Australia’s bid for an elected seat on the UN Security Council, to be decided after this issue of News Weekly goes to press, will do nothing to advance Australia’s long-term interests and is hopelessly misconceived.
The bid was launched by Kevin Rudd after his election as Prime Minister in 2007, as evidence of his activist stance as Prime Minister and to give him a platform on the international stage.
It was launched five or six years after the other two contenders, Finland and Luxembourg from Western Europe, publicly launched their bids and began the job of corralling votes for the post.
According to the federal government, it has spent around $25 million in trying to buy support for the bid, mainly in the form of aid funds for countries in Africa and the Caribbean. Others put the cost much higher.
But the money has almost certainly been wasted, because votes are decided on the basis of future commitments, not past spending. And because it is a secret ballot, Australia will never know how particular countries voted.
There will be two non-permanent members of the Security Council from the West European and Others Group of 28 nations, of which 23 are West European, along with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Israel and Turkey.
Both Finland and Luxembourg are members of the European Union, and both are members of the eurozone. Some people seem to believe that since they are minnows in Europe, the votes of the Europe bloc could well go to Australia.
This is naïve. The fact that they are small countries means that they will represent the EU bloc within the UN, and will not try to differentiate their position from that of other EU nations — as Australia has done in its bid. They threaten no one, and will push the policies of the EU.
Votes for the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council take place every two years, and are decided by complex negotiations between the five permanent members and leaders of each of the five voting blocs who effectively control who gets elected.
The votes of some of these blocs will have been locked in — even before Australia began campaigning for a seat.
Australia’s bid to secure votes from individual countries is fundamentally misguided. Her Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not seem to understand this.
As Danielle Cave from the Lowy Institute pointed out recently, “China analysts and the bulk of the private sector may also be wondering why, over the past two years, our foreign ministers have visited Ethiopia, Egypt, France, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Italy, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Switzerland as many times or more than they have China.
“Why have they spent portions of 2011-12 in Lithuania, El Salvador, Hungary, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Oman, Malta and Liechtenstein when our high-level engagement with top partners, China, India, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, is already so lacking?”
She said: “Flicking through the flight paths of our parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs is even more alarming — it’s jammed full of visits to countries inconsequential to Australian foreign, trade, security and aid policy but important for Australia’s Security Council bid.
“Providing aid to Latin America and the Caribbean is another example of Australia’s sidetracked international policy that can be attributed at least partly to the bid.”
The only way in which Australia could secure election would be if there was overwhelming support from other countries, or if there was a split in the European bloc. At the time of writing, neither has happened.
A further issue is that having a seat on the UN Security Council, without the strong backing of a powerful voting bloc, would leave Australian foreign policy at the mercy of whoever was able to exercise economic and political power over us.
For example, if Australia were to vote on a resolution relating to the territorial dispute over islands located between Taiwan, China and Japan in the East China Sea, it would likely antagonise one or other of our major regional economic partners.
Equally, a vote on Israeli settlements in the West Bank could antagonise either Israel (which has promised to vote for Australia) or the Arab bloc.
And the Prime Minister’s decision to link the UN vote with our involvement in Afghanistan will have already cost us votes in north Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Issues could also arise which would undermine the close relationship between Australia and the US, particularly where China’s economic interests were at stake.
Australia’s Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, was recently quoted as saying that ego was a prime motivator in our bid for a UN Security Council seat. It would be a stunning blow if we were beaten for a Security Council seat by Luxembourg, a country with fewer than 600,000 people.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.