“I have bad news and I have good news.”
Miroslav Lajčák, President of the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA), was speaking candidly about the effectiveness of the United Nations and his hope for achieving challenging future goals by the international organization. “It’s not reaching its potential,” he said, noting the bad news. “The good news is that the potential is there.”
Lajčák delivered his public address, “Toward a New U.N.,” at Seton Hall University for the School of Diplomacy and International Relations’ World Leaders Forum on Friday.
The UNGA elected Lajčák as president of the international organization’s seventy-second session, which runs from September 2017 to September 2018. At the time of his election, Lajčák was serving as Slovakia’s Minister for Foreign and European Affairs, a position he held since 2012. In addition, he was the country’s Deputy Prime Minister from April 2012 to March 2016.
Lajčák focused on the importance of multilateralism which he believes to be a fundamental tenet of the United Nations. “We are losing the ability to talk to each other. We are losing the ability to listen to each other,” he said. Lajčák emphasized that the U.N. was founded after the atrocities World War II and must continue to prevent war and conflict through more effective communication among countries. “We must never allow this tragedy to be repeated,” said Lajčák. “There is absolutely no room for us to be complacent.”
Lajčák was joined onstage by Dr. Andrea Bartoli, Dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations. “Winds of nationalism are going around in the world,” remarked Bartoli during his introduction of Lajčák. “We know that words are precious.”
Bartoli emphasized the crucial role of the politician and the diplomat in addressing the current political climate. “There is an importance and nobility in [these roles],” he said.
Lajčák agreed, bringing up his experience during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the active role he took during the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Living through the experience provided a “much better understanding of why people think different, why people act different,” Lajčák said. “Let’s try to see where we can agree with each other and be ready to make concessions.”
“As president of the General Assembly, Mr. Lajčák has become a strong advocate for change in the U.N., seeking to make the organization more relevant, responsive, and effective as it strives to meet the needs of the people of this planet,” said Bartoli.
Perhaps the most immediate question posed during the forum came during the question and answer session: “Do you believe the North Korea nuclear issue is capable of being solved by U.N. or diplomatic efforts of individual states?”
“Either is good with me,” answered Lajčák, who described the current situation as “a war of words” in reference to the exchanges between Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Once again, he noted that the careful use of words is crucial during high-stake negotiations.
Lajčák believes that in order for the U.N. to succeed in continuing to achieve its primary goal to protect human rights, the organization must “switch from reactive mode to proactive mode.”
“I don’t like the saying you are the leaders of tomorrow,” said Lajčák, addressing the aspiring diplomats. “You are the leaders of today.”