South Korea and Australia were elected to two-year terms on the United Nations Security Council, strengthening the hand of the U.S. with two Pacific allies as it faces tensions with China and North Korea.
Argentina, Rwanda and Luxembourg also were elected yesterday to fill seats on the 15-member Council, the highest decision-making body of the world organization. Bhutan, Cambodia and Finland ran and failed to get enough votes from the UN’s 193 members to win any of the five contested seats.
“Australia and South Korea may be able to act as bridges for more effective diplomacy with the Chinese, and if you have a crisis on the Korean peninsula they will almost certainly line up with the U.S.,” Richard Gowan, associate director at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation said in an interview. Still, he said, if the U.S. and China have a security showdown, Australia and South Korea may find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.
China is Australia’s top trading partner as its demand for iron ore and coal spurs a resources boom. The U.S. is boosting its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region as China’s power grows and is deploying as many as 2,500 Marines in the northern Australian city of Darwin.
Australia will “play a constructive role across the breadth of the Council’s peace and security agenda,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in an e-mailed statement today. The nation’s priorities will include Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and North Korea, and ensuring the effectiveness of sanctions regimes, she said.
South Korea now has “considerable deterrence” against North Korea by being able to directly participate in Security Council discussions, Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan said today in Seoul. Kim Jong Un’s regime has shown no signs of submitting to international calls to abandon its nuclear weapons program despite UN sanctions weighing on its impoverished economy.
Rwanda has been accused by UN rapporteurs of backing a violent ethnic militia, the M23, in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Argentina earlier this year stepped up a public campaign to regain control of the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory that it unsuccessfully invaded in 1982.
Before voting began yesterday, a Congolese diplomat objected publicly to Rwanda’s candidacy, accusing it of harboring war criminals.
The five nations elected yesterday will take their seats at the beginning of the year, replacing Colombia, Germany, India, Pakistan and South Africa, whose terms are expiring.
Power in the Security Council, whose support is needed for the strongest UN actions, such as economic sanctions and armed interventions, rests with the five permanent members, known as the P-5: China, France, the U.K., Russia and the U.S. Each has the power to veto Security Council resolutions, which are legally binding on all UN member states.
The rotating members can approve or reject other Security Council decisions, and are often relied on by the P-5 to build consensus with other member states and to help resolve regional issues.
Terms expire at the end of next year for five other rotating members of the Council: Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo.
The impending departure from the council of Germany, India and South Africa will remove three countries contending for permanent seats on the Council if it ever were to expand, said Karl Inderfurth, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former deputy U.S. representative to the Security Council under President Bill Clinton.
“In that sense, you are losing some important voices,” Inderfurth said in an interview, although none of the three had managed to make the case that their influence would strengthen the council.
Germany voted against authorizing the NATO-led intervention in Libya that stopped Muammar Qaddafi’s forces from bombing their own people, and India and South Africa stalled for months on taking action against the war Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is waging on his own people, Inderfurth said.
“The P-5 were unsettled by the presence of so many other big powers in the council,” said Gowan. Even with the tensions among the P-5, particularly Russia and China’s steadfast opposition to imposing sanctions on Iran and Syria, they have worked together to restore their hold on the council’s agenda, he said.
“The idea two years ago was that the presence of big guys on the council would make a difference, and that proved to be wrong,” Gowan said. “Even the really big differences over Syria haven’t stopped the U.S., China and Russia from working together to make sure they rule the roost at the UN.”