The beginning of 2019 means a turnover of seats at the United Nations Security Council, but will that change anything?
Five non-permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) have begun to assume responsibilities for the 2019-2020 period. They are Indonesia, Germany, Belgium, South Africa and the Dominican Republic.
Those countries have replaced Holland, Bolivia, Sweden, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan, which just vacated the seats on December 31, 2018, after completing their two-year terms. While the other non-permanent members (Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Poland, Peru and Kuwait) will be still on the council until December 31, 2019.
Five countries (US, France, Russia, China and the UK) are UNSC permanent members.
Each year, the General Assembly votes for five non-permanent members of UNSC. The seats are distributed based on regional groups. Indonesia represents Asia-Pacific, Germany and Belgium are from Western Europe, while South Africa represents the African bloc, and the Dominican Republic is from Latin America and the Caribbean bloc.
What Issues are the New Non-permanent Members of the UNSC Likely to Prioritize?
The UNSC is one of the most important agencies in the United Nations given its role in peacekeeping and its ability to employ military force.
Under the UN Charter the UNSC has a mandate to investigate any situation that poses a threat to world peace and security, recommend peaceful solutions to disputes, carry out any UNSC decision militarily, if needed, to prevent conflicts from worsening, as well as make and submit either a general report or an annual report for the General Assembly’s consideration.
Now that Germany has a seat at the UNSC, it has announced four main priorities: linking security policies with climate change, peace-building efforts (which include arms control and conflict prevention), women and children’s rights, and a stronger humanitarian system that includes development and relief for refugees.
While Belgium will focus on protection for individuals in conflict-torn areas, conflict prevention and more efficient management of the international body’s mission, as stated by the country’s foreign minister Didier Reynders.
South Africa will prioritize Africa’s interests, which include advanced development and growth in the region, peace and security, and the elimination of inequality and poverty. The country will also call for more African nations’ involvement in the UN by pushing for the expansion of two permanent and five non-permanent seats as well as the expansion of UNSC membership from 15 to 26.
The Dominican Republic will promote interests of the Caribbean and Latin American nations such as food security, women’s and children’s rights and climate change, as the country’s foreign minister Miguel Vargas stated.
Indonesia will focus on four main issues as stated by the country’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi in her speech in June 2018. “First, we aim to strengthen peace, ecosystem and global stability by increasing the capacity of the UN peacekeeping force, including the peacekeeping role for women,” Marsudi said.
Marsudi also added that Indonesia will boost harmony among regional organizations and the UN, push for a global-comprehensive approach to fight against terrorism and radicalism, as well as advocate sustainable development. Palestine and Rohingya issues will be on its agenda.
Additionally, the Indonesian ambassador for the UN, Dian Triansyah Djani, is responsible for chairing the UNSC Committee on resolution 1540 on weapons of mass destruction and a sanctions committee related to terrorism.
“The magnitude of support is an indication of the trust the international community places in Indonesia’s diplomacy and foreign policy, which are independent and actively play a role in maintaining world peace,” Dian said in a statement
Is Being a Non-Permanent Member Merely Symbolic?
Being a UNSC non-permanent member means that a country can be involved in formulating UNSC policies on several key issues and partake in maintaining the world’s peace and stability. But many experts think that non-permanent members of UNSC do not have a strategic role given that veto rights only belong to the five permanent members.
Veto rights are held by the permanent members of the UNSC and mean any single permanent member of the UNSC can block or pass a resolution with their vote alone. Efforts by non-member nations could go in vain if one of the five permanent members exercises their veto right to cancel a resolution.
Criticism of the UNSC has stemmed from the exclusive veto power of its permanent members. Other nations have called for UNSC membership expansion to reflect a more balanced global agency, as Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. Despite realizing that reform is unlikely, Maas stated he would not give up the pursuit as the majority of the UN members support the idea of UNSC expansion.
Maas called the UNSC system out of date as it was established over 70 years ago. “I believe that the balance of power in the world must be depicted much better than it is at the moment,” the minister told the German Press Agency.
In September 2018 Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad also called for reform in the UNSC, saying that the five permanent members can no longer hold the world and feel superior. The veteran leader faulted the five permanent members of the UNSC for being hypocritical since they also trigger civil wars or regime changes.
“Five countries on the basis of their victories more than 70 years ago cannot claim to have a right to hold the world to ransom forever,” the 93-year-old leader said, referring to the five permanent members of the UNSC.
Some diplomats support the UNSC membership expansion, especially for African nations. But the only way to make it happen is by implementing relevant General Assembly resolutions and seeking consensus-based solutions.
“Attempts to set artificial timelines and arbitrarily launch text-based negotiations will undermine unity and have a negative impact on the contributions of small States,” said China’s permanent representative for UN, Ma Zhaoxu.
UN General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés also voiced support for reforming the UNSC during the general debate of the 73d session of the General Assembly and said at least 80 world leaders supported reform.
While the UNSC may be in need of reform, achieving that reform in the current era where more countries are moving towards nationalism and away from multilateralism will prove rather difficult.