. Its brutality, barbarous crimes and extreme ideology threaten all of humanity. It challenges the universal human values enshrined in United Nations’ documents. We must stop the terrorists. Estonia commends all global efforts to fight the ISIL and other terrorist organizations, and stands ready to contribute to those efforts. And here, I’d like to welcome the adoption today of the UN Security Council resolution on foreign terrorist fighters.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

A quarter of a century ago, in the annus mirabilis 1989, Europe and the democratic world celebrated a historical sea change. The Berlin wall fell. The Cold War that had divided the world into hostile camps for half a century, ended.

This year we should celebrate an anniversary of the triumph of freedom and democracy.

Instead, 2014 has turned out to be a year when the international order as we’ve known it since the Cold War has been violated and put in doubt. Cynical geopolitics in international relations has once again come to the fore. The international agreements upon which the stability of the post-Second World War security architecture has relied, have been compromised.

Let me remind you of what we have collectively agreed upon.

The Charter of the United Nations, from 1945, declares: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

In the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 all trans-Atlantic countries agreed not to use force to change borders or challenge the political independence of any state. States agreed to regard one another’s frontiers inviolable; to refrain from making each other’s territory the object of military occupation. No such occupation or acquisition would be recognized as legal.

In the 1990 CSCE Charter of Paris for a New Europe, all signatories, from Vancouver to Vladivostok, agreed to “fully recognize the freedom of States to choose their own security arrangements”.

By annexing Crimea and invading Eastern Ukraine, one of the signatories has violated all of these agreements. Thus, we find ourselves in a completely new and unforeseen security environment. We must enforce the fundamental agreements upon which our peace and security rely.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Ukrainian crisis is not solely a conflict between two countries. It is not even solely an European issue. If instead of agreements and laws, raw, brutal force will apply in international relations; if changing state borders by force will become an accepted norm, then the stability of the whole world is threatened. As President Obama said this morning: “This is a vision of the world in which might makes right.” And he added: “We believe that right makes might.” So does Estonia. We believe that too.

Such developments must be firmly condemned. The international community cannot leave Crimea as it is now. We cannot accept frozen conflicts created for geopolitical ends.

Referenda that are in agreement with international law cannot be arranged in two weeks, in the presence of foreign armed forces. Results of such referenda cannot be considered valid. Independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity must remain the fundamental rights of states and nations.

That includes their right to direct their own future and to choose their allies – as stated in the CSCE Paris Charter. Such free choices by sovereign nations cannot be accepted as an excuse for aggression. However, it was not Ukraine’s wish even to choose its security alliances that was used as a justification for aggression. Its mere desire to enhance trade and political relations with the EU, which is not a “security arrangement”, led to the country’s dismemberment.

What can we do to restore the validity of international agreements?

There were warning signs of current events in Ukraine earlier. Alarm bells rang already six years ago in Georgia, but few bothered to hear the wake up call. We must take conflict prevention more seriously. We must support states in their choice of democracy, rule of law and human rights and decisions that follow from that.

These recent developments force us to seriously reconsider the role of the United Nations. How can one of the fundamental goals of the UN, global peace and security, be promoted when basic international agreements are ignored, state borders are changed and territories are annexed through force?

We cannot ignore that the Security Council has been paralyzed as international justice has been manipulated and multiple crises have escalated. The Security Council needs to be reformed. Its work methods and principles must be revised, with special attention to the openness, accountability and transparency of its processes.

The permanent members of the UN Security Council bear enormous responsibility in guaranteeing international peace. No permanent member should abuse the veto to circumvent the principles of the UN Charter.