Five new members have been elected to join the United Nations Security Council: Angola, Venezuela, Malaysia, New Zealand and Spain. The first three countries ran unopposed for the five two-year term seats open on the council, representing their regions, respectively: Africa, Latin America and Caribbean and Asia. New Zealand and Spain ran for the two seats from the Western European and “other states” region with a third nation, Turkey, also vying for the position.
Turkey was the odd nation out in the final vote, which went through two additional rounds to pick a winner between Spain and Turkey. The latter was considered a controversial candidate, since it has so far refused to join the United States and other Western nations in aerial assaults against the extremist group ISIS in Syria and Iraq and it recently bombed Kurdish forces, which are also fighting ISIS.
The vote for the Security Council took place on Oct. 16, and all campaigning for the five seats – which begins years in advance and can entail spending millions of dollars by well-off nations – was instructed to stop inside the hall of the General Assembly, whose 193 members chose the countries by secret paper ballot. The media were also instructed by the president of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa of Uganda, not to train their cameras on the country delegates to possibly avoid revealing their vote. Yet delegates were using their own cellphones to take pictures, some of themselves and some of others.
The council has 15 members: five permanent ones held by Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, who have veto power and are therefore considered the masters on all peace and security matters the council contends with day after day. The 10 other members are elected and hold rotating seats. Those who won on Oct. 16 will start their two-year term in January 2015. The five others – Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania and Nigeria – are entering the final year of their term in 2015.
The voting process in the General Assembly Hall occurred in virtual silence. The Turkish delegation – captured on camera by the UN webcast service – looked anxious and fretting, aware that the voting for its regional seat was close. Mevlut Cavusoglu, the foreign minister, ran his hand over his chin repeatedly. By contrast, the Malaysian contingent, naturally, appeared relaxed. (It had strong backing from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations group and the Gulf Cooperation Council.)
As the paper ballots were collected individually, the hall became quiet again, as if it were a sixth-grade classroom on the verge of hearing exciting news. The Luxembourg delegation, headed by Sylvie Lucas, gave off unrestrained smiles. Luxembourg, as a member of the Western European and “other” region (called, in UN parlance, Weog), is finishing its final months as an elected member of the Security Council, as is Australia.
The two countries worked closely on getting a resolution passed this year to enable humanitarian aid to enter pockets of Syria that are not under control of the regime – thus bypassing the authority of Bashar al-Assad, the president. The resolution has been minimally successful.
The three other countries vacating their seats at the end of the year are Argentina, Rwanda and South Korea.
After more rounds of voting established Spain as the champion over Turkey, some of the winning delegations spoke publicly outside the General Assembly Hall.
Venezuela promptly politicized the opportunity, saying that despite the “maligned campaign” against its candidacy, which was declared in 2007 by its president at the time, Hugo Chávez (now deceased), it will take a seat on the council in 2015. The vote for Venezuela reflected some misgivings: it received 10 abstentions, 1 no and 181 yes “effective” ballots.
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, quickly released a statement on the votes overall but singled out Venezuela, saying: “Unfortunately, Venezuela’s conduct at the UN has run counter to the spirit of the UN Charter and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter. The United States will continue to call upon the government of Venezuela to respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of its people.”
Although the 10 elected seats on the council can appear more symbolic than actionable, UN member nations long to be part of the prestige it bestows. Many nations that win seats have extensive involvement in the UN’s peacekeeping missions, either through financial or material contributions, including troops.
The UN Tribune, an independent media site, says that collateral advantages can ensue from holding an elected seat. One study, written by academics from Harvard, showed that developing countries sitting on the council can reap large increases in aid from the US as well as aid from the UN, mostly through Unicef, whose directors have consistently been American.
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she 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 near Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working in New York 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.