An Interview with Mr. Vuk Jeremic

An Interview with Mr. Vuk Jeremic

On September 27, 2018, Mr. Vuk Jeremic spoke at The Fletcher School on the topic of “Geopolitics of Confusion: How Long Can This Last?” to an audience of predominantly Fletcher students. This interview was conducted by Lukas Bundonis, a Web Staff Editor of The Fletcher Forum.

FF: Thank you for speaking with us today, Mr. Jeremic. Could you begin by sharing with us some of your key takeaways and general impressions from the high-level talks you attended at the United Nations?

VJ: I believe that the idea of resolving world problems through multilateral diplomacy has been on the defensive for some years now, and this year’s General Assembly didn’t change that. If anything, it placed multilateralism even more deeply on the defensive. It is difficult to imagine that multilateral organizations will function smoothly if key actors—starting with the most significant actor, the United States—seem to be intent on withdrawing from multilateral organizations. Leaving the Human Rights Council, leaving UNESCO, leaving the climate treaty, leaving the TPP—these are all signals that America prefers to deal with challenges right now in a different way than when it was one of the founders, shapers, and, guarantors of the international system, particularly the United Nations.

My main feeling is one of worry, because although we don’t seem to be as close as we were last year to a potentially devastating conflict in the Korean Peninsula, the developments in the Middle East and the attitudes that key players are taking with regard to the region do not give much space for efficient multilateral engagement. This is another demonstration of the fact that the focus is far away from issues that can only be resolved through multilateralism.

The Secretary General’s report on the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals is also very shocking. It shows that no country in the world is currently on its way to fulfill the SDGs by 2030, which is supposed to be when everybody fulfills them. If no country in the world is on its way to achieving these goals, then that means that we are in a fairly problematic shape.

FF: That leads me to a question related specifically to the Sustainable Development Goals—what do you see as the chief challenges for countries striving to achieve these goals, both in Europe and beyond?

VJ: Well, aside from the domestic challenges that each and every country is facing—political, security, economic, or all—the essence of the Sustainable Development Goals’ philosophy was that you can achieve it only by working together. In other words, you can’t reach sustainable development in isolation from the rest of the world. The fact that there is less multilateral thinking in the way that nation states are now approaching resolving problems is one of the most important reasons why the current situation is so bad.

FF: I think one of the other things that you can’t accomplish in isolation is a major peacekeeping effort. Would you agree?

VJ: When I ran for Secretary-General in 2016, I presented a concrete platform with 73 detailed commitments on what I thought needed to be done and changed in the UN in order for it to be capable of fulfilling the 21st century demands of humanity. One of the most important sections, which made up almost a quarter of my suggestions, was devoted to peace and security, and the role of the United Nations in the context of peacekeeping.

Current peacekeeping strategies are stuck in the previous century. The nature of peace and security challenges today is totally different from the past. Previously, blue helmets who were sent to keep peace would most often go between the two parties at war with each other, and in cases like South Sudan and Mali, they had success.  However, a majority of the situations in the world today require a multilateral approach to bringing and maintaining peace that cannot be simply addressed by the current systems in the UN.

Counterterrorism, cyber, and AI are some of the new challenges we face today. It’s unrealistic to think of new rules and treaties when the key players are withdrawing from those that exist. The Secretary-General is doing valiant work, but he is constrained by the realities of the current situation. Further complicating the situation today is the fact that the country that is making the most generous offers in contributions to peacekeeping is China, which is met with a degree of skepticism in certain parts of the world.

FF: Speaking to cyber issues, do you think that China's willingness to contribute to the peacekeeping mission of the UN might find parallels within the world of cyber and lead to the creation of an international treaty or organization regarding the control of cyberspace?

VJ:  Without China’s participation, an organization or treaty of this sort is unimaginable. It would also be unimaginable without the agreement of the United States or Russia, for that matter. You have key countries in the security field that do not cooperate adequately when it comes to security. It’s really worrying because at least during the Cold War you had great transparency with regards to the maintenance of nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union knew about U.S. missiles and vice versa—that was part of the treaties.

Right now, we just don’t know. The Americans don’t know what the Chinese or the Russians are developing and vice versa.  There’s a degree of fear there that can cause situations to spiral out of control. That’s why I’m a big believer in the need to introduce more rules and regulations in the global cyber arena.

FF: I’d like to re-focus on Europe. Do you believe that the U.S. and NATO have neglected the vulnerabilities of the region?

VJ: The US for sure but NATO is a totally different situation. NATO is much more of a geopolitical thing. It’s possible to imagine a country joining NATO that’s not exactly democratic or up to democratic standards of governance. However, an international organization like the EU is essential.  Unfortunately, they have also dropped the ball on enlargement in the Balkans, though they haven’t disengaged completely. Currently, the EU cannot consider new members because of their internal problems. God only knows how long they’re going to last and God knows how Europe is going to look after this whole thing.

In the meantime, instead of maintaining the engagement to help Europeanize Balkan countries by helping them to reach European standards of governance and the like, the EU is pretending that things are fine in the Balkans. They pretend that the accession talks are ongoing. Formally, they do come, meet, sit at the table, but nothing is happening! And then they come out and they say, “Oh, things are great! Things are progressing fine.”  They’re repeating the same mistake they made with Turkey 15 years ago, and I very much hope that we do not end up in the same place like Turkey, in the sense of not being able to join for the next couple of generations.

Image: Atoms for Peace (Historical)

Courtesy of IAEA Imagebank / Flickr


Mr. Vuk Jeremic is the President of the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD), a public policy think-tank based in Belgrade, and Editor-in-Chief of Horizons – Journal of International Relations and Sustainable Development.

In June 2012, Mr. Jeremić was directly elected by the majority of world’s nations to be the President of the sixty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly in the first contested vote since the end of the Cold War. During his term in office he launched the negotiations that led to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Mr. Jeremić also served as Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2007 to 2012. Prior to becoming Foreign Minister, he served as an advisor to the President of Serbia and various government ministries. 

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