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New UN Security Council Members

On 28 June 2016, the 193 members of the United Nations General Assembly elected Sweden, Bolivia, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan as two-year, non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. After five rounds of voting, the final spot was a dead heat so a compromise was met, with Italy set to serve in 2017 and the Netherlands in 2018.

The new members will serve alongside the five veto-wielding permanent members—the US, China, Russia, France and the UK—as well as the remaining five non-permanent members—Egypt, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is the UN’s most powerful organ and is tasked with the responsibility to maintain world peace and security. In responding to threats to international peace, the UNSC may take a number of measures including the deployment of peacekeepers, the use of sanctions and in exceptional circumstances, the use of force.

Each new UNSC member represents a different region and brings its own concerns, contributions and priorities to the table. In May this year, vying members pitched their candidacy at the UNSC’s first open election debates. These debates are among recent measures to improve transparency and accountability in UN processes and complement the live debates held in anticipation of the election of the new UN Secretary-General.

Sweden is a welcome addition to the council, given its long and respected history with the UN and its demonstrated commitment to UN peace missions. Even with its comparatively small population, more than 80,000 Swedes have served on UN peace missions. Sweden is also the sixth largest provider of assessed and voluntary contributions to the UN and is the only current UNSC member to pledge more than 1 per cent of its gross national income to development assistance. It continues to be one of the world’s largest humanitarian donors. Sweden has promised to focus on conflict prevention and resolution and in addition has particular interest in sustainable development and action against climate change.

The remaining seat in the Western Europe and Others Group will be held in a shared capacity by Italy and the Netherlands. Although uncommon, this situation is not unprecedented with Poland and Turkey first sharing a seat in 1960-61. While some difficulties may arise since each country has only one year to implement its agenda, this diplomatic compromise has generally been well-received and represents international cooperation and pragmatism. Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni noted that it symbolically demonstrated “a message of unity between two European countries.”

Italy is expected to show leadership in dealing with the refugee crisis in a humanitarian manner having itself been an epicentre of migrant arrivals in the last year. Italy is also a key player in the fight against terrorism, violent extremism and transnational organised crime. Home to the International Criminal Court and similar institutions, the Netherlands’ agenda focuses on the interconnection between peace, justice and development, as well as promotion of the international legal order.

Both Ethiopia and Bolivia, representing the African Group and the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States respectively, won their bids uncontested. While organisations such as Human Rights Watch have criticized Ethiopia’s suppression of peaceful protest, including this year’s Oromo protests, others have noted its important role in regional and continental peace and security as well as its immense contribution to UN peacekeeping. Ethiopia, a founding member of the UN, has been endorsed by the African Union and has promised to work proactively towards UNSC reforms.

Bolivia, with the backing of Latin American and Caribbean countries, received 183 votes and has indicated an emphasis on human rights and the protection of vulnerable people. Bolivia is also concerned with environmental sustainability, its interrelationship with peace and security and the importance of including the perspective of all relevant stakeholders.

After two rounds of voting, Kazakhstan won the final seat for the Asia-Pacific, against Thailand. Kazakhstan has long advocated counter-terrorism measures plus disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation. Despite these credentials, Kazakhstan has also been criticized for its restrictions on freedom of expression and political participation. These are serious violations and on 14 July, the UN Human Rights Committee made several recommendations in its review of Kazakhstan as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is expected that Kazakhstan, as a signatory to the covenant and now as a non-permanent member to the UNSC, will swiftly implement these recommendations.

The new members of the UNSC constitute a regionally representative slice of the world, each with a unique agenda but driving for a common purpose. They represent humanity’s diversity yet in the spirit of international cooperation will have work together as a team to steward the UN Security Council in maintaining global peace and security at this important time.

Matthew Kronborg is the executive director of the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA). This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.

Published July 26, 2016