“The strength of the UN lies primarily in preventing human error”

Stef Blok (1964) started his career at ABN AMRO, becoming a municipal councillor and chairman of the local branch of the VVD political party in Nieuwkoop at the age of 30, and going on to become a member of the Dutch House of Representatives in 1998. Since 2012, he has held a range of Cabinet posts, and has served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Rutte III Cabinet since 2018.

“Last year, I met Nadia Murad, winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. She is a young Yazidi woman who was once enslaved by ISIS and is now fighting for justice. I draw strength from people like her,” says Stef Blok. “I think it’s incredibly impressive that a victim of the greatest atrocities is now fighting for others.”

I think it’s incredibly impressive that a victim of the greatest atrocities is now fighting for others.
Stef Blok
Nadia Murad delivers remarks at a working lunch after being honored by the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

His parents also inspired him to serve the community at a young age. “My mother witnessed the bombing of Nijmegen; my father was interned in a Japanese camp as a child and lost his father there. Their stories demonstrate how conflict can affect ordinary people. Preventing conflict is one of our most important political tasks.” Blok developed into a leading advocate for diplomatic and peaceful conflict resolution, and he always strives for tangible results. “As a diplomat, it is important to show others what your work leads to in concrete terms, so you can build bridges with the wider public.”

A Cold War that remained cold. That is where the strength of the UN lies.
Stef Blok
Nijmegen was bombarded in 1944. Source: Regionaal Archief Nijmegen (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Blok believes that success can be found where human failure is prevented. “As former UN Secretary-GeneralDag Hammarskjöld said, ‘The United Nations was not created in order to bring us to heaven, but in order to save us from hell.’ So in tangible terms: no more world wars. No war on Dutch soil. A Cold War that remained cold. That is where the strength of the UN lies.” Yet he also understands the criticism, for example regarding lack of decisiveness and the notorious right to veto in the Security Council. “It is incredibly important for the UN to reform, to have more teeth,” he says. “That means that rules are rules, a deal is a deal. At the same time, we need to strengthen existing structures. It’s not easy, but it can be done by building alliances.”

With prospects alone, you’ll just keep looking towards a future you’ll never achieve.
Stef Blok

Blok prefers to play a pragmatic role in that process. “In international organisations like the UN, we can debate endlessly about 'what to do next', and countries that want to thwart international cooperation take advantage of that. We should be more assertive. Because with prospects alone, you’ll just keep looking towards a future you'll never achieve.”

UN context

On 26 June 1945, 50 national delegations signed the United Nations Charter in San Francisco, including a delegation from the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The UN officially started work when the five permanent members of the UN Security Council ratified the Charter. The UN Security Council is the most important body in maintaining international peace and security, as it can decide to take military intervention.

There are five permanent members of the Security Council who have veto rights. Other members of the Security Council are elected every two years. The countries with veto rights, the post-World War Two superpowers, can make proposals and reject resolutions, which often happens along ideological and political lines. That makes effective action in crisis situations more challenging. The Netherlands has served on the Security Council six times since it was established.

A Dutch delegation, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also attends the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The Kingdom of the Netherlands has permanent representation to the UN in New York, as well, to prepare for important meetings and establish contacts with other countries and UN organisations. The Netherlands also supports the UN by participating in missions and peacekeeping operations with military and humanitarian support. In recent years, the Netherlands has been active in countries such as Mali and Sudan.