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George Baumgarten

Election at the U.N.: Will Turkey Get Back Onto the Security Council?

By George Baumgarten, U. N. Correspondent, October 15, 2014


This Thursday, 16 October, the United Nations will hold its annual election to choose five new members of the Security Council. The elections are of greater-than-usual interest to the Jewish community, since one of the candidates for a contested seat is Turkey, which has been implacably hostile to the Jewish state in the last several years, though as yet not breaking formal diplomatic relations. This has been especially due to the policies of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister from 2003 to 2014, and President since this past August.


The candidates for the five seats are nominated by their “regional groups”, and elected by the General Assembly.  To be elected in the Assembly, a candidate must receive the votes of not less than two thirds of those members present and voting (i.e., countries abstaining do not count). Thus, in theory, if all 193 members vote, a candidate must receive not less than 129 votes. This year, three of the five candidates for the Council are running on “clean states”: there is but one candidate for each of the three seats. So the African, Asian and Latin American seats will be filled—barring some last-minute or otherwise unforeseen circumstance—by Angola, Malaysia and Venezuela, respectively.


The problem is with the two seats allotted to the “Western European and Other Countries” Group, commonly known in the U.N. as “W.E.O.G.”. That group has nominated three countries—New Zealand, Turkey and Spain—for its two seats, now held by Luxembourg and Australia.


 As the reader may well surmise, “W.E.O.G” is a polyglot group—with the word “Other” standing for all sorts of countries which would not otherwise be geographically appropriate. It includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand, all oceans apart from Western Europe. And it also includes Israel, which was admitted a couple of decades ago, when the Asians were opposed to their membership. Israel, in fact, is up for a Council seat in four years, for the term 2019-’20. But there may be complications, and there is some doubt Israel could get the requisite number of votes. The United States—which is said to often associate or perhaps even caucus with W.E.O.G.—is not a member of any group. Turkey itself would also not seem to fit, but seems to have been admitted decades ago, because of its membership in N.A.T.O.


Since all U.N. member states can vote for these candidates, the election’s outcome will obviously depend on which of those candidates can garner support from parts of the world far from their own. And it’s therefore here that the Africa Group, with its 50-plus members, may well prove to be critical or even decisive. The victorious

candidates may well prove to be those who can attract the greatest number of African supporters.


Based on a small sampling of votes, it seems to this correspondent that if African countries know for whom they will vote, they aren’t telling. None of the three Anglophone East African countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) would make any statement of commitment to me. One went so far as to say that they were still awaiting instructions from their Foreign Ministry. Another African country, currently on the Council, took refuge in the diplomat’s proverbial last resort: “No comment”. And these diplomats may very well never tell. Voting in the General Assembly for Security Council seats is by secret ballot: a Member’s choices are written on a paper ballot, and that ballot is placed in a box, carried around the General Assembly Hall by election monitors.


Jose Ramos-Horta, former President of Timor-Leste (East Timor) and Nobel Co-Laureate in Peace for 1996, has come to New York especially to campaign for New Zealand’s election. I met with Ramos-Horta—whom I’ve known personally for over three decades—in the U.N.’s North Delegates Lounge, just hours before the announcement of this year’s Peace Prize, to Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and India’s Kallash Satyarthi. He has no particular feelings about Spain, but reminded me that Turkey has been both increasingly hostile to Israel, and somewhat indecisive in response to the Islamic State threat. So he particularly—as a Southeast Asian—favors the candidacy of New Zealand. Ramos-Horta has written two articles for the Huffingron Post, for the specific purpose of advocating New Zealand’s candidacy. In the first, published on 30 August, he maintains that it is “Time for A Small Country on the U.N. Security Council”. Ramos-Horta notes that he has “grown up with the Council”, having first addressed it as a 25-year old Foreign Minister-in-Exile, when the Indonesians invaded and brutally occupied his country in 1975.


While he finds the voices of developed nations “indispensable”, Ramos-Horta says that the Security Council is “far too important to be the exclusive club of the powerful”. New Zealand, he feels, would be an exemplary member: egalitarian, fiercely protective of its native people and their culture, 100% literate, with a life expectancy of 80 years. He maintains that “…the world needs small and independent countries with New Zealand’s record to be sitting in the U.N. Security Council”. In the second article (October 16: A Vote to Watch), he notes that while New Zealand has close ties to the U.S. and Britain, it has also, on occasion, been fiercely independent. New Zealand was last a member in 1993-’94, when the Rwanda Genocide was rearing its ugly head, and was among the loudest voices warning of the impending cataclysm.


Spain was last on the Council in 2003-’04, and Turkey as recently as 2009-’10, during which term she brought a complaint against Israel for the “flotilla affair”, in which nine people were killed. Because of the secret ballot—and the reticence of members to reveal their intentions—it is difficult to predict voting in advance. And it will be even harder to predict the long-term effects of this election. Only time will tell.

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