UN Security Council merry go round
UNITED NATIONS — In its annual membership rotation, the UN General Assembly has chosen five new members; Belgium, Germany, Indonesia, Dominican Republic and South Africa, who will serve two-year stints on the powerful fifteen-member Security Council.
The election, or more properly selection, is based both on geographical and regional representation as well as consensus among the membership.
When ballots were cast in the 193-member General Assembly, Germany and the Dominican Republic gained the highest tally with 184 votes. South Africa garnered 183, Belgium 181, and Indonesia 144.
Starting next January, the five new non-permanent members will join the Council whose Permanent Five, China France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States hold veto power on issues of peace and security.
So what does this mean? Let’s take our annual overview at how the new countries affect the Council’s dynamics and American national interests.
Africa. South Africa gained the seat replacing Ethiopia. Ethiopia has played a positive role in the UN in terms of peacekeeping with 8,400 troops in the field, anti-terrorist operations, and has been traditionally close to the USA. South Africa has equally participated in Blue Helmet operations serving as a regional peacemaker. Sub-Saharan Africa’s most developed and probably dynamic country, South Africa’s foreign ministry is professional and clearly up to the task. Despite ingrained political corruption and an authoritarian tendency, South Africa remains one of Africa’s freest countries.
Asia/Pacific. This was the only opposed contest, Indonesia vs the Maldive Islands, a bit like Goliath facing David. Not surprisingly Indonesia won 144 votes to the Maldives 46.
Stretching two-thirds the width of the United States, the Indonesian archipelago covers a huge swath of islands, and is the world’s largest Muslim country. Indonesia inherits a turbulent history based on ethnic and religious divides, as recently as the bloody East Timor crisis. Yet, in recent decades the country has emerged as a quasi democratic state and is listed as “partly free” by the human rights monitor Freedom House. The Jakarta government remains a committed supporter of the United Nations in far-flung peacekeeping operations, with 2,700 troops currently in the field. As a powerful member and headquarters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the country holds considerable political clout.
Latin America/Caribbean. Despite being a charter member of the world organization since 1945, the Dominican Republic has never served on the Council, until now. The Dominican Republic has stressed the need to focus on the continuing instability in neighboring Haiti, and equally more engagement in Latin America. Curiously the Dominicans only offer UN peacekeeping a minuscule troop commitment, something which will hopefully change during their Council tenure.
Western European and Others. What originally promised to be a bruising race among three contenders for two seats, settled into a polite handover. Belgium, Germany and Israel were
original candidates; but after a clear blocking wall of opposition from the Arab States and Islamic group, Israel quietly withdrew a few months ago. A member must win a clear two- thirds majority to win a seat.
Belgium, a founding member of the UN, will be back. Earlier in the campaign, the King of Belgium visited the UN to make the case for the Brussels government membership. Belgium promotes a vibrant humanitarian aid and overseas development policy as well as having been an active participant in UN peacekeeping operations going back decades. The Kingdom of Belgium contributed to peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Rwanda, former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, and Mali.
Germany is also back on the Council. One of the UN’s major financial and humanitarian donor members, Germany remains the fourth-largest contributor to the United Nations budget after the United States, Japan and France.
A key player in both NATO and UN peacekeeping, Germany has 3,500 soldiers and 150 police officers serving with international peace missions alongside American troops in the UN-mandated operations in Afghanistan and KFOR in Kosovo. Equally French and German forces comprise key components in the UN anti-terrorist mission in the West African state of Mali.
What does the new alignment mean for U.S. policy? South Africa replacing Ethiopia, no change. Indonesia turning from Kazakistan, slight positive. Dominican Republic replacing Bolivia, a positive. Belgium and Germany switching with the Netherlands and Sweden slight positive.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated after the Assembly vote, “We want to be a strong voice for peace in the Security Council, but above all, we want a multilateral world order for the future…we want to contribute to conflict resolution and crisis prevention.”
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]