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New Members, New Chances? Security Council Elections


BERLIN — This month, the United Nations General Assembly elected Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo as nonpermanent members of the Security Council for the next two years.

Three of the new members, Guatemala, Morocco and Pakistan, were elected in the first round of voting, Togo was in the third and Azerbaijan, in the seventeenth. All new members will take their seats on Jan. 1 to fill the vacancies left by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria, whose terms are up.

UN experts are fond of speculating on the potential influence of new members on Security Council policies. In this regard, an important factor is the expertise; that is, knowledge gained by previous terms on the council. Pakistan has already served six terms (the last one in 2003-2004), Morocco two terms (the last, 1992-1993) and Togo one term (1982-1983). Azerbaijan and Guatemala have had no previous council service.

That means that – with the exception of Pakistan – the new members do not bring relevant experience to the council, which makes them more susceptible to and dependent on the powers and routines of the permanent members, the so-called Permanent Five, or P5: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

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The council loses two political heavyweights with Brazil and Nigeria, which are leading nations in Africa and Latin America. Yet other heavyweights remain until the end of 2012: India, South Africa and Germany. (Colombia and Portugal are the other remaining members still in term.) So there is still a chance that these countries can succeed in getting smaller and medium-size reform projects going, hopefully improving working methods and the political reputation of the council. The large-scale project of expanding the council through new permanent and nonpermanent members, however, is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Azerbaijani delegates react to winning the fifth nonpermanent seat on the Security Council for a two-year term starting Jan. 1, 2012. Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo were also elected in what is typically a regional allotment. PAULO FILGUEIRAS/UN PHOTO

As for political conflicts, the departure of Brazil and Lebanon might provide – experienced UN watchers say – some fresh opportunities for the US and Europe, given that Brazil and Lebanon, along with India and South Africa, resisted efforts to sanction Syria. Guatemala and Morocco, replacing Brazil and Lebanon, are said to be more aligned with US priorities regarding Syria and other matters.

The membership of Pakistan, an influential and ambitious developing-world power broker, might complicate and even hinder future US and European efforts in numerous fields, from the promotion of human rights, to the political and military transition in Afghanistan, where Pakistan’s interests have conflicted with Western political goals, to the decisions on economic sanctions on Iran. The tensions that Pakistan’s presence might induce with India wait to be seen.

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In general, the council’s political landscape has changed considerably in recent times, since some self-assured emerging middle powers, including Brazil, India, Turkey, Nigeria and South Africa, have demanded a greater say in decisions and are seeking terms on the council more often than in the past. These moves reflect not only an increased self-esteem but also skepticism about the prospects of being admitted to the council through an enlarged permanent membership. Their strong interest in and more active presence on the council makes negotiations more complicated simply because more actors have to be heard, thus weakening, to some extent, the predominance of the P5.

It is not altogether bad that the great powers must now cope with dissenting votes in the council as they try to find compromise solutions. Formulating resolutions on sanctions or peacekeeping mandates might take longer, but the decisions will have more impact, taking into account the diverging interests of all the nations involved.

Council decisions with more consensus can also help mandates play out better beyond the walls of the UN, and there is always the anticipation that new members will strive to improve the council’s work. The traditional annual workshop in November for newly elected and present members, called “hitting the ground running” and organized by Finland, will provide them with some guidance for their task ahead.

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New Members, New Chances? Security Council Elections

This is an opinion essay.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Helmut Volger has written and edited several books about the UN, including A Concise Encyclopedia of the United Nations, of which the second revised edition was published by Brill Academic Publishers in 2010. He is also a co-founder of the German UN Research Network (

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