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Australia and the Security Council: Temporary residency, lasting legacy

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COMMENTS

18 October 2012 11:00

 

Tim Dunne is Professor of International Relations in the Asia-Pacific Centre for R2P, University of Queensland.

If the editorials in the global media are our guide, then satire took a blow when it was announced that the European Union had won the Nobel Peace Prize. If Luxembourg triumphs over Australia in the ballot for UN Security Council non-permanent membership, satire may need to be abolished.

As Graeme Dobell has pointed out, Australia falls into the quasi-regional, quasi-historical grouping of Western European and Others Group, which is why it is up against two European countries; Finland is the other contender. The vote is only hours away. Will Australia triumph?

Perhaps a more obvious starter question is: Why bother? The conventional view is that this is little more than a diplomatic pageant, where the returns in real money are far outstripped by the costs of the promissory notes that are issued during the course of a campaign.

There is no doubt that the power in the Security Council rests with the 'permanent five' whose special status is reinforced in Article 23 of the UN Charter. As all students of international relations and most interested citizens know, the P5 are America, China, France, Russia and the UK. And despite the well-founded call to modify Security Council membership to take into account the rise of new great powers such as India and Brazil, it is the original P5 who are clinging to the double privilege of a permanent place at the table and the power that is given to them by their right of veto.

Non-permanent members are hardly ever noticed outside of the small world of diplomacy. They don't even have a collective name, which is a significant limitation in terms of enhancing the pubic understanding of this important grouping of countries, so let us name this grouping the non-permanent 10, or NP10.

As to the three-cornered contest for the West European and Others grouping, how should this be decided? It is useful to remind ourselves of the brief but significant description of the responsibilities of the NP10 in the Charter, where members are instructed to give 'due regard' to the contribution of candidate states to 'the maintenance of international peace and security' and also 'to equitable geographical distribution'.

Against this benchmark, all three candidate countries score well. Finland's record as an internationalist power reaches back at least as far as the Helsinki Accords agreed between the two superpowers and their respective allies in 1975. If international human rights have a place of birth, it is Helsinki. Since then, Finland has been active in contributing to UN peacekeeping and peace building projects. It is not surprising that, given its record, most UN watchers regard Finland as the favorite to win.

Australia's case has been well trumpeted by the government in recent years and has featured prominently in The Interpreter. On all the three major power indicators – hard power, soft power, normative power – Australia is a player in the international system. Throw into the mix the importance of a stable transition to a world order no longer shaped by Anglo-American power and purpose, and the case for Australia becoming one of the NP10 looks unanswerable.

Yet Luxembourg's candidature is more serious than it appears at first sight. It is a founder member of the UN and scores very well in terms of its financial contribution; for example, it is one of only five countries that meets the 0.7% target for net aid as a proportion of GDP. And when it comes to coalition building, it ought to be able to count on the votes of fellow EU members.

Its main limitation is that its size is little more than an average modern city with a population of 524,853 (just less than Newcastle, NSW), and of those, 43% are foreign nationals. Though in case one needs reminding, the right to be a sovereign state is not a matter of scale or capacity; in this respect, in formal legal terms, sovereignty is a great leveller.

However worthy, Luxembourg is a small state and there must be doubts about how much diplomatic power it will be able to mobilise on the Security Council. Its network is largely restricted to Europe: it has only seven missions in the Asian region. Europe has two permanent members on the Security Council already and is guaranteed at least one non-permanent seat.

It logically follows, therefore, that what should deliver the right result for Australia – assuming Finland gets one of the two seats – is that the 193 members of the General Assembly give 'due regard' to geographical representation.

Sadly, rational derived preferences do not always determine outcomes. Qatar, after all, beat both Australia and the United States to the prize of hosting the 2022 World Cup. Here the parallel ends: the world governing body for football is notorious for corruption and ineptitude. Satire lives! Which portends well for Australia.

Photo of tapestry in UNSC chamber by UN Photo.

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