“The Role of Small States in Building a Global Community”- Remarks by Minister Jean-Paul Adam, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Seychelles at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, Berlin, 20th December 2014
Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy for giving me the opportunity to address you today in Berlin.
It may often be remarked that 'the large and powerful set the rules-the weak and small will follow.'
This is the accepted basis of ‘Realpolitik’ in the globalised era. The United Nations Security Council veto available to the P5 states remains the potent reminder of the institutionalization of this state of affairs.
While the UN Charter may paint a picture of the construction of a global community through shared values of humanity - the realities of the application of this charter remained defined by often narrow national interests.
But the United Nations General Assembly remains nonetheless a bastion of the principle of ‘one state’= ‘one vote’. While many may see this as simply an opportunity to create a system of institutionalized patronage at the international level; the smaller states at the United Nations nonetheless have the opportunity to create space for consensus which is often not available to their larger counterparts.
Smaller states can be the architects of a culture of cooperation rather than straightforward competition. Smaller states, and Small Island Developing States such as Seychelles, are often the biggest investors in building this spirit of a ‘global community’.
First of all, I would like to discuss some of the difficulties to define the concept of a small state.
Populations size, GDP, military strength may all contribute to definitions of smallness.
It is important to note that most states will at some point conceptualise themselves as being smaller in relation to an issue that they may seem to have less leverage in affecting the outcome. In fact a majority of members of the UNGA would have at some point defined themselves as small.
The simplest definition of smallness as a basis of comparison is on the basis of population. While states with populations with one or two millions citizens may be defined as small as per criteria set by the World Bank and the Commonwealth, Small Island Developing States such as Seychelles that has a population of 90,000 are sometimes defined as micro-states.
Small Island Developing States have faced a particular set of challenges in relation to their major foreign policy priorities. Principle among these has been the fight against climate change. We have also been at the forefront of addressing the issue of development financing of islands and the problems of debt in island nations.
The particular circumstance of island nations places them among those that usually have the greatest stake in multilateral cooperation.
The particular circumstances of SIDS in relation to climate change has positioned us as the world’s conscience of what needs to be done. While the road to a binding agreement remains fraught with uncertainty- representatives of island states continue to speak with one voice on the issue.
We are the voices of the future generations which risk losing their heritage if a binding agreement cannot be reached.
This role as a ‘voice of conscience’ for the planet has yet to deliver a concrete outcome- however no state can ignore this voice without repercussions to their own credibility.
As we continue to negotiate a binding agreement on climate change while also trying to define new ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) as part of the debate on the post 2015 development agenda, the strength of this voice of conscience will be reinforced. A ‘collective conscience’ built on the efforts of Small Island Developing States provides building blocks that strengthen the sense of a ‘global community’.
The experiences of Seychelles as a Small island Developing State also illustrate a strong commitment to the principle of shared resources. While many countries face security challenges on the basis of sovereignty over maritime spaces, Seychelles and Mauritius have jointly agreed to co-manage an extended continental shelf of 394,000 sq. km. This agreement allows for the two countries to share potential benefits from economic activity in this area on an equitable basis.
Both countries have also been championing the concept of the ‘Blue Economy’ or ‘Ocean Economy’- as we recognize that a large part of our future economic potential will be defined by our ability to harness the development potential of our ocean.
This example of resource and revenue sharing between two island countries, is one which is in many ways harder for large powerful countries to imagine- but for which it is easier for smaller states to finalise practical agreements for mutual benefit.
The fact that both countries will need to tap external expertise to maximize benefit from this co-management also creates incentives for shared technology transfer and capacity building,
The management of oceanic spaces in many areas of the world is often the source of geopolitical tension in many regions of the world.
Seychelles’ position in the centre of the Indian Ocean also means that it is coveted as a strategic position in relation to logistics in this part of the world.
The Seychelles government, since the times of the Cold War, has adopted the principle that all partners willing to cooperate with Seychelles on an equal basis in terms of maritime security is welcome to do so. Our maritime security is by definition one which is based on shared responsibility with neighbouring countries and on partnerships with countries that are able to deploy their maritime security capability in our region.
While Seychelles geostrategic position may make it a country that many wish to influence in terms of maritime security- its openness and its principles of not favouring the interests of one partner above another means that despite its small size, Seychelles is able to leverage support for wide-ranging maritime security initiatives.
This has been widely illustrated in the fight against piracy, where Seychelles has worked with international partners to establish a model of prosecuting prisoners in Seychelles courts and then transferring them back to Somalia to serve their sentences, while pursuing the finances used to finance piracy both within and beyond Somalia’s borders. This model has significantly dented the profitability of piracy. Through the establishment of a regional intelligence and information centre relating to piracy and maritime security, Seychelles has also managed to engage a multitude of partners in ensuring maritime security of its EEZ and the wider region. This includes many partners that may be seen to have competing interests.
One of the biggest challenges for small states in being able to leverage any potential role it can play in terms of geostrategic positioning, or in terms of building partnerships, is obviously the human capacity to deliver on its foreign policy promise.
Can a country such as Seychelles- the smallest African state, with only 9 embassies, and a diplomatic staff of less than one hundred people truly impact on the big issues?
The challenge however of smallness can be often off-set by the efficiency and speed at which a smaller and more streamlined diplomatic service can operate. While many Ambassadors of large and influential states can often be subject to the inertia of the internal processes of large bureaucracies, smaller states can often react quickly to provide options and solutions directly to key decision makers. By carefully choosing the issues to intervene on- smaller nations can have a significant impact both within the UN system and on the basis of bilateral or other multilateral exchanges.
Small Island States such as Seychelles are also key promoters of regional partnerships as a means for both fostering trade and peace. We are situated within several sub-regional groupings with over-lapping memberships including the African Union (AU), Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Indian Ocean Commission and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). These partnerships allow us as smaller states to both benefit from established regional positions, and use these regional blocks to bolster potentially difficult negotiating positions for example within the WTO.
Seychelles has many specificities which make its position unique within these organizations- few other members share the same circumstances- however this strengthens the role of countries such as Seychelles as potential consensus builders.
These regional building blocks are critical drivers of further consensus seeking at the global level.
To conclude, allow me to also give some background to the bid that Seychelles is making to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the period 2017-2018.
We are bidding for one of the African seats available for that period and we are currently engaged in discussions with our regional partners for endorsement.
If Seychelles is successful- we will become the smallest country to have ever served on the UN Security Council.
The doctrine of ‘might is right’ stacks the odds against us being successful. But within our African grouping, there is a shared commitment that no state has more rights than others. We can all contribute. And we must all contribute.
We also live in an era where citizens of most countries are not satisfied with listening to just one dominant voice. National interests cannot be as simply defined in terms of ‘wins’ and ‘losses’. The increased interconnectivity of the global economy as well as the enhanced technologies of communication means that the power of ideas is not restrained by state frontiers, nor by the size of a country.
This is an era where every voice needs to be heard. Every voice counts- and should be given space to be heard.
We note that momentum continues to build around the reform of the Security Council- the status quo does not reflect the expectations of the member states, nor of their citizens. There is a need to strengthen in particular Africa’s representation.
The reform will be arduous and there will be many stumbling blocks.
But the very fact that the call for reform exists- demonstrates the normative role that smaller states can play- as defenders of the principles of equity- and of shared values.
The United Nations is not just a collection of states of differing sizes, capabilities and interests. It is a grouping that must reflect the aspirations of the people of the world.
We are standing for this seat, because we do believe that a better world is possible.
We are standing because we believe that smaller states are the best placed to be the catalysts to build a ‘global community’ of shared values.
Allow me to end with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi- "A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history".
I thank you.
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