UN Day, why it matters, and Sweden’s role in the UN

UN Day, why it matters, and Sweden's role in the UN
Monday is UN Day. And as Sweden has won a seat on the UN Security Council, we decided it was a good time to ask Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström about why the UN matters and how Sweden will use its new influence.

Happy UN Day!

But what, you may ask, is UN Day exactly?

United Nations Day has been celebrated each October 24th since 1948, and marks the anniversary of the UN Charter coming into force on this day 1945. It's essentially the day that the United Nations officially came into existence. 

It's always a day of significance for Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallström. But this year is special: just this past summer, Sweden claimed a much-coveted seat on the UN Security Council. 

Five non-permanent seats were up for grabs in the vote by the UN General Assembly, three of which were filled in a first round of secret ballot voting.

After the first round, Kazakhstan was ahead with 113 votes compared to 77 for Thailand, but the central Asian country fell short of the two-thirds majority required to win election to the seat reserved for Asia.

Among the world's top aid donors, Sweden picked up 134 votes, scoring an outright win, while the Netherlands garnered 125 votes and Italy 113, falling short of the required majority.

The five new elected countries took their place alongside the five permanent council members — Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States. 

At the time Wallström said she was “happy and proud” to see her country join the UN's top table, pledging to focus firmly on conflict resolution.

But why is she proud of this opportunity, and how will Sweden use its newfound power? How does a seat on the security council change things? 

“More than ever before, the destiny of others is also our destiny,” Margot Wallström told SI News this weekend.

“Of course the main platform for our foreign policy is the EU, but we can see that it also is steered very much by the agenda of the United Nations. We want to be the EU’s best friend in the UN, and the UN’s best friend in the EU.”

Sound like Sweden wants to play the role of peacekeeper? It does. After all, it’s something the country is good at, having celebrated 200 years of peace itself.

But it’s not thanks to any form of passivity. Sweden actively pushes for peace.

“We want to work much more on the preventative side of things, preventing conflict, and creating peaceful solutions to existing conflicts,” Wallström said.

“We will inherit an agenda, but we also want to work more with climate and security, and we want to make sure that women, peace and gender security is more consistent. Those will be our signature issues.”

Wallström is celebrating UN Day with a trip to Tunisia – “a great way to observe the day. We need to help Tunisia to succeed; that is just one example of a part of the world where things are going the right direction.” 

Wallström admits that many Swedes have mixed feelings about the UN – but her conclusion is clear:

“We need the UN,” she told SI News. “We both love it and hate it because we can see its shortcomings and failures. We put all our hopes in the UN and we are very frustrated when it fails.”

But, she said, the organization is still absolutely critical and should not be taken for granted.

“Don’t forget all the UN agencies that are out there keeping peace every single day. Just look at the UNICEF protection and how they work with refugees.”

Wallström calls the UN an “enormously important” organization, and says Sweden will use its seat on the UN Security Council to keep developing it for the better.

“We can continue our ambition of reforming and changing the security council to make it better.”