When diplomacy works

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 November, 2023 at 10:59 am by Clint Azzopardi Flores

On 15 November, Malta pushed for the adoption of a draft UNSC resolution calling for “extended humanitarian pauses” in the war between Israel and Hamas. Our diplomatic personnel in New York did a great effort to articulate the draft resolution in the most effective and succinct way possible considering the current critical political circumstances.

Presently, Malta is one of the Security Council’s 10 non-permanent members, with the term expiring in January 2025. Surely, Malta’s diplomatic efforts are commendable. The diplomatic mission in New York, along with the Head of Mission, managed to steer a humanitarian resolution calling for humanitarian pauses, which I hasten to add was not easy to lead through. Seeing Ambassador Frazier at the forefront of diplomacy, reminded me of soft power, and the UNSC resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Surely, it reminded me of the work executed by Mara Marinaki back in my days in Brussels. Gratefully, common sense prevailed. And the UNSC permanent members did not veto the resolution, even though the USA, the UK and Russia abstained. All 15 members appeared to support the idea of saving lives and to halt arms aggression, so that humanitarian aid reaches civilians. Indeed, empathy towards humanity prevailed.

In the ensuing week, Malta was also recommended to take over the Chairing of next year’s Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Permanent Council. Proudly, the decision reached unanimity by the Permanent Council to the foreign ministers of the 57 OSCE participating states. To give some context to my readers, the OSCE extends to 57 states spanning from Central Asia, North America and Europe. The OSCE is perhaps the largest regional security organisation in the world. Indeed, the activities undertaken by the OSCE cover an array of security matters, including the enhancement of economic development and conflict prevention and more importantly the promotion of the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the safeguarding of the sustainable use of natural capital.

Undoubtedly, Malta’s diplomatic standing is bearing fruits. Today, Malta’s neutrality is even more pronounced because it provides credibility when promoting global peace and security. Personally, I believe that Malta managed to restore its reputation abroad, especially after the grey listing. Certainly, it is also the good work of Prime Minister Abela. However, a lesson that we must learn is to not use any international platforms, including the EU institutions, to harm Malta simply because of partisan politics. Obviously, not everything is sunny here. And certainly, it is not rosy in other countries, either. However, I am pleased to see my country rising to every diplomatic and international occasion. Malta rose to the occasion during the Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2017 and currently as non-permanent member of the UNSC. Surely, Malta’s eventual chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe between May and November 2025, and next year’s OSCE Chairing will be a success.

The current secretary general of the OSCE is Helga Schmid, who assumed responsibility of the OSCE in 2020. Previously, she held the position of executive secretary general of the European External Action Service. Secretary general Schmid is a seasoned German diplomat, who is certainly remembered for her crucial role in bridging an agreement on the JCPOA or as commonly known the Iran nuclear deal. Schmid and I crossed paths when I was posted in Brussels in my former Ambassadorial role in the Political and Security Committee. At that time, Schmid was still executive secretary general of the EEAS. Clearly, her briefings to the Political and Security Committee were always comprehensive and involved deep political insights.

My advice to new graduates is to get involved and pursue an experience in a diplomatic mission. In the coming months, the diplomatic missions in Vienna and Strasbourg will be quite engaged to prepare for the presidency and the chairmanship, respectively. Needless to say, it is always a satisfaction to witness such occasions, and to be involved as part of the diplomatic missions. Certainly, Minister Ian Borg is doing a great job within the context of diplomatic and international affairs. Coincidentally, I had the opportunity to work under Minister Borg’s dicastery when I was posted in Brussels back in 2017, when he was still parliamentary secretary. Examining the current political instability around us, we must reflect on how difficult it is to reach such diplomatic and political agreements. Trusting Malta with a presidency and a chairmanship, means, that our country is credible. 

Let me discuss for a minute the situation in Ukraine. In February 2024, we will be entering in the second year since the outbreak of the war. Surely, Ukraine suffered heavy war damages. And it is going to be quite difficult to reconstruct Ukraine taking the current global economic context. Heads of State and government are set to discuss Ukraine’s membership in the upcoming December European Council. And preceding the European Council, even in the past months, the European Commission discussed the possibilities of financial mechanisms for the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war. However, discussing Ukraine’s reconstruction after the war, illustrates that our leaders are hopeful of ending the war. Personally, I was always hopeful not to start a war in the first place. Theoretically, the absence of a war could be interpreted as peace. However, the absence of war is not evidence of peace. And the longer we take to end the war in Ukraine, the more painful it will get for the people of Ukraine to restore a long-lasting peaceful agreement beyond a truce.

The world would have been better off, had diplomacy worked in the case of the war in Ukraine. Alas, what we are witnessing is just pain and suffering. Whatever form it takes, when a war erupts, it’s always the innocent civilians and the subsequent generations that pay the price. Even on Ukraine, Malta tried to promote diplomacy. Indeed, a summit was convened towards the end of October here in Malta. It marked the third international meeting of national security advisors with respect to the Ukrainian peace formula. Since the inception of the war, Malta always supported the principle of humanitarian aid and assistance vis-à-vis Ukraine. And certainly, promoting our island as a mediator by diplomatically connecting bigger countries, especially leveraging on our neutrality clause, is highly laudable. Also, it serves our interests to promote peace. Clearly, Malta’s aim is to promote peace and economic development. Certainly, I look forward to Malta’s presidency of the OSCE. Perhaps, the Mediterranean region is given further due attention, especially the effects of climate change for the region. 

Lastly, as Dom Mintoff outlined in 1973, during the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) for the Helsinki Final Act, “there is no peace in Europe without peace in the Mediterranean”.

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