New York, 28th September 2012

Mr Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be back at the Italian Cultural Institute for the presentation of this impressive and inspiring book well written by the Italian journalist, Susanna Pesenti. It makes us reflect on the efforts and strategies needed to build a world of peace. Mr Deputy Secretary-General, thank you very much for coming. Your country, Sweden, is rightly very active in commemorating your great countryman. It will not surprise you to hear that Dag Hammarskjöld – the greatest statesman of our century, as John F. Kennedy called him – is a figure of great influence for me too: His legacy is universal. Fifty-one years after his tragic death, his far-sighted vision continues to inspire policy-makers all over the world.

The second Secretary-General of the United Nations was not only a man of vision. He was also a man of action, a problem-solver. The members of his staff, when they had a difficult issue to tackle, used to say: “let it to Dag”.  His achievements have been the benchmark against which his successors have been judged, as the Financial Times noted on the 50th anniversary of his death. Today, I would like to outline three important aspects of his action, which have contributed to shaping Italian foreign policy to the present day.

Hammarskjöld led the Organization through some of the tensest moments of the Cold War: The end of the Korean war, the beginning of the decolonization, the increasing tension in Middle East, the Hungarian uprising and the building of the Berlin Wall. In a time when regional crises could escalate into a nuclear confrontation, Hammarskjöld did not interpret his role in a passive and ceremonial way. On the contrary, he was active and inventive. He envisaged the use of UN forces to prevent conflicts, as in the case of UNEF I, the earliest armed peacekeeping operation, deployed successfully in 1956 to address the Suez crisis.

Hammarskjöld also promoted the UN intervention to stop the civil war and the systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Congo. ONUC was the first large-scale UN mission, involving up to 20,000 military personnel. Its mandate included the preservation of territorial integrity, the disarmament and the dismissal of foreign troops and mercenaries. An Italian contingent was also part of the mission. Thirteen Italian airmen were killed in Kindu in 1961: the first large tribute paid by Italy to its long-lasting – and still strong – commitment to international peace operations.

Hammarskjöld’s death, while en route to negotiate peace amongst the Congolese factions, left his mission unaccomplished. But he did not die in vain. His legacy has shaped the development of one of the fundamental tasks of the UN: Peacekeeping.

Italy has actively contributed to the development of the concept of UN peacekeeping operations, and to their implementation with political, human and financial support. Italy is the first contributor of UN troops among the western countries and the sixth contributor to the peacekeeping budget. Overall, more than 120,000 Italians have participated in 68 peacekeeping operations. This firm conviction is also corroborated by our commitment to the implementation of the “Global Field Support Strategy” by 2015, due to enhance effectiveness and efficiency of UN field operations.

The second aspect that I would like to stress today is Hammarskjöld’s belief in the evolution of the United Nations. In his view, the United Nations embodied the “edge of development of human society”. Despite the constraints of the Cold War, he envisaged new mechanisms to defend the most vulnerable ones and enhance the full potential of preventive diplomacy and mediation.

The Italian foreign policy has followed the same approach. Not only has Italy been shouldering greater international responsibility, by promoting and joining peace missions; Italy has also been among the precursors of a new principle, the responsibility to protect: An evolution of the concept of humanitarian intervention towards the recognition of the responsibility of the international community to react when a State fails to prevent atrocities from being committed against its population.

Italy contributed to shifting the international approach to humanitarian crises from a culture of sovereign impunity to one of responsible sovereignty. The international community fully endorsed this principle at the World Summit in 2005. There are red lines that must never be crossed. But, as Hammarskjöld used to say, it is when we all play safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity. So, we shall never “play safe” while bloodshed and mass violations of human rights are perpetrated by brutal regimes.

Hammarskjöld’s dedication to the independence and impartiality of the United Nations is perhaps his most valuable legacy. In his view, independence and impartiality were essential for the UN to consolidate its role as a guarantor of the interests of all nations and a promoter of global development. Italy sees the United Nations as Hammarskjöld did: an opinion independent of partisan interests and dominated by the objectives indicated in the United Nations Charter. This is essential for the credibility and the legitimacy of the Organization, and for its capacity to represent concerns and sensitiveness of all its members.

For example, the international community must address the injustice that the African continent is subject of 70% of the Security Council’s decisions while it is under-represented in it. To avoid these distortions, Italy is calling for a comprehensive reform that could strengthen the United Nations through dialogue and compromise, without pursuing divisive and partial approaches.

The leadership and independence of the Secretary-General and the competence of the Secretariat are also vital to the functioning of the UN. That is why I have welcomed the Secretary-General five-year Action Agenda.

The need for independence and impartiality of the UN is even more essential today, as the world is interconnected, actors are more numerous and the global agenda has become broader and more complex. The United Nations must develop new forms of international cooperation and adapt to challenges to peace and security that are completely different from sixty years ago. This goal is not easy to achieve. But we are strongly motivated by the words of encouragement and wisdom that Hammarskjöld left us half a century ago: The pursuit of peace and progress, with its trials and its errors, its successes and its setbacks, can never be relaxed and never abandoned.


Mr Deputy Secretary-General, thank you once again for being here with us. It is a great honour for me to introduce you to the audience. The floor is now yours.

©2024 Giulio Terzi

Log in with your credentials

pergot your details?