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Power, Process, Purpose: Elected Members of the Security Council Can Be Effective

By Alex Bellamy, Tim Dunne | Ethics & International Affairs | October 23, 2012

CREDIT: Bjørn Smestad (CC).

This is the season when the UN General Assembly becomes something of a diplomatic pageant, as the candidates for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council vie with each other for what in many respects is the biggest prize of all: a seat at the table. For 2013 and 2014, five countries—Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, the Republic of Korea, and Rwanda—join Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan, and Togo as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, the latter five of which have one year remaining to serve.

Candidate countries engage in long and drawn-out campaigns to garner promises of support when it comes to the vote—promises that are undeclared and sometimes unfulfilled. While capitals produce pamphlets showcasing their countries contribution to the UN, their domestic publics tend to focus on the mundane materiality of the anticipated costs and benefits of membership.

"Why bother?" This question is frequently posed in national newspapers and on blog sites. Below we set out a number of answers to this question, and in so doing, reveal several under-studied aspects of non-permanent members' role: their agenda-setting power, the influence they are able to exert over the Permanent Five (P5), and whether it is meaningful to consider the Elected Ten (E10) as a grouping with a shared identity and common purposes.

The first and most obvious point to make about the E10 is that it is the "other" to the P5. These global powers have, by virtue of Article 23 of the UN Charter, a double privilege: a permanent place at the table, and decisive influence that is given to them by their veto power.

By comparison, the non-permanent members are hardly ever noticed outside of the small world of international diplomacy, with the only notable exception being when the U.S. scrambled for votes in support of the 2003 Iraq War—a state of affairs which catapulted the E10 to global prominence.

Nonetheless, when they are prepared to work hard and innovate, non-permanent members can leave an indelible mark on the Council. During its stint on the Council in 1999–2000, Canada pioneered two critically important initiatives that not only improved the effectiveness of the Council, but also contributed to the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Through its activism on the Angola sanctions committee it introduced the notion of "naming and shaming" states that failed to comply with the Security Council's demands. This led to a dramatic improvement in the effectiveness of the sanctions regime targeting UNITA; it also created a precedent followed by other sanctions committees.

Since then targeted financial sanctions and asset freezes have proven to be highly effective tools. Canada also championed the adoption of the protection of civilians as a thematic agenda item. Thanks to this initiative, the Council continues its ongoing consideration of the issue, which has helped prompt the UN to mainstream protection in its peacekeeping and humani...

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Read More: Democracy, Diplomacy, Human Rights, Security, War, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Guatemala, India, Iraq, Korea (South), Luxembourg, Morocco, Pakistan, Rwanda, South Africa, Togo, United States, Global

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