In 2020, Norway will stand for election to the UN Security Council for the period 2021-2022. In connection with the election campaign, both advantages and disadvantages are discussed, but what does it really mean to be an elected member of the UN Security Council?
- How does the Security Council work?
- How can a state be elected?
- What is positive and what is negative about being a member?
- And should Norway get a place?
The Security Council is a supranational body that can adopt binding decisions for all 193 UN member states. The task of the Security Council is to safeguard international peace and security, and the Council may order the use of military force. The UN Security Council is therefore the closest we come to an international world police force.
The Security Council consists of 15 members, of which five are permanent and have a veto. The permanent members of the United States, Russia, Great Britain, China and France have been members of the Security Council since its establishment in 1945. The remaining ten seats are for elected members. These states sit for two years at a time and rotate between all UN member states through a geographical distribution method. Each year, five of the ten elected members are replaced by five new members. The election is decided at the UN General Assembly, where two thirds of the member states must vote yes for the country to be elected to the Security Council. There is great prestige in a membership, and states often spend many years and large political and economic resources on the election campaign, both at the delegations in New York and in all other member countries around the world.
2: Skewed distribution of power
Today, the international rules of the game are being challenged from several angles, and these challenges are reflected in the Security Council. Among other things, we see that the dynamics among the five permanent members are not the same as before. Relations between Russia and the United States have not deteriorated since the Cold War, while confidence between the formerly united Western group (the United States, France and Britain) has fallen since Trump became president of the United States and Britain voted in favor of “Brexit”. This makes it more important than before that the elected members are ready to play a greater role in the Security Council.
This is easier said than done, because the ten elected members of the Security Council are often countries with very different backgrounds and interests. Several have also pointed out how the elected members have lost much of their influence due to informal processes and skewed distribution of power in the council. In recent years, however, it seems that the elected members “kick back”, and today they appear to a greater extent as a united and structured group, among other things by starting with their own monthly meetings. In 2018, the elected members also had a meeting in South Africa, where the sitting members prepared the next five five on how the group could play a larger role in 2019. In addition, some countries have taken a leadership role in the elected member group. Germany, for example, came in as an elected member of the Security Council in January 2019, and has already challenged the five permanent members to relinquish some of their power. This indicates that the elected members no longer accept the skewed distribution of power in the Security Council and actively seek ways to improve the Council’s work and methods.
3: Challenges Norway may face in the Security Council
The election campaign of the Security Council is often highlighted as a negative element in a possible membership. The media highlights the costs, voice exchanges in the back room and anonymous choices. An overall campaign can also affect foreign policy in that the country becomes more careful in directing criticism at other countries in order to avoid losing their votes in the General Assembly. An important assessment is therefore whether the resources invested in the election campaign for an elected seat in the Security Council are justified by what the country can achieve through a two-year membership.
The power structure in the Security Council is a clear challenge for elected members. As I said, the permanent members of the Security Council have a veto, which means that a decision does not go through if one of the permanent members votes no. The right of veto was given to the victorious countries after World War II in 1945, and many believe that the Security Council does not represent the world as it looks today. The right of veto is usually used in cases where there is talk of big politics and strong interests in the permanent member states. For example, Russia is allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and blocks most attempts to resolve Syria in the Security Council. Some therefore believe that the elected members can only influence issues outside of big politics, so-called thematic issues such as women, peace and security and protection of civilians.
The permanent members also have greater knowledge and experience of the Security Council’s procedures and case load, which indicates that the elected members have little influence compared to the five permanent members. The veto countries have years of experience in the issues raised in the Security Council, with large delegations and networks. When a country becomes a member of the Security Council, it will have to familiarize itself with the formal case processing rules and cases that are already being processed. It is therefore challenging for the new member state to discuss the matter in a good way.
In addition to the fixed power structure, there are also a number of informal structures that the elected members must deal with. It is often in reality through informal meetings and communication in the back room that decisions are made. Here, the diplomats’ personal abilities are put to the test, and experience and knowledge of procedures are central. Several of the informal structures have developed into customs (unwritten rules), which reinforces the already skewed division of power in the council. For example, since 2008, a pen holder scheme has emerged outside the Security Council’s formal working methods. In practice, the pen holder scheme means that the five permanent members are responsible for the various matters in the Security Council, especially the three western ones – the United States, the United Kingdom and France. This prevents the elected members from taking the initiative and formulating decisions.
4: What Norway can achieve as a member
Despite the fact that some believe that Norway will not get enough in return for the resources invested in the election campaign, there is much to be gained from being an elected member of the UN Security Council – if one knows how to use it.
- Networking and status
The Security Council functions as a security policy forum, where the ambassadors and experts from the 15 member countries meet every day. This creates a unique opportunity for communication between the elected and permanent members, but also with other member states, the UN Secretariat and various organizations. In addition, the member country has also used large resources to establish strong ties with other member countries through several years of campaigning, and therefore gets a large network through this work. The election campaign and a seat on the Security Council also make the member state more visible to other UN member states. The meetings of the Security Council receive a great deal of media coverage, and the member states can advance their positions on all political issues. As a member of the Security Council, you can therefore increase your own status in international politics.
- Promote national interests
The Security Council also provides a platform to promote its own interests and values. During the year, the leadership of the Security Council rotates between the members. This means that an elected member can sit as leader up to twice during his two-year term. In this role, you have the opportunity to design the Security Council’s program and emphasize your own issues. Sweden, for example, chaired the Security Council twice during its membership, focusing on women’s rights, children in armed conflict and the climate issue – issues that probably would not otherwise end up on the Security Council’s agenda. As an elected member of the Security Council, it is therefore possible to promote the issues the country is passionate about.
- Increased influence
Although it seems difficult for elected members to have influence in highly political matters, it is not impossible. An example is the difficult situation between the permanent members regarding Syria. In 2013, the elected members pushed Australia and Luxembourg to be pen holders for the humanitarian situation in Syria. This is the first time elected members have been pen holders, and they have passed on this role to new elected members. In 2017 and 2018, Sweden was one of the pen holders in the case, and despite high tensions among the permanent members of the Security Council, Sweden managed, among other things, to get through decisions on humanitarian access in Syria.
The decision was surprising because the situation in Syria has been completely locked in the Security Council. Tensions between different parties to the conflict exist both within and outside the Security Council’s walls. Initially, it is difficult to influence long-term international conflicts, but it would probably be even more difficult without a discussion platform. In the Security Council, the powerful countries have to hear everyone’s arguments, and sometimes elected members can gain support for their proposals and views. The elected members’ efforts in the Syria case show that one can have an increased influence in the formulation of international politics, even in the most difficult cases.
5: What role can Norway play?
Norway has a history in the Security Council, and has been a long-standing political and economic partner in the UN. The UN’s first secretary general was the Norwegian Trygve Lie. He established the UN in New York and made sure that the hall where the Security Council meets was designed by Norwegian artists. Norway has also been a member of the council four times – the last time in 2001-2002. In 2018, Norway launched its candidacy for the Security Council, in competition with Canada and Ireland for two western seats. If Norway is chosen to sit at the famous horseshoe table in June 2020, it will be 20 years since the last time.
Norway is a small country if you calculate by size and population, but Norway has other resources that allow us to have a more influential role in the Security Council than the size would suggest. Within the law of the sea, development policy and peace and reconciliation policy, Norway is a larger player than many larger countries. Norway also has a large foreign service with diplomats all over the world, and solid expertise in the UN system. This means that Norway enters the Security Council with great knowledge, and can take on the role of expert in several areas and promote openness and efficiency.
Small countries such as Norway can often play a mediating role in the Security Council. Norway has the advantage that large parts of foreign policy and values overlap with the UN’s values and goals, and Norway will therefore be perceived as an impartial country without underlying interests. This makes it easier to build bridges in difficult cases.
Through membership in the Security Council, Norway can contribute to drawing attention to the Nordic region and Europe. Norway has an important place in NATO, but is not a member of the EU. Norway can therefore often be perceived as a country with an independent voice.
6: Balancing between resource use and opportunities
The UN is not perfect, but it is the only forum where all the countries of the world are members. It is therefore difficult to see a better alternative than the Security Council for safeguarding international peace and security, despite weaknesses in the Council and several challenges in the event of membership. A traditional distribution of power and informal processes make it difficult for elected members to achieve influence and change. This may suggest that Norway’s resources can be used better elsewhere in foreign policy.
But if Norway uses its eventual membership in the Security Council wisely, and manages to take a central role in the group with the elected members, you can still achieve a lot through a two-year membership. In addition, it is interesting to come in as an elected member of the Security Council at a time when the group of elected members are active and working together for opportunities for influence. Elected members can achieve both increased status, larger networks and influence in important matters. The most important argument for membership, however, is probably the responsibility to support and develop the UN system. The current political situation requires countries to take responsibility for improving the work of the Security Council and international cooperation between states. Here Norway can and should take responsibility.
Facts about elections to the UN Security Council
- The UN Security Council has 15 members, five permanent members (France, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and ten countries elected by the UN General Assembly for two years at a time.
- The seats are divided into regional groups: three seats for the African group, two seats for the Asia-Pacific group, two for the Latin American and Caribbean group, two for Western European and other countries (Western group) and one for Eastern European countries. .
- Norway is part of the West Group, which has two seats in the election for the period 2021-2022. Three candidates compete for the two places in the Western Group (Canada, Ireland and Norway).
- The election for the period 2021-2022 will take place at the UN General Assembly in June 2020. All 193 UN member states have the right to vote. The choice is secret.
- Norway has been a member of the Security Council four times before: 1949-50, 1963-64, 1979-80 and 2001-02.
According to AbbreviationFinder, these are members of the UN Security Council today:
- The Dominican Republic
- Ivory Coast
- Equatorial Guinea
- Great Britain
- South Africa