A Place at the Top Table: Australia’s Bid for the UN Security Council

May 10, 2010

In March 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that Australia would be a candidate for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2013–14. The bid has attracted many exaggerated and inconsistent criticisms. However, it would clearly be in Australia’s national interest for us to win a seat on the council – and it would be in the UN’s interest, too.

The Security Council consists of fifteen members: five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and ten members elected for two-year terms. The ten rotating seats are divided among the UN’s various geographical groupings. Australia has sat on the council on four previous occasions, but has not been present since the end of the Cold War. Now it is running for one of the two spots on the council reserved for the members of the Western European and Others Group. The election will take place in October 2012.

Australia has started behind the eight ball: its declared opponents, Luxembourg and Finland, announced their candidacies in 2001 and 2002 respectively. At least fifteen countries have publicly pledged support for Australia’s bid and a number of others are thought to have given private indications.

Getting elected will not be easy. Finland has a good story to tell, given its strong human rights record, generous aid budget and the UN work of prominent Finnish nationals such as Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Luxembourg is significantly smaller than Australia, but as a well-respected contributor which has never sat on the council it is also a formidable opponent. This is not to say that Australia’s task is impossible. Government sources report that it will be a difficult contest but the campaign is off to a credible start.

The truth is, though, that it is difficult for outsiders (and perhaps even for insiders) to draw conclusions about Australia’s chances, given the opaque process and the vote being three years off. There is simply too much campaigning in smoke-filled rooms – or, given that this is the UN, smoke-free rooms – still to come. We can, however, decide whether the candidacy is in the national interest.

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