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Finland and Others Compete for Coveted Security Council Seats


Helsinki street
Finland is one of several countries competing in the Oct. 18 Security Council election for the five open nonpermanent seats and their two-year terms starting Jan. 1, 2013. A familiar wintry scene in Helsinki, above. PETRI PUSA

HELSINKI – As the United States prepares for its much-awaited presidential election on Nov. 6, another hotly contested vote is readying at the United Nations Security Council on Oct. 18. Numerous countries are vying for the five open nonpermanent seats, among them Australia, Finland and Luxembourg, who are competing for the two seats being vacated on Jan. 1 by Germany and Portugal, all part of the Western European and Others Group. The terms of Colombia, India and South Africa are also up, opening seats for the remaining UN regional contingents: Africa, Asia/Pacific and Latin America/Caribbean, though none for the Eastern European group this time around.

Rwanda seems uncontested for Africa; Bhutan, Cambodia and Korea are vying for Asia; and Argentina appears uncontested as well for Latin America.

Elections for the council’s 10 nonpermanent seats, consisting of staggered two-year terms, are highly coveted, given that five of the council seats are occupied permanently by Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. Campaigning can begin years ahead for the open spots, and millions of dollars are spent on the stump. Australia said, for example, that it allotted $24 million over five years for the run. The election is actually conducted by the General Assembly, and an unlimited number of voting rounds can occur until candidates win a two-thirds majority.

Finland is a country with a much smaller campaign budget, $2.5 million, which shows how a nation with less to spend can approach its Security Council bid with creativity. Finland, for example, has been emphasizing its role in UN Women,  peace mediation and peace and security resolutions. The campaigning has revealed some typical Finnish lightheartedness: in June the country threw a midsummer party in the Central Park Boathouse in New York, where Angry Birds candy bags were doled out. The popular video game was created by a Finnish company, Rovio.

Pasi Patokallio, special representative for the minister for foreign affairs and head of the Finnish UN Security Council campaign, was also involved in the country’s last Security Council stint in 1989-1990 and said he hoped his country had a shot at membership again for the two-year term beginning in 2013. He talked about it from Helsinki recently with PassBlue.

Pasi Patokallio, Finnish special representative for the minister for foreign affairs
Pasi Patokallio, Finnish special representative for the minister for foreign affairs.

PB: Why does Finland want to be a member of the United Nations Security Council again?

A. Since all UN member states have entrusted the Security Council with the task of maintaining international peace and security, we all have a keen and legitimate interest in that the council works as intended. A rule-based world order is in our national interest as a small state and as a good global citizen. Becoming a member of the council for two years would be one very important way of advancing that national interest.

PB: What does Finland hope to gain if it is elected to the council for 2013-2014?

A. Our term would last for only two years, so we are realistic. The council already has an agenda, and a full one at that. Simply put, we will not make the agenda, the agenda will make us. By that I mean that Finland intends to actively and constructively contribute to the resolution of all issues that are or will be before the council during our watch. To the extent that it’s feasible, we will of course highlight some ideas that we are pushing at the UN. For example, the UN needs a much better capacity to mediate conflicts than it has today.

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PB: What can Finland offer as a Security Council member that Australia and Luxembourg cannot?

A. Without in any way questioning what our two friendly competitors have to offer, let me say what Finland brings to the table: a hands-on attitude and a practical approach to balanced and evenhanded engagement. We are not a member of any military alliance. We bring a proud record of accomplishments from our two previous terms on the council, when we helped to solve crises in Africa and the Persian Gulf. [Marjatta Rasi, a former UN ambassador of Finland, was the spokeswoman for the Security Council’s sanctions committee that enforced the trade embargo against Iraq]. And we bring capacity: it is not enough to get elected to the council; you have to possess the capacity to act and to use that capacity for the common good. That is what the UN Charter expects of nonpermanent members. We believe that we have an excellent chance to be elected.

PB: Finland announced it would apply for this year’s Security Council election back in 2002. With such a long lead-in time, how is Finland’s campaign going as it approaches the final stretch?

A. The campaign is very well on track. We have broad and growing support. Any campaign of this kind involves interacting a lot with other member states, both in bilateral and multilateral contexts. We will continue this intensively right up to the election. Finland’s political leadership, from the president on down, is fully engaged, and we are also strongly supported by the other Nordic countries (Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden). The Nordic countries never compete against each other but maintain an informal rotation whereby one of the five seeks the council’s membership every four years, with the full support of the other four. Ten years ago, Finland made the decision to take its turn for the 2013-2014 spot. The actual campaigning started much later, in earnest only in 2009.

PB: The last time Finland had a seat on the Security Council member was from 1989 to 1990. What are some new challenges?

A. The world is different now. The tail end of the cold war dominated world politics in 1989-90. Now the cold war is long gone. Some challenges are new, like the impact of climate change and its possible security implications. Another new challenge is how to apply the emerging norm of the council’s responsibility to protect civilians under extreme circumstances from their own government. Libya was a recent case in point. Some challenges, some conflicts, have been around for a long time — even when we were on the council the first time, in 1969-70, like the Middle East or Cyprus. If elected, Finland has to be prepared to deal with all challenges that come before the council, old or new. And we have to be prepared to expect the unexpected. The last time we were on the council, the surprise was Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Something unexpected always happens.

[The caption was updated on Oct. 9, 2012.]

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Mirva Lempiainen is a journalist from Finland who writes about travel, culture and social issues for media based in Finland and in the US. She has a master’s degree from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and writes a travel blog at

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