In the early hours of the morning Australian time, voting for the two-year temporary seats on the Security Council. Five years in the making, we thought that the ballot would be tight, that it might take until the second round of voting, if at all, before we secured one of the two vacancies on offer. The odds were good, two out of three nominees would get up. Our competition was Luxembourg and Finland, with many believing the latter to be the overwhelming favourite to secure the first spot.
Ultimately, and surprisingly, Australia prevailed after the first round. One hundred and forty votes was more than enough to get us over the line in a contest requiring 129 votes, a two-thirds majority of the UN General Assembly.
The importance and efficacy of the position on the UN Security Council was questioned by some. What could a temporary spot on a flawed body, where a veto power exists, offer Australia? That was the main question asked. The absence of an explanation, other than having a seat at the table, surely added to the confusion and a lack of interest domestically over what such a role might bring.
In effect though, a short-term chair on the UN Security Council will actually mean little or nothing in the short-term and even less in the long-term.
However, while the benefits of having a spot on the Security Council are few and far between, now that we have won the election, it is important that the role is taken incredibly seriously despite the fact that there are many factors which make the role practically pointless.
Australia must, over the two-year term, make a lot of noise and throw itself at the role without fear or favour. To not now fully and actively engage with the actions and processes, whether flawed or not, would actually damage our relative standing in the world.
This government and the next must be willing to sufficiently fund the position for the entire period we occupy that temporary spot. By virtue of the fact that the Labor Party, through former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd actually launched the bid and continued with it, it is clear that the ALP have a commitment to fully funding the 24 months that we will have a vote on the Security Council.
It is also equally as clear that while the Liberal Party disagreed with the priority of seeking election to the UN body, and still appearing sceptical of the benefits of such a move, they will commit to taking the temporary tenure seriously if in government. The Shadow Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed as much this morning.
But that commitment from the Coalition does not come without conditions and rightly so.
As Julie Bishop said, the Gillard Government must now, since it really failed to prior to the bid, set out a clear list of priorities for the two years we have on the Security Council.
Later this morning, after Julie Bishop’s comments on breakfast television, the Prime Minister outlined the key issues that will be pursued and not surprisingly Afghanistan was at the top of that list, closely followed by Syria. Action has already been pursued in relation to the former and ongoing commitments will undoubtedly be wholeheartedly supported by the Security Council and the UN as a whole entity.
In the case of the latter, Syria, concrete and decisive action has already been blocked by the obstructionist body, with Russia and China using the veto power . In that sense, Australia, needing to pursue action in relation to Syria, are and will be fighting a losing battle.
We must have a focus and also a recognition that we cannot save the world from itself, even individual countries, in such a short period of time.
In commenting on the win this morning, Julie Bishop made another very sound point. We must use our time on the Security Council to push for reform of the UN. That task is immense and we will inevitably fail. The threshold to force change in the processes and workings of the UN and the Security Council is as high as the bar is to actually get resolutions to pass. But this is too important to not voice an opinion on and a strong conversation at the very least has to be commenced.
The time for complaining about the bid is now over. The emphasis now has to be on giving our diplomats the resources and governmental support needed to give a difficult task their best shot. To do otherwise would mean showing contempt for the world.
The Prime Minister has arrived in New York for a week of lobbying the nations of the world in order to secure one of two non-permanent seats on the Security Council, the key decision-making body for matters of security, though to describe it as a ‘decision-making’ authority is a bit of a stretch with decisions easily stifled.
The bid, first announced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd four years ago pits us against Finland and Luxembourg, two European powers, with the powerful and large continent of Europe well and truly behind them. It is believed that Australia has secured the support of the majority of Asian, Caribbean and Pacific member countries and will seek to focus on lobbying African nations for remaining votes. The contest, a protracted process that the two European nations were in years before us, has reportedly cost $40 million over the last four years.
So why go ahead with seeking a spot on the Security Council? And is it really worth it, given the roadblocks that decision-making processes within the body face due to the veto powers of the 5 permanent members, who also possess veto powers?
Australia has certainly has a “proud track record of work within the United Nations” as the Prime Minister has said today, with involvement at its peak during the establishment of the UN, the replacement body for the League of Nations that came into being as a result of World War Two. Our involvement was heavy and meant punched well above our weight as a relatively new nation in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
However, in the Security Council world nations have failed, allowing decisions to be blocked so easily by China, Russia, France, the United States of America and the United Kingdom and that’s before you take into account the scale of a vote needed to pass a resolution without a permanent power using their veto.
Our bid, it is true, means greater engagement with the world, but is a bid for a highly flawed institution necessary to achieve greater engagement with the world when major decisions regarding peace and security can be so easily stopped in their tracks by a small number of countries within the Security Council? The answer is a resounding no. $40 million seems a pretty high price to pay for little material difference to the peaceful interactions of nations and between countries and their people.
Not being a part of the Security Council does not mean not engaging with the world, but means going about that engagement from a different direction. No matter what happens, and it seems a high probability we will not secure a temporary seat at the table, we will still be a part of the UN, retaining our seat in the General Assembly. On top of that, we have the World Trade Organisation, the IMF and the World Bank for global interaction, albeit not in peace and security circles, but that does not necessarily need to be the main game on the global for a middle power like Australia.
Australia as a nation outside of the Security Council has involved itself actively in matters of security around the world too, particularly over the last 10 years, interacting more with major powers like the US and the NATO organisation with our efforts in Iraq and currently still in Afghanistan. We’ve also played a major part in peace and security concerns in our region, heavily engaging with Indonesia since the Bali bombings which killed 88 Australians. We’ve also engaged in East Timor and the Solomon Islands, trying to bring independence, peace and democracy to the former and aiming to restore peace and security in the latter.
So really, a place on the Security Council, a temporary one at that, for two years, is redundant. It is so not just because the body itself stifles any action in areas of peace and security, but because Australia as a nation has engaged, most importantly in our direct region in such ventures, but also more globally with the US and NATO in Iraq and Afghanistan. The good news is that we can continue to do that in a more targeted and effective manner from the periphery. Oh, and also, we might not even get there in the first place, what then? The sky won’t fall in.