UN Security Council’s Musical Chairs

John Metzlerby John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer

UNITED NATIONS—In its annual selection process, the full General Assembly has picked five countries to serve as non-permanent members on the UN Security Council. Importantly,

Egypt, Japan and Ukraine as well as Senegal and Uruguay were chosen as the new members who will serve two year terms on the powerful fifteen-member Security Council.

Though none of the seats faced elections this year, the process of diplomatic musical chairs allows for both regional representation as well as all countries to have an opportunity to serve on and influence Council proceedings. Thus each year, five states are selected/elected among the UN’s 193 members. The countries participate alongside the permanent members Mainland China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States.

So let’s take a look at the new members representing the regional groups.

Africa: Egypt has been selected for a seat. Though a UN founding member and a political powerhouse in the Arab world, surprisingly the Cairo government has not had held the coveted Council seat this century; the last time Egypt was on the Council was back in the 1990’s . Egypt’s political importance is unquestioned; the country hosts the regional Arab League. Egypt’s government under General al-Sisi has played a key role against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Islamic extremism throughout the Middle East.

Senegal a West African democracy was selected too. A close ally of France and a prominent member of the Francophone group of French-speaking states, Senegal plays a positive regional role. Egypt and Senegal will replace Chad and Nigeria soon leaving the Council.

Asia: Japan has been re-elected to a non-permanent role to the Council. Japan, the second largest donor state to the United Nations, has been a regular rotating Council member and served as recently as 2010. Though Japan remains committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes, global development, and foreign economic assistance, Japan’s government has taken a more robust political posture in a number of disputes with Mainland China. Japan replaces Jordan whose tenure was marked by astute and pro-active diplomacy.

Latin America/Caribbean states: Here’s a surprise. After fifty years, Uruguay is back on the Council. Uruguay, a Latin American democracy, was last on the decision making body in its 1965-66 session. Though largely in the shadow of Latin American giants such as Argentina and Brazil, little Uruguay nonetheless has been a major contributor to UN peacekeeping operations. Chile, a regional democracy, is exiting the Council at year’s end.

Eastern Europe: In what’s a surprise, Ukraine wins the Eastern European seat. Though serving on the Council in 2001, Ukraine was not then in a politico/military conflict with neighboring Russia, a veto holding Permanent Council member. Ukraine has a myriad of disputes with Moscow including, the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine where Russian-backed separatist rebels have seized territory, the Crimean Peninsula occupied by Russia last year from Ukrainian sovereignty, and the controversy over the Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukrainian territory by Moscow-backed rebels. Ukraine replaces Lithuania on the Council.

So what do the new members mean for American policy? Let’s review. Egypt is a clear win for the U.S. Though the traditionally good ties between Washington and Cairo have been strained in the past few years, Egypt can still be expected to play a positive role in the current Middle East political chaos. So this is a clear gain over Nigeria. So too for Senegal. The government in Dakar, while traditionally close to France, has far more regional clout than impoverished Chad, which it replaces. For the U.S. then, both Egypt and Senegal are positives.

Japan equally offers the U.S. a policy win. Though the current government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has played its nationalist card in Asia, its overall policy parameters are in close sync with Washington. Japan replacing Jordan offers a even outcome, both being close allies.

Uruguay, will likely be neutral for the USA as it replaces Chile who has been much closer to Washington. As a vibrant democracy, Uruguay can be expected to be a fair arbitrator in regional disputes.

Ukraine, though leaning to the USA can offer an unintended consequence. Given its current conflicts with Russia, the Kiev government’s Council membership can either offer a venue for the peaceful settlement of disputes or to the contrary, a venue for a heightened showdown with the Russians. Ukraine replacing Lithuania offers an even outcome as both countries are close to Washington.

The new non-permanent Council members assume their two year terms in January 2016.

The UN, now celebrating its 70th anniversary, has a revamped political lineup in the Council.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He’s the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.