On Easter Sunday, I was sitting on the bank of the Omo River with Major Kiros Hadush and Sergeant Abreham, listening to their reminiscences of service in Liberia wearing the famous Blue Helmets of UN peacekeepers. Their talk carried me away into the forests of Liberia. I was like a fly on a wall as they discussed their mission in Liberia. Their memories were both good and bad but, above all, I learnt what it means to wear a Blue Helmet and what it really means when an Ethiopian soldier wears one. They were very clear. “It is a huge responsibility”, they agreed, “you must discharge it with the highest sense of ethics and professionalism”. And they and their other colleagues in many areas of the world have done just that.
And Blue Helmet operation starts in New York City, but resonates around the globe. Since its inception in 1945, the United Nations has entrusted matters related to global peacemaking to the United Nations Security Council. At the home of the United Nations, this most powerful Council meets regularly to deliberate and decide on issues pertaining to the major security matters around the world. The United Nations Security Council is the most powerful organ of the UN, capable of passing resolutions that bind all member and non-member states. Given the council’s power to authorize multilateral sanctions and military action, its members have played a major role in some of the more significant world events of the past seventy years, from the Korean War to the recent bombing of Libya. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) remains the world’s most important source of legitimacy for international action.
The Security Council, of course, has no military power of its own, though it does have a moral force codified in international law. Its legitimacy emanates from its moral force and credibility to assess security situations in the world. Apart from the five permanent members, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (P5), designated as the primary guardians of the “world order”, there are ten seats for others to represent the rest of the world. Who else sits on the Council as non-permanent members is the million-dollar question asked every two years. The UN charter makes no mention of geographic representation as a consideration for permanent membership rather “victors of the World War II”, but provides ten additional seats elected for two-year terms based on contributions to peace and security, with regional consideration.
There are many popular misunderstandings regarding non-permanent representation. To begin with, there is a widespread assumption that UNSC non-permanent membership is rotational. However, selection is by election, and countries can devote a great deal of political, financial and human capital to obtain a seat at the Council. Kazakhstan set up a special website in 2013 to support its bid for a seat in 2017-18; Ethiopia, last year, set up an ad hoc Directorate General to organize its campaign for non-permanent membership. Countries have to win the support of two thirds of the UN General Assembly to serve at the Council. Members of the Permanent Five (P5) are believed to have a veto power over selection; in fact, they have no power over the election process at all. For instance, Cuba and Syria in 1989 and 2001 respectively won their Council seats they did so in face of the US’ clear disapproval. There is an assumption that regions select their representatives, but history shows that a country can self-nominate and run against another country with regional endorsement. In 2006, Guatemala, which had a regional endorsement, faced a strong challenge from Venezuela, a self-nominated candidate. This led to the choice of a compromise candidate, Panama. The same thing happened in 1984 when there was a deadlock between Ethiopia and Somalia paving the way for Madagascar as a compromise candidate. There is no pattern, no veto, no regional endorsement that necessarily determines success. Only a two-thirds majority in the UN General Assembly guarantees a Council seat.
Factors such as UNSC procedures, commitment to the maintenance of international peace and security, the involvement of a given state in peacekeeping operations, and political history, have always determined the ability to gain General Assembly endorsement and secure a Security Council seat.
UNSC procedure has it that the UNSC is composed of 5 permanent seats and 10 non-permanent ones which go to East Europe, West Europe, Other Groups, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. The UN procedure has it that even with a clean slate candidacy, the ability to win over a strong majority determines the country’s ticket to the Council as Ethiopia demonstrated in 1967 and 1989.
The UN charter, Chapter V, article 23, section 1, specifically calls on all members of the UNGA to elect UNSC members on the basis of their mere contribution to “the maintenance of international peace and security”. This can be elaborated further in terms of a nation’s contribution to UN peacekeeping missions, involvement in international disputes or civil wars. The higher the number of troops a given country contributes to international peacekeeping and the less its involvement in international disputes or civil conflicts, the better its chances of winning a Council seat. Commitment to peace is, indeed, the fundamental criterion for membership.
Ethiopia’s commitment to world peace is beyond compare. Ethiopian troops have been one of the most dependable forces in peacekeeping and peace-enforcement missions since Korea in the 1950s. Its track record in UN and AU peacekeeping missions is widely recognized not least by neighboring countries. The Sudan and South Sudan, cognizant of the professionalism and ethics of Ethiopian peacekeeping troops, demanded Ethiopian peacekeeping troops should make up the entire membership of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). The fact is that Ethiopia is one of the leading contributors of peacekeeping troops in the world. It is the largest contributor of peacekeeping troops in Africa and the second in the world with, currently, 8,296 troops deployed in various UN missions. Interestingly, the number of women in Ethiopia’s peacekeeping forces is also significant and an example for others. It can be persuasively argued that Ethiopia’s commitment to international peace and security is clear and solid.
Apart from the basic criterion of maintenance on international peace and security, the selection process for the Security Council also reveals other interesting features of international relations. The driving forces for selection are a mixture of realistic power politics and norms of turn taking. Realism has it that power and interest shape each other interchangeably. The more political and financial capital a country possesses, the higher the chance of gaining its aim of securing a Council’s seat. In this sense, Ethiopia has invested significantly in the global market place for peace keeping in keeping with its commitment tom international peacekeeping over many years. Most recently, it also established its International Peace Keeping Training centre in 2011 as a center for training for the region and for Africa.
In addition, of course, Ethiopia’s stability, its stabilizing influence in the midst of the all-to-frequent problems of the Horn of Africa, its 90 million plus population, its sustained and significant economic development, and its one million plus square kilometers size, underline Ethiopia’s as a strong and significant ally for world peace. These factors must further advance Ethiopia’s legitimate bid for a Council’s seat for 2017-2018. Equally, it actively involved in the Non-Aligned Movement and the G-77, offering powerful manifestation of Ethiopia’s strong belief and commitment to multilateralism, another requirement to serve on the Council.
Ethiopia is one of the oldest civilizations and has a strong claim to be the origin of mankind. The Victory of Adwa in 1896 wrote Ethiopia’s name on the fabric of the world’s recent political history. The victory made Ethiopia a beacon of independence, freedom and African resistance against aggression, colonialism and imperialism. The country’s bravery and commitment to peaceful coexistence continued when Ethiopian patriots drove out the Fascist Italian Army after five years and regained Ethiopia’s place as the only independent state in Africa during World War II. Emperor Haile Selassie’s famous appeal to the League of Nations in 1936 fell on deaf ears, but it provided a tangible security analysis of the world’s problems. Explaining the rationale behind his decision to enter into the Korean War, fifteen years later, President Truman said “I recalled some earlier instances such as in Ethiopia. I remembered how each time that [we] failed to act, it had encouraged the aggressors to keep going ahead . . . just as Mussolini had acted years earlier”. President Truman employed the logic of the Emperor’s appeal to save the Korean Peninsula. Ethiopia was quick to support him and has subsequently been ready to support the shaping and reshaping of world history as required.
Despite the unsure ground of turn taking or regional endorsement, Africa has provided the most disciplined rules of approval for selecting candidates for the Security Council. It has codified the African Union rules of procedure, with its Ministerial Committee on Candidatures. This system creates a structure of turn taking within the continent’s sub-regional groups. This ensures the potential service of all African states in the Council. North Africa and Central Africa rotate a seat every two years; West Africa has one seat every 2 years; and East Africa and South Africa rotate a seat every two years. This occasion is an East African turn and a time for Ethiopia. I witnessed Ethiopia’s presentation of its candidacy to the Ministerial Committee on Candidatures. It was endorsed unanimously and strongly. When the Committee on Candidatures presented its decision to the Assembly of Heads of States and Government, it was equally enthusiastically endorsed. When President Mugabe, the then Chair of the African Union, declared the adoption of the decision, it was greeted equally unanimously and vociferously. Everyone in the hall clapped their hands off.
I am certain, ceteris paribus (all things being equal), that the 71th UN General Assembly will celebrate Ethiopia’s more than half a century of commitment to international peace and security, by endorsing its legitimate and deserved quest for a seat at the United Nations Security Council for 2017-8. It will be well deserved.
Zerubabel Getachew Tefera is an analyst on regional security complexes and international security at the Boundary and Transboundary Resource Affairs Directorate General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia. You can follow him via Twitter.