UN expert: Estonia should focus on cyber issues in UN Security Council

Richard V. Gowan on Välisilm. Dec. 9, 2019.
Richard V. Gowan on Välisilm. Dec. 9, 2019. Source: ERR

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is busy with final preparations ahead of the long-awaited moment in which Estonia becomes a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. UN expert Richard Gowan, who has been advising Estonia, recommends focusing on one or two major issues, one of which should be cybersecurity.

"Estonia has to choose a small number of topics on which it can make a real impact," said Richard Gowan, associate fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. "And I think we would expect to see Estonia having a voice on Ukraine, as far as the UN can deal with that. Given there have been Estonian soldiers in the Sahel, I hope that Tallinn will want to talk about Mali and its neighbors. And then on a broader scale, clearly cyber issues and cybersecurity are a theme that Estonia can drive in the Security Council with a lot of credibility."

According to Gowan, who is very familiar with the workings of the UN, many non-permanent members want to see cyber-related issues discussed.

"There's a growing awareness that this is a major facet of future warfare which the Security Council has hardly discussed at all," the expert explained. "Now, all the permanent members of the council will be wary of discussing this issue, so Estonia needs to package it very diplomatically, and emphasize that this is talking about de-escalation of cyber conflict."

He also urged the country to do so in quite a neutral way that wouldn't offend China or Russia.

"If Estonia wants to talk about cyber conflicts, then I would actually very deliberately avoid raising past Russian actions against Estonia, because that will make it more likely that Moscow will respond badly," he said, adding that such things can be framed in more general terms.

"Overall, I think there is a huge appreciation around the UN for plain speaking at the Security Council, and there's not enough plain speaking in the Security Council," Gowan said. "Diplomats spend a lot of their time face down, looking at talking points. I think that a country like Estonia ⁠— especially addressing issues that aren't in its immediate national interest, issues in Africa, for example ⁠— should be willing to talk in plain terms about saving lives, protecting human rights and protecting international law, because that sort of clear messaging, which we've seen from other countries, like the Swedes, has broad diplomatic appeal."

Tired of Syria

The UN is awaiting next year's U.S. presidential election; it's no longer interested in talking about the Syrian Civil War.

"The greatest tragedy of the Security Council today is that, frankly, most countries are exhausted of talking about Syria," Gowan admitted. "I think that, over the next few years, Russia will continue to argue in the Security Council that it's time for the UN to recognize that [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad has won. And it's time for the UN and also the European Union to start giving significant reconstruction aid to Assad. The EU members of the Council, including Estonia, have to work together to decide if they're willing to stomach that compromise or if they can create any conditions on assistance to Syria going forward in return for cash."

He highlighted, however, that there is happier news in Yemen. "There are growing signs that the warring parties in Yemen and outside players like Saudi Arabia want a peace deal," he said, adding that he hopes to see the Security Council facilitating and endorsing a peace deal in Yemen in the next two years.

"Ukraine is an issue that the Security Council struggles with because of Russia there with its veto power," Gowan said. "And it's likely that any solution to the Donbas conflict is not going to come from New York, but from alternatives like the Normandy Format. However, there has been considerable talk of the UN deploying peacekeepers to Ukraine to guarantee some sort of peace settlement. So it's possible that, down the road, Estonia will find itself caught up in conversations about what UN peacekeeping in Eastern Ukraine might look like, which would be very significant to making any deal stick."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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