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Security Council – Meeting on Maintenance of International Peace and Security

Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and President of the Security Council, Hon. Angelino Alfano, at the Security Council meeting on “Maintenance of international peace and security: Security challenges in the Mediterranean” —

Dear colleagues,

It’s now my pleasure to deliver Italy’s national statement. First, let me thank again Secretary General Guterres for joining us today in such a crucial discussion for global peace and security.

The focus of today’s Security Council meeting is on an issue of worldwide implications. The Mediterranean is a small sea – almost the size of a large lake when seen on a globe – but where much of our global security is at stake. It’s a fact that a great number of the world’s crises stem from the Mediterranean basin: the spread of Daesh, Libya’s instability, the Syrian war, new tensions in Lebanon, the dangers posed by foreign terrorist fighters, the fragile situation in the Western Balkans, the migration crisis, and I could go on and on…

Even though the Mediterranean is only around 1% of the world’s surface, a significant part of global stability and security is played-out in this sea. And Italy, at the center of the Mediterranean, is bearing the brunt of this insecurity.

Our strategy has been to combine solidarity and security: for example, in the course of the migration crisis, we have proved that it’s possible to save more than half a million lives at sea; and, at the same time, contrast fundamentalists and extremists that despise the values of our open and democratic society.

However, we need to do more together – as global partners – in controlling the routes that today could be taken by foreign terrorist fighters, after the defeat of Daesh in Iraq and in Syria. The Global Coalition against Daesh has neutralized the safe havens in which terrorists could mastermind attacks against all of us. Italy has done its part as the second contributor to this Coalition in Iraq. We have trained almost thirty-thousand military and police units. But we must remain ever vigilant against the spread of Daesh in the Mediterranean and the concrete risk of foreign terrorist fighters returning to North Africa and to Europe.

So, we must deepen information sharing between our intelligence agencies in order to identify jihadists and halt them in their quest for destruction. Our commitment against terror must extend far and wide, including in the Sahel, whose instability affects directly the security of the Mediterranean.

In Libya, after being forced out of Sirte, Daesh remains a threat with its roots also in the Sahel. That too is a reason why Libya remains a key challenge for this Council. But I want to further emphasize the moral burden of improving the lives of refugees and migrants who are exploited by criminal organizations, in Libya. It’s a huge responsibility that we have to share with more humanitarian assistance and more long-term development.

On the political process in Libya, I will not repeat what I said here yesterday. But I will stress once again that it’s crucial for all of us to support the Action Plan of the UN Special Representative. If we miss this chance, all of us – not only the Libyans – will pay a heavy price.

The tragic story of Syria should be a reminder to the Libyans that a negotiated solution is vital and that there is no military shortcut. Regional tensions and brutal actions by the Assad regime have made peace in Syria difficult for far too long. Our key objective should always remain the same: to support the political process led by the UN. We call on the countries around this table, and the entire UN membership, to redouble their efforts to encourage a genuine commitment by the Syrian parties to engage in negotiations.

We are also concerned by the latest developments in Lebanon, where Italy has invested deeply in peace and stability, especially in the UNIFIL peacekeeping mission. We call on all parties to respect the independence and integrity of Lebanon’s democratic institutions. There is no role in Lebanon for any foreign forces or militias other than the legitimate security forces of the Lebanese state.

In an interconnected world, when stability and security are tested by gross violations of human rights and humanitarian crises, it’s the responsibility of the international community to react. A reaction that must be built upon more political dialogue, more security cooperation and also more cultural collaborations.

Italy considers culture as a key pillar of sustainable development. To create lasting political solutions in the Mediterranean, we are convinced that we need to invest in human capital and especially in the education of youth. Preserving cultural heritage is also a way to tackle extremism. That’s why Italy, with France, promoted Security Council Resolution 2347: the first of its kind on the destruction of cultural heritage in armed conflicts. Terrorists who destroy cultural sites want to erase people’s identity. So, we should always protect that rich and moderate identity that has shaped for millennia a common culture of dialogue and mutual respect in the Mediterranean.

For the security of the Mediterranean it’s also crucial to defend religious freedom and protect religious minorities. If religious freedom is protected, the rule of law and security can be asserted. If such protection is absent, the consequence is instability. For fanatics, religion is only a pretext: they want to hold God hostage to their evil ideology. Therefore, we must do more to separate those who join their hands in prayer from those who hold a gun.

We also recognize that more women have to be protagonists in the Mediterranean. Last October, in Rome, we launched the “Mediterranean Women Mediators Network”. It’s important to strengthen preventative diplomacy through a greater involvement of women in mediation.

The Mediterranean may be troubled by numerous challenges, but it’s also a “sea of many opportunities”: it’s a market of 500 million consumers; ten percent of global GDP; and this GDP grows at about four and a half percent yearly. It’s also a place where twenty percent of maritime traffic and thirty percent of oil trade occurs.

Will the Mediterranean region evolve into a meeting place of cultures, trading freely and cross-fertilizing civilizations, as it did once before? Or will it plunge into a region of terror, social despair and unrest? The answer very much depends on the willingness and capacity of the international community to strongly confront all of these security challenges and, at the same time, to promote a pluralistic society, which does not marginalize youth, women and minorities. These are the values that inspired the UN Charter and still ensure stability and development all over the world.

The dividends of peace and security in a region that connects Europe, Africa and Asia are huge and they are global. It’s up to us to seize them.