Statement by Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg at the Event “Alliance for Multilateralism: Building the Network and Presenting Results”

27.09.2019 - Speech

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Never ever in world history has the humanity been more interconnected.

Never ever in its history has humanity been better informed about events happening on the other side of the planet.

And never ever have we been more acutely aware that we all together face the same challenges.

Challenges such as climate change, migration, transnational crime and terrorism.

They are global in their nature and therefore, by definition, require global responses.

But instead of approaching the heydays of international cooperation, multilateral diplomacy has entered a period of crisis.

There are many examples for this development:

  • The Paris Agreement on climate change is no longer a global compromise shared by all.
  • The great powers withdrew from long-standing disarmament treaties.
  • The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action hangs by a thread, which has led to a spiral of toughening positions.
  • The United Nations and other multilateral organizations are often side-lined from solving conflicts
  • And the Security Council often fails to achieve consensus on how to bring peace to the world’s worst crises.

I am deeply concerned by this development.

Austria, like many other small and medium-sized countries, depends on negotiated solutions for addressing global problems.

If the question is “rule of law” or the “law of the jungle”? for Austria the answer is clear:

There needs to be a rules-based international order, where good governance, open markets and the notion of “pacta sunt servanda” prevail.

In this room we all know: multilateralism is hard work often frustrating and with no easy wins or quick fixes.

And that the need to compromise can be hard to sell to a domestic audience.

But there is simply no alternative to cooperation!

Unilateralism or multilateralism “à la carte” will not solve any of the complex challenges we face.

Mr. President,

The European Union is built on cooperation and compromise.

We Europeans are therefore,I believe, highly credible in reaffirming our commitment to rules-based multilateralism.

Against this background, allow me to address several global challenges that urgently demand multilateral solutions.

First, climate change.

So far, 2018 was the hottest year on record in Austria. Our glaciers are melting rapidly. Our Alpine regions are suffering.

Climate change is truly a global challenge, which requires urgent global action.

As members of the High Ambition Coalition, we are fully committed to the Paris Climate Agreement and we support the Secretary General’s call for a early implementation of SDG 13 at this Week’s Climate Action Summit.

In the next years, Europe will work hard towards becoming the world’s first “climate neutral continent”.

That means zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050!

The Green New Deal for Europe, which the incoming European Commission has announced, is very ambitious. And it sends a strong signal to the world.

However, this ambition should not be limited to Europe.

At the high-level political forum, all UN Members reaffirmed their commitment to the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs.

Austria will present its first Voluntary National Review at the High Level Political Forum 2020.

Our focus will be on climate, women and youth.

Mr. President,
For almost a decade, armed conflict has been raging in Syria and Iraq, with hundreds of thousands of victims and displaced persons.

The so-called “Islamic State” has been defeated on the ground. But we owe it to the victims of their crimes to ensure that justice is delivered.

Austria therefore continues to strongly support the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

In addition, we believe that a special criminal tribunal in the region should be established, to ensure accountability for the most serious crimes.

This should go hand in hand with capacity building for national justice to ensure due process.

Mr. President,
Today most conflicts are fought in cities and in densely populated areas.

In this urban warfare international humanitarian law is often violated. With devastating consequences:

When explosive weapons are used in populated areas in average 91 percent of the casualties are civilians.

This is simply unacceptable and intolerable!

Clearly, we need to strengthen the protection of civilians.

In order to emphasize the importance and urgency of this issue Austria is bringing together a broad alliance of partners on 1 and 2 October 2019 in Vienna for the first worldwide conference on this topic.

I cordially invite you all to attend.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The protection and promotion of human rights is and remains a clear priority for Austria.

And we are honoured to be serving on the Human Rights Council for the next three years.

International humanitarian law and the Universality of Human Rights are probably the greatest achievements of the modern global community.

We have to clearly stand up against any attempts to undermine them!

Human rights are simply non-negotiable!

The international community has a duty to demand accountability when human rights are violated.

We therefore welcome independent investigations in Syria, Yemen and Myanmar.

Mr. President,
As geopolitical tensions have been growing so has the risk of military confrontation.

After the disappointing end of the INF Treaty, we must avoid the deployment of medium-range missiles in Europe.

We urge the United States and Russia to refrain from taking any steps in this direction and call for an extension of New START.

As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use – on purpose or by accident – remains real.

They are inhumane and a danger for our security.

The current narrative that nuclear weapons are necessary for security is not only wrong – it is outright dangerous.

The case for the total elimination of nuclear weapons is clear.

This is a moral imperative, a question of survival for humankind.

We are therefore encouraged that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which Austria helped to initiate, is now well on its way to enter into force.

I call on all states to sign and ratify this treaty and to contribute to a world free of nuclear weapons.

We also support initiatives to ban weapons that are fully autonomous.

We cannot allow machines to decide over human life and death.

Dear colleagues,
At the outset, I shared with you my concern about the state of multilateralism.

But at the same time, here in this hall, I also feel hope.


Because once again, the UN week brought everyone together.

  • Those that stress sovereignty and those that call for multilateralism
  • Those that underline national priorities and those that seek international solutions
  • The patriots and the globalists.

All together, here, at the UN to talk, discuss and listen.

To me – that ist multilateralism!

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Next year the UN will turn 75.

This is a very respectable age and a reason to celebrate one of the greatest institutions ever created.

However, we all know: the UN needs modernization.

Austria therefore strongly supports the Secretary-General’s reform agenda.

The global challenges we are facing require a strong United Nations! This is in the interest of every one of us.

This year, in May, we celebrated in Vienna the 40th anniversary of the Vienna International Centre:

A hub for security, including among others nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament; energy; sustainable development; the peaceful use of outer space and fighting corruption, drugs and crime.

Austria is and will remain a proud and committed UN host country.

Mr. President,
All of us here share the same responsibility for the effectiveness of the UN and the international order which we have built over the last decades.

As the Secretary-General has put it: In a time of multiple complex challenges “multilateralism is the world‘s best hope”.

Austria is ready to assume its responsibilities:

  • As a member of the Human Rights Council
  • As host of the United Nations in Vienna
  • As a committed troop contributor to Peacekeeping
  • And as a candidate for membership of the Security Council 2027-28.

Thank you for your attention.