Game of musical chairs in Security Council vote did not favor U.S. interests

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By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — In its annual round of diplomatic musical chairs, the General Assembly chose five new members for the coveted seats on the Security Council, the UN’s most prestigious body. The new members, Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Venezuela begin their two year terms starting in January 2015.

But beyond what even some diplomats see as an almost pro forma shuffling of the deck for the fifteen member Council, the seats are selected both for geographical balance and equity in the 193 member state world organization. In fact, the seats often reflect political influence as much as high stakes behind the scenes bargaining in regional blocs.

Venezuela's delegation celebrates after winning a seat on the UN Security Council. / Getty
Venezuela’s delegation celebrates after winning a seat on the UN Security Council. / Getty

Though the Council’s real power core rests with the permanent five P-5 members, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, all of whom hold the powerful veto, there’s an additional ten non- permanent members, five of which are selected annually.

According to some wags, a campaign for such a seat costs up to $20 million but in the long run is worth it. Not only does the elected country gather higher profile globally with a place at the green felt table of diplomacy, but especially for developing states, is worth a treasure trove of economic development aid as a way to woo their votes.

So let’s take a look at the continents, the players and the winners.

Africa. Angola, a petroleum rich former Portuguese colony, was elected unopposed. Though still an authoritarian government lubricated both by petro dollars and corruption, Angola is not the socialist firebrand it was during the post-colonial era.

As part of the Portuguese speaking, Lusophone world, Angola can be expected to be a team player with Portugal and Brazil.

Asia/Pacific. Malaysia, a multi-ethnic moderate Muslim state ran unopposed for the Asian seat. Though an economic powerhouse, Malaysia has seen itself buffeted by ill fortune with two horrible airline disasters during a six month period. Malaysia’s credentials as an economic development model are widely respected. Moreover, Malaysia’s strong commitment to UN peacekeeping operations has gained friends. The Kuala Lumpur government has participated in thirty such operations with 29,000 soldiers participating over the years.

Malaysia replaces the Republic of Korea whose tenure comes to an end; the Seoul government has participated in a tumultuous but crucial Council role.

Latin America. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela garnered the Latin seat. Despite being blocked by the Bush Administration in 2006 with a withering 48 ballot knockdown contest, this time the Caracas government won unopposed.

Though the Obama team is not happy about the Venezuelan victory, they did not try to block it via backing another regional candidate.

Besides being a political comrade of Castro’s Cuba, Venezuela’s socialist regime is close to Mainland China and Russia. Though Venezuela was one of the founders of the UN, in recent years and especially during the rule of the late Hugo Chavez, the country has descended deeper into poverty and social conflict. Venezuela replaces Argentina on the Council.

Both Angola and Venezuela have dismal human rights and media freedom records.

In each of the above cases a secret ballot guaranteed a vote for picking one out of one choice.

West European and Others. This was the true political contest: select two out of three candidates.

New Zealand, a founding member of the UN was superbly qualified for the seat and won. When it comes to humanitarian aid and peacekeeping missions, New Zealand is one of the global good guys. Their election, putting them back in the Council for the first time in 20 years, is richly merited. New Zealand replaces Australia whose two-year stint was indeed impressive during these trying times.

Spain also with strong UN credentials has been a powerful supporter of the organization; during the past 25 years almost 140,000 Spanish troops have served in UN peacekeeping missions. Spain strongly backed by the European Union, won.

Turkey, posed a more problematic choice. Though the Turks have played a helpful and hospitable humanitarian role for Syrian refugees, the Ankara government has been mired in the vortex of Mideast politics. Equally the country’s Islamic-lite government has tilted the political balance away from Turkey’s formerly staunchly secular political model. Many UN delegates remain quietly nervous about what is seen as the creeping authoritarian in President Erdogan’s Turkey.

So what does this mean for U.S. Policy? Angola replaces Rwanda; negative. Malaysia replaces South Korea; slight loss. Venezuela replaces Argentina; negative. New Zealand replaces Australia; even. Spain replaces Luxembourg; even.

A re-shuffled Security Council deck faces unprecedented challenges in the upcoming year.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for He is the author of “Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany; Korea, China”, 2014

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