Courtesy translation of the interview with Maurizio Massari published by La Voce di New York on February 1 2023
[Go to the magazine’s website for the original]
MAURIZIO MASSARI: THE UN REFORM WARRANTS “GRITTY REALISM”
Interview with Italy’s Permanent Representative to the UN on the war in Ukraine, Libya, women rights, climate and the UN Security Council’s Reform.
War in Ukraine: what can the UN still accomplish? The Security Council has come to a grinding halt due to the Kremlin’s vetoes. The General Assembly has approved resolutions condemning the Russian invasion, which Italy co-sponsored as well. But how can the war be really stopped from the Glass Palace where the UN is headquartered?
“The UN has done and it is still doing a lot for Ukraine. Let’s set aside the stalemate the Security Council has been stuck in because of the Russian vetoes. The truth is that through the numerous resolutions, which condemned the invasion and garnered a vote of support from the wide majority of the UN Member States, the UN has been united in condemning this aggression and in demanding the Russian troops’ withdrawal. Therefore, a strong political signal has come from the General Assembly. The Secretary General Antonio Guterres, to whom we are very grateful, and the Turkish government, have carried out a crucial and discreet endeavor behind the scenes to solve the food security problem by facilitating the export of Russian and Ukrainian grain and fertilizers from the Black Sea. This averted a food emergency in many countries of the Global South. Let’s not forget the UN humanitarian action that has picked up on the ground to alleviate people’s suffering through the engagement of all the agencies at work in the territory. This includes refugees’ assistance by the hands of the UNHCR. I’d like to mention also the UN’s efforts to guarantee “Accountability”, which means holding war criminals accountable. On the one hand, a mission of the UN Human Rights Office is undergoing on the ground to gather evidence and testimonies on the crimes committed. On the other hand, the International Criminal Court is active on the ground as well. The accountability concern is very important. The UN is accomplishing a lot; the only outcome that has not been achieved yet is stopping the war. This requires the will of both parties in the conflict; neither is giving up on pursuing the strategy of military victory”.
The concern that the war might spill over into neighboring countries persists. In the meantime, NATO and Europe, Italy included, have stepped up their military aid to Ukraine. Some warn of catastrophic consequences, though providing military aid to the attacked country is allowed by the International Law. How serious is the risk of a war spillover and of its unforeseeable consequences?
The allied countries, also referred to as “like minded”, that are sending military aid to Ukraine are absolutely entitled to do so as they are helping a country that has been attacked by another country. Therefore, we are providing Ukraine with the tools it needs to defend itself and counter said aggression. If we were to let Russia take control over Ukraine’s territory, we would set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world. This would also represent a blatant violation of the principles undergirding the UN Charter. It is obvious that the like-minded countries helping Ukraine are fully aware that a military escalation, which would cause an open war with Russia, must be averted. We are sending aid to Kyiv for self-defense purposes, at the same time we do not want to enter into a conflict against Russia. As we have always underscored, there is no specific dispute with Russia or the Russian people. What we are opposed to is the reckless policy carried out by the Russian leadership. All the weapons provided to Ukraine are meant to serve its self-defense only and not to wage a war against Russia”.
Do you agree with Guterres when he says that given the current situation we are not close to peace talks?
“Absolutely, we agree with Guterres’ view, which is ours too. At the moment, the conditions for peace and for the parties in the conflict to sit at the negotiating table aren’t there. They both still believe they can win the war on the battleground. A military win for Ukraine means to defend its territory, for Russia to take control of the territory of another sovereign nation by the use of force, which is utterly unacceptable. By providing Ukraine with self-defense weapons we intend to create the conditions for the two parties to sit at the same table, one day, and aim for a just peace. “Just” here means compatible with the UN Charter principles.”
Let’s move on to Libya, which used to be the main issue at the core of Italy’s foreign policy, before the war in Ukraine broke out. Is Italy happy with the work that Guterres’ special envoy to Libya Abdoulaye Bathily has done so far? His many predecessors have failed in the intent of bringing stability to the country to hold elections….
“Libya is still one of our foreign policy’s priorities, as confirmed by the recent trip by Prime Minister Meloni, Foreign Affairs Minister Tajani and Home Affairs Minister Piantedosi, and by the agreements signed. Italy plays a crucial diplomatic role. Our approach is to support a political solution that satisfies the Libyans and all the regional players in the Libyan territory, through the UN mediation. We believe that the United Nation is the only honest broker. We need to keep external interferences at bay, because siding with one political party rather than another can only delay the determination of Libya’s internal makeup. We give our full support to Mr Bathily, who took the job only few months ago. We believe that what he has been doing is important. Of course we know that we don’t have endless time to do the necessary groundwork for elections to take place in Libya, which has to happen by the end of this year. We therefore hope that, in one month or two the latest, Bathily can lay out his road map here at the Security Council and set the conditions for elections to be held in Libya. We need rules shared by all Libyan players. We are ready to support Bathily in his job. The UN Envoy has and will always have an ally in Italy, which is absolutely impartial as to which party should win. We give our full support to the UN honest broker”.
So, the time for procrastination is over, and a detailed road map to run the elections is needed. (As a side note, it is worth mentioning that during the press conference held by the Maltese presidency of the UN Security Council for February, Malta’s Ambassador to the UN Marta Frazier announced that the meeting with Bathily scheduled for February 27th may bring some “important news”). You hinted at Prime Minister Meloni’s trip to Libya that just occurred, where ENI and the national NOC signed an extremely important agreement for gas production in Libya. This agreement, signed before Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Libyan National Unity Government’s Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Al-Dbeibah, will pave the way to an increase in gas production to meet the domestic Libyan demand and will allow for exports to Europe, too. However, only Tripoli’s government legally recognizes this agreement, while the other half of the country and its leaders in Tobruk do not. Is the successful achievement of this €8 billion agreement on energy premature? What if the party that does not recognize its legal validity, then wins the elections? Or is the agreement meant just to confirm Italy’s support?
I believe this is a consequential agreement that will bear its fruits in the years to come and that mainly benefits the Libyan people. The gas production the agreement aims to boost will go to the Libyan people and of course to exports. This still applies regardless of which party might win the elections, which we do not know yet, as the democratic process rests on the uncertainty of the electoral outcome. We will respect any outcome, as long as elections are free and fair. I believe any government ruling Libya can benefit from this agreement”.
The main European countries have been pursuing different political paths in Libya since 2011, often competing against each other, which has not worked in favor of the country’s stabilization. I am especially referring to the rivalries among France, the UK and Germany. Have they been dispelled? Is there a united front to work towards Libya’s stabilization?
“Definitely. I believe that the era of European countries competing against each other in Libya has been over for a while; nobody was really onboard with it. Italy and the other key European stakeholders, France and Germany, are regularly in touch on the progress on the ground, and Brussels is in the loop as far as the European membership is concerned. And New York is involved as well. It is in everyone’s interest that Libya is stable and united again, and that it is capable of resuming its endeavors towards development, because its resources are crucial. We just need to unleash the country’s potential, ending the political instability that like a handbrake is holding the country’s development up”.
Would the new-found unity at European level help also settle the Migration issue where Europe is still seeking a common policy, wouldn’t it?
Absolutely. Europe needs to be more united on how to deal with migrants, and this also entails a moral responsibility and solidarity when it comes to redistributing migrants and refugees. This burden cannot be shouldered only by Italy, France and Germany. We need a broader effort and I believe this should be a responsibility that all 27 EU member states should share”.
This is actually what the UN has been expecting from Europe, namely to act united in addressing the migrants issue. Let’s move on the issue all Italian Permanent Representatives to the UN have been confronted with in the past 25 years, from Ambassador Francesco Paolo Fulci onward: the reform of the UN Security Council. The group headed by Italy, ‘United for Consensus’, has lately been blamed of stalling the reform. On the other hand, the ambitions of countries like Germany, Japan, Brazil and mainly India have recently enjoyed quite some support among the SC permanent members, like the US. Would you make some clarity on Italy’s stance?
I intend to start with a fact: the statement according to which Italy and United for Consensus have caused the reform’s stalemate is squarely false. Actually, the opposite is true. United for Consensus has in the past years devised and built a reform project that is very flexible, also in terms of the scenarios it envisions. The reform model it proposes is, at a closer look, the only where these long negotiations can land. We want the reform and we want it now. And exactly because we want it now, we are putting forward a realistic proposal. We could put it in place tomorrow, if we only wanted. Those who support unrealistic and impracticable solutions do so because they are pursuing their own interests of “self-aggrandizement”. They are to blame for the stalemate, because their maximalist solutions are unrealistic. And I wonder why these countries are still making demands as individual countries. They do not represent a continent or a region, but still they aspire to a permanent seat, with or without veto power, at the Security Council. This approach is rejected by a large part of the UN wider membership and is deemed very hard to fulfill. Italy was right in pushing back, alongside other UN member countries who are not comprised in the United for Consensus group. It is worth stressing that the group includes a significant share of medium-sized powers that play a very important and consequential role. Among them, Canada, Pakistan, Turkey, Argentina, and more”.
Do you think we are getting any closer to the objective of reaching a compromise that, following over a quarter century of debate, can lead to a reform with an actual change in the composition of the Security Council, or will things simply remain the same and who knows for how long?
“For this reform to happen in the not too distant future, we need a reality check a bit from all sides. What we are proposing, which is always adaptable, reflects this reality check. What are we saying, basically, is: Gentlemen, especially in view of the block on the Ukraine resolution in the Security Council, due to the veto power, etc…, the idea of adding new permanent members – accountable only to themselves (because not elected on a rotational basis but permanent) – with veto power to boot -, would only further paralyze the Security Council. It would not even be democratic, because it would simply expand the group of the privileged. And this is against a background of one third of UN Member States never sitting in the Security Council. So what we are saying is: let’s give an opportunity for all Members to join the Security Council, proposing an enlargement of non-permanent members that could also be elected for longer terms. Instead of two years, terms could be extended to four, with the possibility of being re-elected and serve in the Council for up to 8 years and so on. This would create a rotation that would allow all Members to join sooner or later. As they are subject to election by the General Assembly, they bear a responsibility, a duty to answer to the entire Membership. Therefore, there’s no entry into a club of the privileged… Another fundamental component of our proposal is that we are asking for an enlargement of seats from 15 to 26 – not for us, but especially for the most under-represented regions: Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Island States. Whereas for the WEOG group, we are only requesting one extra seat. Because the West and this is something I never tire of repeating in debates, is amply represented in the Security Council. We have three Countries that are G7 Members and that are members of the P5 – permanent members. Do we want to tilt this Council even more or do we want to rebalance it geographically? If the latter is what we want to do, then our approach must necessarily prevail.”
We seem to understand that some time will pass before an agreement is reached. I recall that Henry Kissinger once said “I can’t find Europe’s phone number”… many years have since passed, and in terms of common foreign policy – at least here at the UN, little to nothing has happened. What happened to the proposals for European coordination in the Security Council? The only EU Country, besides France, sitting in the Security Council is Malta. Its seat also serves the purpose of coordinating a common position? Are you coordinating or is the matter behind us once and for all?
“Of course, regular coordination at the European Union is ongoing in all of the main files, therefore also on the work of the Security Council. We have Malta as an elected member for the next two years and France, which is a permanent member. But we are far from a level of representation that would give a true political or geo-political sovereignty to Europe. A seat for the European Union. Here the problem doesn’t lie in having Malta, or expand to accept Italy or Germany, etc…. We have an actual need today, when the structure of the world order has changed, for a seat – whether long-term and semi-permanent, or other – is, in effect, a seat of the European Union. Even with a Country that on a rotational basis represents the EU. At this time, the voice of the EU in the Security Council is very weak. This is the leap in quality that we must take. The European Union is the largest economic and trade block in the world with 500 million inhabitants. It is a continent. But we need to stand united. We can’t continue in this divisive direction or, for example, compete against each other over these electoral seats every two years. This is not how we represent a unified Europe.”
Women’s rights: in Afghanistan as in Iran and in other countries, women, and especially girls, remain vulnerable to anachronistic, freedom-destroying regimes. Italy this year holds the Vice-Presidency of UNWomen: what can the Italian Government do concretely to help alleviate the suffering of women in certain countries that are still members of the United Nations?
“Italy, even prior to its Vice Presidency of UN Women, has been very committed to the issue of rights and the protection of rights of Afghan women. I will continue with these efforts, despite the fact that the Country seems to be moving in the wrong direction. We should not let our guard down. Defending the rights of Afghan women serves also to safeguard all of the investments made in the past twenty years and use this cause as a pre-condition for any possible future recognition of the de facto Authorities. Iran is different, because Italy – together with other like-minded Countries – voted to expel it from the Human Rights Council. The obvious reason being that what has happened and continues to happen to Iranian women is extremely alarming. The issue of women’s empowerment at the United Nations also finds divisions of a cultural, regional nature and what have you… it is clear that Europe is among the most advanced groups in terms of openness toward women’s rights and we must continue to fight this sustained fight.”
Let’s turn to the death of the UN aid worker Mario Paciolla in Colombia. After more than two years, the Colombian Authorities have closed the case as a suicide, whereas in Italy we are awaiting the response of the investigating judge (GIP) to the application to dismiss the case by the Public Prosecutor of Rome. The family never believed in the determination of a suicide and accuse the UN of a cover-up. What can Italy do to find the truth and have justice for Mario? And what is your opinion of how the UN has handled the case thus far?
“Apart from the solidarity shared by all Italian Authorities and institutions with Mario Paciolla’s family, as you know, the case is in the hands of our judiciary. We are waiting to see its response. If the case is reopened, certainly our Permanent Mission here in New York, as in the past will continue to offer all of the necessary assistance, in conjunction with the Foreign Ministry, to obtain further elements that could prove useful to investigations. The United Nations has always been forthcoming in responding to our requests for information. So if the case were to be reopened by our Judicial Authorities, we would jump back in the saddle and rely on the UN’s full cooperation.”
2021 was a year still in the throes of the pandemic. 2022 was the year in which the world saw wars of conquest loom large. Against this background, UN Secretary-General Guterres warned that the issues of Climate Change and Global warming could no longer be put off. In Sharm el-Sheik, it was repeated, once again, that we are already too late to save the planet from environmental catastrophes. Does Italy still believe that climate change is the most serious and urgent global problem to face at the UN? Or, in light of the pandemic and war in Ukraine, has it taken a back seat?
“At the UN we now talk about “interconnected” and “multidimensional’ crises, so climate change is no longer seen as an isolated theme but as one of the factors that bears the strongest, cross-cutting impact on these crises. The connection between the climate emergency and maintaining international peace and security is clear. Climate change and natural disasters are risk multipliers that can exacerbate conflicts and undermine prevention. They also asymmetrically hit the poorest and most vulnerable communities, which, unfortunately, pay the price. Italy, even as Vice-President of ECOSOC supports UN efforts to translate this sense of urgency into action, to ensure the coordination of humanitarian, security and climate programs, for a “New Peace Agenda” next year, with prevention at the core of our endeavors. The UN agenda has several events and summits slated for 2023, including the UN Water Conference in March, the SDG Summit and the Climate Ambition Summit (both scheduled in September). The UN Water Conference will be held in New York on March 22-24, 46 years since the first edition. Water is an increasingly scarce commodity at global level. The draught of the first half of 2022 slashed the production of hydroelectric energy, which accounts for 40% of the energy from renewables. Italy is also going to host an important side-event in the framework of the UN Water Conference in New York alongside UNESCO, the World Water Assessment Program (WWAP) in Perugia, where the UN annual report on global water development will be launched. The SDG Summit (September 19-20) will summon heads of state and government for a follow-up and review of the Agenda 2030 and of the 17 SDGs. The Summit will provide political inputs to address the impacts of interconnected crises and find “transformative and accelerating” solutions towards the achievement of the goals by 2030. The Summit will gather all the relevant stakeholders and representatives from civil society and business as well. The Climate Ambition Summit will follow, convened by the UN SG in place of the past “Climate Moment”. SG Guterres heralded the summit as a “Climate Solidarity Pact” where the largest polluters are urged to step up their efforts also to support countries that are still struggling. The Summit will be a crucial step in the run-up to the COP 28 in Dubai.
The Italian government has recently set up the Fund for Climate, pooling all of Italy’s contributions to the multilateral efforts to assist emerging countries through mitigation strategies, technologies with low environmental impact and adaptation actions. The Fund, launched alongside the Deposits and Loans Fund at the COP27, reflects Italy’s strong commitment in this field”.