Interview of Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski for PAP
2 January 2018
PAP: You have said that non-permanent membership in the Security Council could be a ticket to global politics for Poland. To what extent does Poland have real interests within global politics that it could in turn strive to implement?
WW: Observance of international law and conflict prevention – these are our global interests. We also have economic interests scattered all over the world. Another issue is the ability to conduct policies at the global level. This will be conditional on having the right instruments, first and foremost an extensive network of diplomatic missions. And here we return to the balance sheet of previous governments in this field, to the policy of liquidating Polish missions, and thus the Polish presence in the world. In order to be a player, perhaps not on a global scale, like the US, Russia or China, but at least in several regions and to be a significant partner for the world powers, you really have to be there physically. That is why we are restoring this presence today, restoring the presence of our missions in Africa, Asia and South America, as well as consulates and Polish Institutes, which also fulfil an important function. We also want to take part again in UN peacekeeping missions. Many countries are interested in participating in these operations, because it is not only a question of prestige, but also a ticket to international politics.
PAP: Many representatives of the Polish leadership have declared that Poland wants to be the voice of its region in the Security Council. How do we imagine this in practice? Is it a matter of creating a special mechanism for regional consultations for the duration of our membership in the Council, or will we rely on bilateral dialogue and existing cooperation formats?
WW: We have already created such regional structures. We are in the European Union and NATO, we have the 16 +1 format created for the cooperation of the countries of our region with China, the Three Seas Initiative, we have the „Bucharest Nine“ bringing together the countries on NATO’s Eastern Flank – from Bulgaria to the Baltic States, there is the triangle of the strongest states of this Flank, Poland-Romania-Turkey, and finally we have the Visegrad Group, which will also be used by us for such consultations. There is no shortage of instruments for Poland to make use of. I do not know if we will create new ones, for the time being we have created a lot of them, we use them and we will continue to use them.
PAP: A group of problems that is obviously of particular interest to us from a regional perspective are „frozen“ conflicts in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood: in eastern Ukraine, in the occupied territories of Georgia, in Moldovan Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh. Are we planning any initiatives on the UNSC forum with regard to these matters? How do we see our role in the Council when considering these matters?
WW: Separate peace mechanisms have been created for each of these cases. What’s more, because in all these conflicts Russia has its interests, they will most likely not reach the UNSC level. In recent years Ukraine was a non-permanent member of the Council, and yet, due to the Russian veto, the Council was unable to take any action. We are not naïve, we are aware that Russia, in cases where the work of the Security Council will threaten its interests, will simply block it. On the other hand, history has seen cases of effective pressure exerted on one of the Council’s members. Therefore, we do not intend to give up on our efforts to make sure that the pressure is exerted.
PAP: In the case of Donbas, however, various actors, both Russia and the US, have spoken about the possibility of the UN assuming partial responsibility for the peace process. Do we have a prepared position should this proposal appear on the Security Council agenda?
WW: We are prepared, we have been consulting with both Ukraine and the United States on this matter, as well as with other countries, recently this issue was discussed during the intergovernmental consultations with the United Kingdom. We are aware of what the Russians are trying to achieve by putting forward this proposal.
There are actually three alternative ideas on what role the UN could play in eastern Ukraine. The first is the establishment of a peacekeeping operation that would separate Donbas from Ukraine – this concept is unlikely to be accepted by Kyiv, because it would result in eastern regions being permanently cut off from Ukraine. The second idea would be to establish a peacekeeping mission on the Russian-Ukrainian border, but Moscow will probably not agree to such a solution, because such an operation would cut Donbas off from Russian supplies and support for the rebels. So we are left with the third proposal, namely the creation of a UN-OSCE hybrid operation.
There is an OSCE operation in the Donbas today, and the Russians are promoting the idea that it could be combined with the UN mission, which would then cover the entire Donbas with its monitoring. Such a scenario, however, seems difficult to implement due to the scale – it would require an operation consisting of several thousand people. In addition, one of the conditions set by the Russians is that the mission does not include NATO soldiers, they would have to be neutral. There are not many states that would decide to participate in such an operation, and the biggest problem is that such an operation would risk legitimizing the rebel authorities in Donbas, because it would have to enter into some agreement with the separatists. This could raise their political status, which for both Ukraine and other countries, such as Poland, which does not recognize this insurgency, would be a problem.
PAP: But is it nevertheless worth discussing a scenario of UN involvement in Ukraine, in search of a solution acceptable to all parties? You yourself have often said that the Minsk format is not doing its job.
WW: It is worth it, but on condition that the fruit of such a compromise provides real guarantees to stop the conflict and it significantly increases the security of the local population, and at the same time does not induce lasting political and legal changes.
PAP: It was initially hoped that Security Council membership could become the key to improving Polish-Russian relations, enabling our countries to establish dialogue at least on certain issues.
WW: We also hoped that this would be the case. In June, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, congratulated Poland on our election to the Security Council and proposed that we hold consultations at the deputy minister level. We accepted this invitation with satisfaction. The then Deputy Foreign Minister Joanna Wronecka (currently the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the United Nations in New York – PAP) went to Moscow and consulted about UN issues. From what she later told me, the meeting was held in a good atmosphere. We of course have differences of opinion about some international crises, for example in Ukraine and in Syria – here we do not see eye to eye. But there are many other issues – such as non-proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as the issue of North Korea, where our positions are convergent.
We hoped that in the next months a high-level meeting would take place, at least between foreign ministers. The occasion for its organization could have been for example the September session of the UN General Assembly, however, the Russians did not take any steps to make such a meeting possible.
PAP: From Poland’s perspective, migration is an issue that carries with it global, regional and local problems. Recently, the Polish government has increasingly been pushing for a policy that combines the postulate of protecting the EU’s external borders against migratory pressures with the proposal of a more active development policy for Africa. Do we have an idea how to make this vision, which has been developed for the purposes of the intra-European dispute, acceptable on a universal scale? In a manner that also wins the support of developing countries?
WW: Apart from the two priorities that I mentioned earlier, that is strengthening international law and prevention, our trademark – also promoted on several occasions by President Andrzej Duda – is combining security issues with development, because lack of development causes instability and, among other things, migration waves.
In these areas, we have taken a number of steps on our own, bilaterally: we are restoring our presence in Africa – we established diplomatic missions in Senegal and Tanzania this year. If money allows, we are also considering opening further missions in the coming years, for example, I think that it would be a good idea to create an embassy in Sudan, we also want to return to Libya. Thanks to our presence in Africa, we could encourage Polish business to invest on this continent, which would be mutually beneficial and help create development and the growing prosperity of those countries. If this were a joint effort of European countries, it could also help to stop migration to the EU from this direction.
We also participate in several international programmes, we have contributed funds to the EU Trust Fund for Africa, amongst others. We also take part in various operations in the Mediterranean Sea, we support NATO’s European command, so as far as our capabilities are concerned, without neglecting the threats coming from the East, we also try to participate in those operations that counter the challenges coming from the South.
PAP: In view of the fact that tension in the Middle East has increased following the recent decision of the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more likely to appear on UN agenda than in recent times. Before Christmas, the resolution demanding the cancellation of this decision by US President Donald Trump was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations – supported by 128 of 193 countries. Poland was in a relatively small group of EU countries that abstained from voting. How did this decision come about?
WW: 34 countries voted the same way we did, including large ones, such as Canada, Australia, Argentina, as well as many countries in our part of Europe. We believe that it is not worth discussing the position of the United States here, and instead of speaking about this or that resolution, it is better to deal directly with the problem of direct, bilateral talks between Israel and Palestine.
PAP: After this vote there were those that said that Poland does not necessarily have its own global interests with regard to many matters and would simply be a strong supporter of the United States during its time on the Security Council.
WW: Our role on the Council will be a function of our presence in the EU, in NATO and, of course, our alliance with the United States, so we will reconcile many interests. But above all, we have our own interests and we will adapt our policy to them.
It is worth noting that a total of five EU countries will be on the UNSC in its new term – two permanent members, namely France and the United Kingdom, as well as Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands, so together we will create a strong bloc of EU countries. But we also think that this bloc does not have to be against the US. This does not mean that we will be an extreme supporter of everything the United States is doing, but we can be a mediator to alleviate the possible tensions that arise from time to time between the US and some EU countries.
PAP: Could the dispute between the Polish government and Brussels in some way impact Poland’s position within the framework of this EU bloc and the UNSC? Conversely, can participation in the work of the Council be a means to improve the Polish position in the Union?
WW: In June this year, we won unprecedented support from 190 countries of the world, with 2 abstentions – we hope that they were not EU member states. Our position in the EU, the discussions between Poland and part of the Brussels bureaucracy, therefore did not impact our position in the United Nations. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, and earlier Sweden and Italy, received much worse results than Poland.
I hope that the dialogue with the Brussels bureaucracy will not negatively affect our position in the Security Council. At the same time, being in the Security Council, with our voice in the Security Council, we hope that this will be a significant asset for the EU; and I hope that the Brussels bureaucracy is also aware of the fact that Poland’s presence, its voice in the Security Council, may be a significant asset for it, not a problem.
PAP: In a pre-Christmas interview with Polsat News, President Andrzej Duda described the UN Security Council, along with NATO, as one of the areas of Poland’s activity in which the president plays a central role. Is the announcement of Duda’s increased activity in the UN a prelude to – as has been discussed in the media – the president’s growing role in shaping Poland’s foreign policy?
WW: The president obviously has an important role in foreign policy, which is described in the constitution and implemented in practice. His role primarily relates to the security of Poland – hence his active role in politics within NATO or the UN Security Council. It is obvious that here the role of the president can be significant, although on a daily basis the whole range of cases rests with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is the minister of foreign affairs who currently leads the mission or the Permanent Mission to the United Nations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will also represent Poland at various Security Council sessions.
The president now has two visits for UNSC sessions scheduled in the near future. The first in January, when Kazakhstan will chair the Council; the president took advantage of the invitation of the president of this country, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to participate in one of the debates. Another visit is planned in May during the Polish presidency of the Council; the president will present our priorities then. We will once again hold the presidency of the Security Council in the summer of 2019 – also then the participation of the president is possible.
It is also worth remembering that next year we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Poland’s independence. This anniversary is connected to the significant participation of the USA, because the postulate to create an independent Polish state was included a hundred years ago in President Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen-point peace programme regarding the end of World War I.
These are the natural factors that make the president active in the field of international politics, but this is not due to some new arrangement of political accents in Poland, it is rather due to the fact that such is the president’s natural influence on foreign policy.
PAP: The UN appears to many people as a „toothless“ institution, which cannot do anything, because its actions in the most „inflammatory“ matters affecting even our region are blocked by a veto issued by one of the superpowers. How would you go about convincing them that our presence on the Security Council is significant, that we can have some influence on global politics?
WW: It may surprise you, but I will not seek to convince them. It is true that the UN as a universal institution, numbering 193 states, in many fundamental matters is internally paralyzed by the game played by the permanent members of the Security Council. That is why, 20 years ago, when we regained our independence, we were aware in Poland that the UN system in our part of Europe is not enough to guarantee security, that the Security Council is largely hostage to the five permanent members, and Russia’s interests in our region are so extensive that it will block the possibility of the UN taking action. Therefore, we already recognized that security could only be guaranteed by participation in NATO and the EU.
But membership in the Security Council is nevertheless an instrument of conducting foreign policy that may allow us to stand out in the world more so than was the case before. A seat on the Council is a kind of ticket to participation in world politics, because many countries that have problems and report them to the Security Council seek support from the current members of the Council.
Secondly, Poland has always stressed that a very important element of our foreign policy doctrine is to strengthen the role of international law and demand its observance. We will also seek this through the Security Council. Conflict prevention is also an element of our mission on the Council. The Security Council has the ability to monitor the international situation and, together with an efficient diplomatic game, may lead to the avoidance of certain conflicts. Of course, if any of the great powers feel that their interests are at stake, it will certainly not happen, but one can create some coalitions and one can exert pressure – also on the „Big Five“ – in order to prevent conflict.
PAP: Why do you not want to share some of the credit of securing a UNSC seat with your predecessors? Poland’s candidacy for non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council was announced in 2009.
WW: Because, apart from submitting the candidature, our predecessors did not undertake any activities that would have actually contributed to our bid. And earlier, they decided not to apply for a non-permanent position on the Security Council for the years 2010-2011. I think that competing with Bosnia and Herzegovina at the time we had a good chance of winning, and that would mean the possibility of joining our presence in the Council with the presidency of the European Union, so we would have been important in both these institutions. However, it was decided not to go ahead and instead to postpone the prospect of membership „ad calendas graecas“.
These decisions matched the concept of foreign policy of those times: simply how to do the least possible. A clear definition of the goals and instruments of Polish foreign policy, and then their implementation, would threaten to collide with the interests of our partners in Europe, and that administration did not want it. Active foreign policy always means the need to at least debate with someone – as is the case now. Our predecessors concluded that Poles do not like international disputes and, therefore, that the implementation of foreign policy should be stopped. They withdrew from applying for membership in the UNSC, they withdrew from UN peacekeeping operations, severely limited our activity in other operations, for example in Iraq or Afghanistan.
We, on the other hand, approached the campaign for the Polish membership in UNSC very thoroughly: upon assuming the position of the head of diplomacy to June, when the elections to the Council were held in the General Assembly of the United Nations, I went on around 120 foreign visits. In total, I spent over a year traveling and convincing various countries of the merits of our candidacy – and it paid off.
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Zdroj a ilustračné foto: http://www.msz.gov.pl/en/news/interview_of_foreign_minister_witold_waszczykowski_for_pap_1