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Elected Security Council Members: Power, Process, Purpose
Alex Bellamy and Tim Dunne
Ethics and International Affairs
23 October 2012
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 UNSC, the latter five of which have one remaining year to serve. (…)
“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, he 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. (…)
Today, so-called “Arria formula” meetings—developed and championed by Diego Arria, Venezuela’s permanent representative to the Security Council in 1992-1993—are a standard part of the Council’s agenda. (…)
It is also worth remembering that when they act together, the members of the E10 can enjoy their own veto. For even if the P5 find a consensus, they still require four additional votes from the E10, as resolutions require nine affirmative votes to pass.   In theory, therefore, it is possible that the E10 could block even the most determined joint action by the P5 if they so chose.
But even if blocking the P5 is an unlikely scenario, the combined power of the E10 members should not be underestimated. It is worth remembering, for example, that in 2011, as the Security Council debated action over Libya, the E10 included several so-called “rising great powers”: Brazil, India, and South Africa, and Germany, the EU’s indispensable state. India, in particular, sought to use its E10 status to pursue the policies and purposes of rising powers.
How does the weight of the newly elected E10 members compare? Of the five successful candidates, three are pivotal to the security and prosperity of their region—Argentina, Australia, and the Republic of Korea. It is possible that they will find common cause in progressive middle power agenda-setting, such as over arms control and disarmament, development, and the R2P framework for atrocity prevention and response. (…)
Even with more and better quality information about where different countries stand with respect to a basket of UN policies and rules, elections to the Council and to other UN organs and committees are still likely to result in anomalies. But at least those voting in the General Assembly would be making an informed decision about a candidate country’s past record; and let us not forget that knowledge is power.   
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