Hannes Richter

Punching Above her Weight

Hannes Richter
Punching Above her Weight

Top photo: The UN Security Council votes on the Admission of 16 new members (including Austria) to the UN on December 14, 1955. UN Photo


60 Years of Austria in the UN

Austria and the United Nations enjoy a long and successful relationship. In the years following World War II, Austria benefitted greatly from relief and assistance provided by the United Nations. Thus, when the State Treaty was signed in 1955, joining the UN became a key foreign policy priority for Austria. Being admitted to the UN as a full member was seen as a central element of having regained full sovereignty.

Although the first application for UN membership was submitted already in 1947, it was only in 1955 that the UN Security Council finally recommended to the UN General Assembly that Austria, together with 15 other countries, becomes a full member of the United Nations family. In the evening of December 14, 1955, the General Assembly formally endorsed the recommendation by the Security Council and Austria finally joined the United Nations.

The Austrian population greatly welcomed this step, as it reflected, after all, the final step in Austria’s fight for freedom and independence after World War II. In the 60 years of its membership, Austria has been advocating for a strong and efficient UN and has actively participated in its tasks. Active multilateralism has indeed become a pillar of Austrian foreign policy, and is supported by a broad consensus among the Austrian political parties.

As a clear sign of Austria’s UN engagement, Austria so far served three times as a nonpermanent member in the UN-Security Council, from 1973 to 1974, from 1991 to 1992 and most recently from 2009 to 2010. As an active member of the UN family, Austria has pursued a number of key thematic priorities. In the area of human rights, Austria has been a strong supporter of the freedom and protection of journalists and the protection of minorities including religious minorities. As member of the Human Rights Council from 2012 to 2014, Austria was able to set clear priorities in these areas.

The protection of civilians in armed conflict, especially of women and children, has been a constant pillar of Austria’s engagement in the UN. This was reaffirmed through landmark UNSC Resolution 1894, which was adopted as an Austrian Initiative under Austrian presidency of the UN Security Council in November 2009. Initiatives with regard to Rule of Law and the fight against impunity are other relevant areas of Austria’s work in the UN, as are nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

A particular focus of Austria’s engagement with the UN is in the area of peacekeeping. With a longstanding history of peacekeeping, Austria has provided an essential and visible contribution to the UN efforts to maintain international peace and security. Since 1960, more than 60,000 Austrian soldiers and civilian helpers served in over 50 international peace support and humanitarian missions. Austria fully supports the efforts by the UN to plan peace operations more efficiently and to respond more effectively to crisis situations through faster deployment. Many Austrians have been serving with the UN, either at Headquarters level or in the field.

This includes high-ranking officials such as Kurt Waldheim as UN Secretary General from 1972 to 1981, Under Secretary Generals and Assistant Secretary Generals as well as most recently the President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) from 2013 to 2014, to mention just the most important ones. Several young Austrians have found their way into the UN by the so-called Junior Professional Officers (JPO) Programme, which Austria had supported for many years. Furthermore, a landmark at the UN headquarters in New York and an Austrian trademark is the Vienna Café. After Austria refurbished it completely, the Vienna Café re-opened in new splendour in September 2014. It is the perfect place where delegates, UN staff, journalists and others can come together to chat, negotiate or simply take a break from the business and bustle in the surrounding committee rooms – and of course enjoy Austrian coffee and pastries!

Austrian furniture design also made its way into the office of the UN Secretary-General. His desk is custom made by Svoboda Büromöbel, his chairs and furniture provided by the company Wittmann. Building on a long tradition of hosting international meetings to promote peace and dialogue, Austria is particularly proud that Vienna is home to one of the headquarters of the United Nations along with New York, Geneva and Nairobi.

The UN Headquarters at the Vienna International Center
Photo: UN

Starting in 1979 with the opening of the Vienna International Centre (UNO City), Vienna has evolved into a vibrant, international hub for the promotion of peace, security and human rights as well as sustainability and development. The main UN entities in Vienna are the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

Many other international institutions and organisations followed over the course of the years, totalling around 40 today. The Vienna hub also acts as a driver for the Austrian economy and benefits through an annual positive net effect of more than 500 million euro, directly or indirectly securing some 10,000 jobs. Involving the Vienna-based organisations, Austria hosts a large number of international conferences; most recent examples are the successfully concluded Iran talks and the ongoing Syria talks.

Austria is proud to look back at 60 years of active UN membership. Using the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Austria is “punching above her weight at the UN”. She stands ready to continue her active engagement as both member state and host country.