Early tomorrow morning foreign policy wonks will be sitting in front of their televisions, the radio or madly refreshing the pages of news websites as they wait to see whether or not Australia has secured a temporary two-year spot on the United Nations Security Council. Two of our senior politicians, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have ventured to the UN in New York in recent weeks, scrambling to attract the vote of countries not already locked in behind either Luxembourg or Finland, our competitors for the two available places.
Domestically, there is not bipartisan support for the UN Security Council campaign. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd launched the bid and that has been carried through by his replacement, Julia Gillard. The Labor Party have plunged about $25 million into this electoral gamble, with relatively good odds. The Opposition on the other hand are against the bid labelling it wasteful and pointless, preferring a regional focus to foreign policy.
With the vote taking place in less than a day, what exactly would be gained by a victory in the vote at the United Nations tomorrow? What will change?
The obvious and most simple and straightforward answer is a seat on the Security Council, the most significant body within the UN structure. We would be able to say things, nice things and bad things about different peace and security issues at the table rather than from the periphery. Would that not be wonderful for us, to be able to chest-beat at the most significant international forum for a couple of years? How wonderful for us.
Then there’s the not insignificant factor of being able to engage with other nations at the UN Security Council. Well, that’s just brilliant. For two years we can have greater engagement with the world, a closer proximity that we couldn’t possibly have had without the UN. How our region would love it if we were to focus a little less on it for two years in favour of pretending we have the ability to save the world.
Australia would not just be able to praise or prod other nations with our words, or enjoy a temporary closeness with more of the world, oh no, we would even be able to vote despite the fact that we would only be there and able to vote for two years.
That vote would actually mean something too, sometimes. Sometimes our vote might align with the US, the UK, China, France and Russia. Well, most of the time we are probably going to be saying the same thing as the United States of America and United Kingdom, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, you know, allies and all that diplomatic and defence type stuff.
In other cases our votes might not align with the five permanent members of the Security Council and is that not the best eventuality ever? If just one of those 5 countries decides they do not like a resolution, they are more than welcome to tell a numeric majority of members where to go. That wonderful veto power has the ability to stifle action in some of the most grave matters the Security Council deals with. By doing so, it would render our voice useless.
So there you go. Basically we get to gamble away $25 million, win or lose. That’s great odds as far as gambling goes, for little actual gain if we win. For that price we have the chance to be great pretenders for two years. Twenty-five million dollars will buy us the right to have our middle-power thoughts disregarded from time to time over two years. But that’s okay given that we can share a short closeness with nations we could not possibly have engaged with outside of the Security Council. Then, after two years, everything will go back to the way it was. What then? Money well spent hey?
It seems all too often that we hear of decisive action from the global community in major conflicts being stymied by a remarkably undemocratic voting system in the United Nations Security Council. I speak of course of the veto powers possessed by the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council- USA, UK, France, Russia and China for which the architects of the UN and UN Security Council as well as the broader UN membership should be condemned. At the weekend this ridiculous and never relevant system completely lacking in reason, let alone democracy severely impeded action on the bloodshed in Syria which seems to be becoming more rampant and bloody as the hours and days go by.
The veto power in the UN Security Council applies to all motions which are not of a procedural nature means that if just one single permanent member state of the Security Council votes against a motion, the power defeats the vote of all 14 other nations in the Security Council combined. Over the weekend, 2 nations, Russia and China used this power to defeat the motion on Syria put to the Security Council. That is still only 2 nations out of 15 calling the shots- a grand total of 13.3% of the Council determining what action the majority should take.
So what if anything can be done to remedy this sorry abuse of global political power that should never have happened in the first place? And what are the prospects of success?
It is hard to believe that in the aftermath of World War Two, the powers behind the UN developed a system which would concentrate power into the hands of few, rather than into the hands of the mass of nations. The UN was a product of the idea that future war and conflict needed to be stopped after all wasn’t it?
The good news is that it can be changed by a vote, but the good news is brief when you realise that this vote has to reach ridiculously high proportions in both the General Assembly (UNGA) and the Security Council. It is hard to fathom that for there to be any chance at all of a removal of the veto power that the entire Security Council must be in favour of the change and in the UNGA 2/3 of member states must agree.
It is certainly likely that a change could occur if just the General Assembly were to vote on Security Council voting rules with 2/3 of nations in my view easily coming to an agreement that real power should not be concentrated in the hands of just 5 “powerful” nations. On the other hand the UN Security Council voting in favour of a change is just as likely as me becoming US President- I was not born there nor do I live there.
The simple fact is that few nations, if any, currently with the same level power as the “Big 5” would want to give up the immense power they possess to dictate world security terms to suit their own selfish needs and because of the high bar for change, it is stultified before an argument for change can even be mounted.
Sadly, the sorry state of affairs that is the United Nations Security Council is destined to continue forever more. The architects of the global body are the first to blamed and the 5 permanent Security Council member states at the very least are complicit in perpetuating lack of action in many major conflicts in the past and will continue to be well into the future. It is time for this global body to be reformed and to become democratic.