“Take a seat, Australia”: the UN Security Council

So Australia has a seat on the UN Security Council, again.

It’s been 27 years since Australia last sat on the Council. Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters in Canberra that the win shows our nation has a high international reputation and strong bilateral ties.

“We will be dealing with issues of importance to our nation including the UN engagement with the mission in Afghanistan and the future of that mission beyond 2014,” the PM said.

“And it is the security council which will have to continue to wrestle with the violence in Syria and the way in which that violence can be brought to an end.”

The UNSC is one of the principal instruments of the United Nations and is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security.

It is responsible for the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions and the authorization of military action. It exercises these powers through United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The council is comprised of 15 members: five veto-wielding permanent members and 10 elected non-permanent members with two-year terms.

The permanent members are:

  • China
  • France
  • Russia
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

The permanent members are based on the great powers that were the victors of World War II; apologies to Germany and other countries that were too insignificant in terms of political power, and manpower, to be a player in that conflict.

The current non-permanent members include:

  • Morocco
  • Pakistan
  • Portugal
  • Togo
  • South Africa
  • India
  • Colombia
  • Germany
  • Azerbaijan
  • Guatemala

And as of January 2013, Australia will be included on that list.

At an election held on October 18, five new non-permanent members were chosen to replace those outgoing in the new year.

South Africa, India, Colombia, Germany and Portugal will give up their seats in favour of Rwanda, Republic of Korea, Argentina, Australia and Luxembourg respectively.

To be elected as a non-permanent member of the UNSC, members must be chosen by their regional group and then confirmed by the UN General Assembly. To gain the seat, the candidate must receive at least two thirds of all votes cast for that seat.  Australia belongs to the “Western European and Others” region (this seems ridiculous) and competed against Luxembourg and Finland for one of the two seats available.  Australia won our seat in the first round of voting with 140 votes from 193. Luxembourg beat out Finland in round two of voting with 131 votes.

There are 193 UN member states, divided into five “regional” groups:

  • the African Group (54 member states)
  • the Asia-Pacific Group (53 member states)
  • the Eastern European Group (23 member states)
  • the Latin American and Caribbean Group (33 member states)
  • the Western European and Others Group (28 member states, plus 1 member state as observer)

The African bloc is represented by three members while the Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and Western Europe are represented by two members each. The Eastern European bloc has one representative. However, one of the representatives on the Security Council must be an “Arab country”, alternately from the Asian or African bloc.

But what does all of this mean for Australia?

Australia, a founding member of the UN, has been an active participant in UN institutions for over 65 years and is the 12th largest contributor to the UN regular and peacekeeping budgets. As a nation, we provided the first military personnel as peacekeepers under UN auspices in 1947 to Indonesia. Since then, we have provided more than 65,000 personnel to more than 50 UN and other multilateral peace and security operations. Out of this number, over 30,000 have participated in UN peace operations and more than 20,000 in UN-mandated operations.

Australia has a rich history of dedication to peace and positive international relations. We were one of the eight countries that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; we’ve contributed to the establishment of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and we played an important part in the drafting of the articles of the UN Charter that deals with the Security Council.

Australia is one of the top 10 contributors to the World Health Organisation, World Food Programme, UN Children’s Fund, UN Central Emergency Fund, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and UN Trust Fund for Indigenous Populations.

Having a say on the Security Council in this time of the Arab Spring, and even potentially moving into a Persian Spring, is of fundamental importance to Australia. As contributors to peace through manpower and financial assistance, it is time Australia once again has influence over the resolutions that can influence where and how our aide is directed.

Australia has had this opportunity only four times since the creation of the UN in 1946, the most recent in 1986 during the Hawke Government. But, it’s important for Australians to recognise the opportunity we have. Due to our inclusion in the Western Europe region, it is harder for our fellow UN regional representatives to understand Australia’s unique position on global issues and events. It allows Australia to attempt to bring problems in our own backyard – the Pacific region –  to the attention of the greater, global powers.

At least $24 million was spent in sending additional diplomatic envoys to Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Eastern Europe as Australia wooed those nations in an attempt to ensure our bid was successful. But this seems insignificant compared to the $121 million spent in advertising by the Howard government to explain its WorkChoices laws.

The UNSC bid needs to be seen as an investment. The decisions being made by the council affect Australian interests, and Australia deserves to be counted. We deserve to have our turn to be heard.

What do you think about the UNSC bid? Was it a waste of time or an investment important to our nation’s interests? Let us know in the comment section below, Tweet us @Cheaper_Rubies, send us an email at cheaperthanrubies@gmail.com or Facebook us.

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1 Comment

Filed under Politics in a Pinch

One response to ““Take a seat, Australia”: the UN Security Council

  1. Geoff

    Well it’s better to be in than out.
    But as long as the status quo remains, with certain countries having veto rights, it is a bit pointless.

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