Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 October 2020

UN Security Council: What is the global body UAE wants to join?

The UAE has declared its candidacy for a non-permanent seat during the 2022-2023 term

The permanent members of the security council include the US, UK, France, Russia and China. EPA
The permanent members of the security council include the US, UK, France, Russia and China. EPA

When Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, announced plans to bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, he fired the starter pistol on months of intensive diplomatic activity for the Gulf nation.

Addressing the UN on Tuesday, Sheikh Abdullah said the UAE sought the “significant responsibility” of a two-year seat on the council for the 2022-2023 term, offering the country’s experience of Middle Eastern crisis management to UN headquarters in New York.

While the UAE is expected to secure the seat without opposition, the selection process can be arduous and will require Abu Dhabi to ramp up its diplomatic outpost in New York and curry favour with the UN’s 192 other members.

The UAE is vying for the so-called “Arab seat” on the 15-nation Security Council, which is allocated by convention within the Arab bloc. The Emirates would effectively replace current placeholder Tunisia after its term finishes at the end of 2021.

Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the International Crisis Group, a think tank, said council membership was a prestigious boost to a country’s “international profile” but the Arab seat could also prove tricky.

“This is an especially sensitive role, as it is seen as channelling the wider Arab bloc's views on regional issues,” Mr Gowan told The National. “That gives the Arab members some extra clout, although it can be a tough balancing act if the Arab bloc is split over a crisis.”

The UAE is expected to run uncontested in a vote of the 193-nation General Assembly, due in the middle of 2021. Unopposed countries still seek high vote scores, so Abu Dhabi will likely spend the coming months bolstering alliances and friendships around the world.

On 1 January 2022, the five, elected non-permanent members will join the council — a 15 nation body of 10 temporary placements and the so-called “P5” permanent members Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France.

The council meets regularly on threats to international peace and security and is the ultimate decision-maker on resolutions imposing international sanctions, authorising the use of military force and launching peacekeeping operations.

To be adopted, resolutions need at least nine votes in favour and no vetoes from a P5 member. The council is often deadlocked on issues where great powers disagree, such as wars in Syria and Ukraine, and on the coronavirus pandemic.

The council is often bashed for failing to act in a crisis. Critics say it gives too much power to the P5 countries that emerged victorious 75 years ago at the end of the Second World War, but successive efforts to reform the body in recent decades have failed to gain traction.

As a council member, the UAE would have a voice — and a vote — at the UN’s top table. It would have face-time with diplomats from the US, China and other heavyweights, and be involved in monitoring sanctions against such countries as North Korea and Iran.

“For two years, the P5 has to take all UNSC members seriously, even if the P5 makes most big decisions,” said Mr Gowan. “It gives you a window on geopolitics which most UN members don't have day-to-day, and makes you focus on crises you’d otherwise ignore.”

At least once, the UAE would hold the council’s presidency, which rotates each month. Aside from 55 hours of sit-down meetings each month, much time is spent in closed-door consultations, sub-committees, working groups, bilateral meets and drafting resolutions.

The council tackles conflict globally. Its case file includes hotspots that are key to UAE foreign policy, such as Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, and Lebanon, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Iranian arms-building.

“The UN is struggling to stay relevant to many crises in the Middle East, with UN mediators struggling to make peace across the region,” said Mr Gowan.

“Russia and China are increasingly assertive in discussions of Middle Eastern affairs. Diplomats will want to see if the UAE has a plan to support some political settlements in the countries on the council agenda.”

Addressing a New York-based think tank this week, Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said the UAE’s record on peace-making with Israel, tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and peaceful pursuit of atomic energy “speaks for itself”.

“The region will emerge from Covid scarred, bruised, weaker and I would also say less prosperous,” Dr Gargash told an online session of the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday.

Emirati diplomats on the UN Security Council would put “politics and diplomacy ahead of kinetic conflict” and offer a “different narrative” of prosperity, security and “healing” for the turbulent Middle East, he said.

Updated: September 30, 2020 07:06 PM

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