Beyond UN Security Council membership

Beyond UN Security Council membership

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), with its five veto-wielding permanent members and 10 non-permanent members elected for two years, is considered the supreme and most prestigious body in world affairs. Membership in the council provides visibility and prestige, as well as a strong voice over issues on the U.N. agenda. This is why the candidates prepare special campaigns, make promises and engage in behind-the-scenes deals to get elected as a non-permanent member.

The council initially had six non-permanent members, but the number was increased to 10 in 1963. Demands for further reform, especially about the membership and voting systems and veto power, have been widely debated for years, both in academia and among the permanent members. Although some countries such as Germany, Japan, India and Brazil have been named as possible additions for a permanent seat, the prospects for a change still remain bleak.

As it is, the non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly, where members have a single vote. Seats are allocated by geography: Five to Africa and Asia, one to Eastern Europe, two to Latin America and the Caribbean, and two to the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG). Every year, five non-permanent members are elected to the UNSC. A candidate needs at least two-thirds of the available votes, at least 129 votes, to get elected.

Several issues are considered during the elections: The contribution of candidates to the U.N. system; their involvement in the maintenance of international peace and security; the financial resources of the candidates to support various U.N. programs; whether the candidate is a party to an international conflict; candidates’ prestige and influence in international politics; and finally the various promises that candidates make to member countries. The voting patterns of blocs are also important, as in the case of EU members voting for other EU members.

The latest election of five non-permanent members for 2015-2016 took place on Oct. 16. Angola, Malaysia, Venezuela, New Zealand and Spain were elected to replace the outgoing Rwanda, South Korea, Argentina, Australia and Luxembourg. While the election for the first three seats were a forgone conclusion as Angola, Malaysia and Venezuela were running uncontested, three candidates were competing for the remaining two WEOG seats. As New Zealand was elected in the first round with 145 votes, Spain and Turkey was left to compete for the remaining seat. After another two rounds, Spain was elected with 132 votes to Turkey’s 60 votes, (Turkey got 109 votes in the first round and 72 votes in the second round). Since Turkey was elected to the UNSC in 2009-10 with 151 votes in the first round, 60 votes in the third round this time was particularly disappointing for the Turkish government, more so because the promises that were given before the vote added up to 140 votes.

In retrospect, it seems a mistake to run for another term so soon after 2009-10. No country from the WEOG was able to successfully do it before, and only a few from other regions (i.e., Nigeria, India, Argentina, Japan, South Africa and Venezuela) were able to retake a UNSC seat within five years. What's more, the unwritten rule of not electing a conflict-prone country, or one that may become a party to an international conflict during its membership term, also seems to play a role in the voting preferences.

Besides the rumors about Saudi Arabia and Egypt lobbying against Turkey, recent turmoil in and around Turkey, as well as the downward trend in Turkey’s international prestige since 2008, played a role.

This marks Turkey's latest setback in the international arena after the failure of İzmir’s candidature for EXPO 2015 and Istanbul’s bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Is it not the right time for Turkey to reassess its position in global politics, as well as in its neighborhood?