UN Security Council’s annual reshuffle leaves it deadlocked on U.S. policy

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — In an annual process of diplomatic musical chairs the 193 member UN General Assembly has picked five countries to serve on the Security Council as non-permanent members.  Estonia, Niger, Tunisia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Vietnam were elected to two-year terms on the powerful Council starting next January.

The elections, or rather selections, since most of the seats were unopposed are chosen to reflect regional representation from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.   The members join the fifteen- member Security Council which is responsible for international peace and security and controlled by the permanent five veto holding members, China, France, Russia, the United   Kingdom and the United States.

President Barack Obama chairs a session of the UN Security Council on Sept. 24, 2009. / Wikimedia Commons

While there’s intense behind the scenes lobbying and horse trading by contenders for a place on the prestigious Council, regional groups agree on consensus candidates or new members who never served as in the case of Estonia or the Caribbean island state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Realistically what does this mean in terms of Council balance and, as importantly, its effect on U.S. policy?  Let’s first look at the regional groups.

Africa.  Niger and Tunisia were chosen unopposed.  Both countries are French speaking states particularly affected by Islamic jihadi insurgencies.  As part of the drought ravaged and           insurgency prone Sahel region, Niger confronts dangerous instability.  Tunisia, the North African country which sparked the Arab Spring in 2011, faces a tough transition to representative       government.  Both states can be expected to be in general alignment with France.  The members replace Cote d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea.

Asia-PacificVietnam ran opposed for the single seat currently held by Kuwait. This is the second time the Southeast Asian nation will be on the Council having served a decade ago.

Though Vietnam remains a communist regime, the government in Hanoi has moved decidedly closer to the U.S. in recent years and shares many of East Asia’s fears over Beijing’s territorial encroachments in the disputed South China Sea.

Eastern Europe Estonia trounced Romania in the only competitive race.  The Baltic democracy scored an impressive 132 to 58 in a second secret ballot.  Estonia, whose sovereignty was only restored in 1991 after a long Soviet occupation, has emerged as one of Eastern Europe’s most prosperous and technologically wired countries.

Following the successful vote, Estonia’s President Kersti Kaljulaid stated, it’s an historic moment, and the membership is “another layer on Estonia’s security shield.”  On the Council for the first time, Estonia replaces Poland whose tenure strongly supported Western values.

Latin America/Caribbean.   The Caribbean island state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is yet another first-time Council member.  Known for its strong British Commonwealth connections, the tiny island democracy of only 110,000 people replaces Peru who has distinguished its two-year term with pro-active diplomacy especially in the Venezuelan crisis.   Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, viewed the election of his multi-island state, as an “historic occasion.”

So, what are the likely Council dynamics and moreover what does this new constellation of forces mean for U.S. policy come January?

Given the ongoing political frustrations from ongoing East/West Security Council deadlock, between Britain/France/USA versus both Russia and China, it’s highly unlikely the new  members will create an appreciable tilt away from the current diplomatic logjam on key issues ranging from Syria to Burma (Myanmar), North Korea, Ukraine or Venezuela.

Considering Africa first, the election of Niger and Tunisia replacing Equatorial Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire offers a slight tilt to the U.S. Viewing Asia and Vietnam’s ascent, despite its tortured history with the U.S., does not necessarily pose a setback for Washington at the present time. Given Hanoi’s bumpy relations with Beijing, there are clear points of agreement with the U.S.  Nonetheless in a multilateral UN political format, Vietnam will for the most part not be in accord with Washington. Thus, expect a tilt away from the U.S.

Estonia remains a strong and steadfast U.S. ally.  Much like Poland, Estonia is a member of both NATO and the European Union.  Given that both countries are close American partners, the seat stays in the Positive column.

St. Vincent, though holding strong democratic credentials, has been a vocal critic of U.S. policies towards Cuba as well as Venezuela.  Interestingly though, the Caribbean island still maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan.   However, since it’s replacing Peru, I would presume this is slight tilt away from Washington.

Given the Security Council’s dangerously deadlocked dynamic, it’s time overdue to seek common ground.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]