As the five newly elected United Nations Security Council members prep for their seats, what will their work look like when they take office Jan. 1 for two years?
It’s impossible to predict how the winners – Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, South Korea and Rwanda – will fill their nonpermanent seats among Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, the permanent members. Yet the new countries, also joining Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo, arrive with peace and security agendas that reveal their special interests, like any complicated family.
In council dynamics, new countries often cement longstanding allies while they familiarize themselves with the ever-evolving agenda issues. Or they strike new friendships, as South Africa sided with Brazil and India last year. Western-leaning countries vote together, while those unhappy with the West tend to reinforce their mutual politics. But surprises happen: Germany, for example, abstained with Brazil, China, Russia and India against authorizing air attacks on Libya last year during its revolt. (Colombia, Germany, India, Portugal and South Africa are leaving the council as of Dec. 31.)
Rwanda’s win has generated the most buzz, given that a UN report says the government, with Uganda, is aiding rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Security Council is also mulling sanctions this month against the 1,500-member armed group M23 in Congo for violating arms embargoes.
Yet the tiny landlocked nation of 11 million, with three official languages, was the single candidate among the African regional group to run for a council seat, replacing South Africa. It is a top African troop contributor to the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations. It also returns to the council after a membership in 1994-95, when its Hutu government used its position “to stall action as the genocide in its country unfolded,” said Jeff Laurenti, a senior fellow with the Century Foundation in New York, referring to the 1994 Rwanda massacre, when 800,000 people, primarily Tutsis, were murdered.
This time, it may want to “balance” the council debate, Laurenti added, “on the activities of the rebel bands it is supporting against the government of DR Congo and the UN peace operation in eastern Congo.”
Other UN observers suggested that Rwanda’s win was enabled by the US, which remains loyal to the country’s president, Paul Kagame, despite allegations about his government’s role in Congo. Yet Rwanda has worked socioeconomic miracles after the genocide, a former UN correspondent told PassBlue. This turnaround has influenced the US, and Kagame has been “pretty impressive, or was, close up,” the writer said.
Kagame, however, has not tried to seek outside arbitration or help “for what he continues to say are the pockets of ex-genocidaires in eastern Congo,” the writer noted, referring to the Hutus who decamped to Congo after the genocide.
Indeed, Kagame has made “a persuasive case that his one-time basket-case country has thrived economically under his leadership (quite apart from his apparent human rights abuses),” said Stephen Schlesinger, the author of “Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations,” and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, told PassBlue.
Rwanda, a UN member since 1962, says on its UN mission Web site that its government believes the UN remains the most appropriate international body to prevent genocide “despite its failure to prevent the Rwanda genocide in 1994.” The UN, it adds, “must therefore equip itself better to respond decisively to prevent recurrence of Genocide anywhere else in the world. This is one of the major focuses of work for the Rwanda Mission to the United Nations.”
Argentina’s win was uncontested from the Latin America-Caribbean group; this is the country’s ninth turn on the council, last appearing in 2005-2006. A new UN ambassador, María Cristina Perceval, has just been installed, making her possibly one of two women on the council next year, with Sylvie Lucas, Luxembourg’s ambassador to the UN. (Susan Rice, the US ambassador, is likely to move on.)
Perceval, a 56-year-old former senator from Mendoza and professor of epistemology with a Ph.D. in philosophy, has helped write policies favoring women in her country.
Argentina, a nation of 42 million people, relishes a strong literacy rate but contends with serious economic and climate issues. It is the third-largest contributor of UN peacekeeping officers in Latin America, after Brazil and Uruguay, so a strong focus will be the restructuring of Haiti, where the UN runs a recently reduced peacekeeping mission.
Héctor Timerman, Argentina’s foreign minister, said in a Spanish-worded statement after the council vote (and translated into English) that in the council “Argentina will be the voice of the region with its most important values: peace development a region that says no to nuclear, no to colonialism and says yes to worthy work and to education.”
The territorial dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands, or Malvinas, off Argentina’s coast, is likely to rear its head in the council. Argentina complained to the council last month about Britain’s military exercises on the Falklands recently.
Australia, which spent about $24 million over five years on the Security Council campaign, beat Finland for the Western regional group, a swath that includes North America. As long as the council is not enlarged, a special interest of India this month as the president, the contest for seats from this bloc will be arduous. Luxembourg also eked by Finland, securing a seat for the first time since joining the UN in 1945. Its budget for the campaign, which began actively in 2005, was about $1.3 million.
Bob Carr, Australia’s foreign minister, described the election as a “big juicy, decisive win” that endorsed the country as a good global citizen.
Australia’s recent immigration policies, however, may not reflect such citizenry. This summer, it reversed a policy to reopen offshore detention centers to house people trying to immigrate to the country by sea, a perennial problem for the country. Human-rights groups say the centers are inhospitable warehouses that may violate commitments under the UN refugee convention.
Australia, a country of 22 million, has clarified its priorities on the council: Syria and helping civilians in the conflict, followed by Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and terrorism.
Another priority is securing the Arms Trade Treaty‘s entry into force. Some Australian foreign policy commentators suggested that the country could rally global opposition to the use of improvised-explosive devices and tackle cybersecurity issues while at the Security Council, said Angela Woodward, a New Zealander who is a program director for the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Center, a nonprofit group that works on monitoring, verification and implementation of international agreements. (New Zealand is campaigning a council seat for the 2015-2016 term.)
“And I think that Australia should use the added clout” of its seat, Woodward added in her e-mail to PassBlue, “to influence its close ally, the US, to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and thereby progress on its long-stated support for the treaty’s entry into force. Although this task will prove more challenging if [Mitt] Romney wins the US presidency.”
With a half-million people, Luxembourg is wealthy, small and the only grand duchy in the world, but it has a parliamentary democracy. Having declared its interest for a council seat in 2001, the marathon intensified after Australia jumped in, breaking the clean slate in 2008. The unpredictable nature of the council election, based on secret ballot votes by the General Assembly, kept Luxembourg on its toes, a delegate told PassBlue.
The country’s work on the council will adhere to its long-held positions at the UN, promoting a “holistic approach to peace and security,” including “the nexus linking peacekeeping and peace-building” and more widely, security and development, the delegate said. Luxembourg will continue its support of the UN Peacebuilding Commission, particularly on Guinea; and maintaining its full share of official development assistance, or 1 percent of its gross national income. This benefits partners in West Africa, like Mali, though that work has been suspended since Islamic extremists have taken over the northern region.
South Korea’s triumph against Bhutan and Cambodia from the Asia-Pacific contingent surprised few people, since the UN secretary-general is Korean. The densely populated nation of 48 million last won in 1996-97, soon after it became a UN member in 1991. Its tense border situation with North Korea could be mitigated with its new prestigious spot on the council.
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.