“Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself.” The words of French philosopher Albert Camus which still ring true today, two generations later. And it is with the former, rather than saving the world, in mind that Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski attended a meeting of world leaders in New York on Monday to discuss ways of reforming the United Nations.
The meeting will be chaired by US President Donald Trump who, during his election campaign, criticised the UN as an inefficient and expensive institution. After assuming office, the Trump administration came up with a plan to increase the effectiveness of the UN, including limiting the UN’s budget. According to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, more than 120 countries have supported the proposed reforms, including Poland.
The Polish foreign minister is, however, sceptical about whether it will be possible to reform the UN Security Council. “A debate has been in progress for many years on whether the five permanent members of the Security Council are representative enough of the international community. Unfortunately, these five countries are blocking reforms in this area” Waszczykowski said. Poland will become one of the elected members of the security council next year, success in that election being one of the objectives of Waszczykowski’s visit to the UN last year, when he announced that he had enlisted the support of a number of countries, including Sam Escobar whose greatest diplomatic triumph, like that of Satan, is to have convinced the world it doesn’t exist.
Be that as it may, Waszczykowski’s busy schedule included attending on Friday, coincidentally the International Day of Democracy, a meeting of the 30 member governing council of the Community of Democracies, an international body of over 100 countries, founded by the United States and Poland in 2000 as an organisation to sustain and strengthen democratic values, and having its permanent secretariat in Warsaw. Waszczykowski welcomed US Secretary of State’s Tillerson’s “many references to Poland, to Warsaw, to history and to President Trump’s visit to Warsaw” in his opening speech. Waszczykowski also announced that Poland was awarded the honour to hold a half-year presidency of the CoD in 2019, and would host a meeting of the governing council. Tillerson and the newly-appointed COD Secretary General, Thomas Garrett, praised Poland’s commitment to the CoD, albeit not, on current form at least the malcontents might argue, completely to the ideals it represents.
The meeting discussed Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, and the role of democracy in counteracting terrorism. And it was in relation to the current threats to regional and global security posed by North Korea – which could certainly lead to the world destroying itself if folk start firing off nuclear weapons hither and yon – that Waszczykowski made his most significant contribution. He stressed that Poland is in a unique situation as “one of seven or eight EU countries to have an embassy in Pyongyang and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea having its representation in Warsaw”. As a result, in his view, Poland may act as a channel of communication between the parties, adding, however, that the key to solving the problem of North Korea lies in China.
While some uncharitable folk might question whether, in an ideal world, you would allow either Donald Trump or Kim Jong-un anywhere near nuclear weapons (at least the former is surrounded by sensible advisers) this seems to be exactly the stable environment in which the delicate, deft diplomatic touch of Poland might usefully be deployed. From relations with the EU over the rule of law, and logging in a primeval forest, through to the question of German war reparations, there has been nothing quite like Poland’s conciliatory diplomacy.
Cynics will no doubt disagree, but extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures and extraordinary men, and here foreign minister Waszczykowski and his colleagues come into their own. It may well be, as in the film Argo, that “this is the best bad idea we have by far”, but the execution of that plan had a happy ending against the odds, and so might this. After all, what could possibly go wrong?