EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Behind the bid for UN Security Council seat
, April 12, 2008
To win a coveted seat on the UN Security Council, Kevin Rudd may need to seek support from countries which are not traditionally Australia's allies.During his overseas visit, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced that Australia will attempt to win a seat on the UN Security Council, as part of Mr Rudd's attempt to project an activist foreign policy.
There can be no doubt that such a position would give Australia a higher international profile.
The Security Council is the agency of the UN which authorises the UN's peace-keeping missions around the world. Under the UN Charter, the Security Council is empowered to investigate threats to world peace, recommend measures to effect the peaceful resolution of international disputes and, if this is impossible, to authorise sanctions or military action to maintain the peace.
But would Australia's presence have any beneficial influence on this body, which is widely regarded as a "toothless tiger" following its failure to effectively intervene in the Darfur crisis, where an estimated 300,000 civilians have been killed by Sudanese Government-backed militias in what is widely regarded as genocide, and where the five permanent members have a veto over any resolution?The cost
Mr Rudd has conceded that the cost of seeking a seat would be of the order of $30 million, a large sum of money for a government which is preaching fiscal discipline, particularly when the prospects of election are relatively poor.
The last time Australia tried to win a seat on the Security Council was 1996, when Australia was defeated by Portugal for one of the seats reserved for the West European and Other Group.
That initiative had been a brainchild of former Labor Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, who had grandiose visions of international statesmanship.
Competition for posts on the Security Council is fierce, because of the status attached to the position. There are 26 nations in the West European and Other Group, and, with the European Union tending to vote as a bloc, it is quite difficult for non-EU countries to win a seat. Currently, this group's representatives on the Security Council come from Italy and Belgium.
To win a seat would involve getting the support of countries which are not traditionally Australia's allies, including China, which in turn could secure votes from developing countries in Africa and Asia.
Mr Rudd's forthcoming visit to Beijing, as well as his recent speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington, strongly suggest that he is already seeking China's support.
In his 5,000-word Brookings address in Washington on "The Australia-US alliance and emerging challenges in the Asia-Pacific Region", it was extraordinary that Mr Rudd mentioned China about 50 times, while Japan was mentioned just 10 times.
There was just a hint of criticism of China over its flagrant breaches of human rights, with a reference to Tibet, but no mention of the crackdown on human rights activists, censorship of the Internet, and the arrests of lawyers, labour activists, Christians, Falun Gong practitioners and others.
The most that Mr Rudd said was that "human rights remain a real problem, as demonstrated by the recent violence in Tibet - problems that require dialogue and restraint".
This timid approach is consistent with statements made by the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, after a government official visited Llasa, capital of Tibet, following the violent suppression of protests, led by Buddhist monks, against Beijing's military occupation.
Mr Smith stated that the diplomats "received an assurance that monks who protested in the presence of international journalists a few days prior to the diplomat's arrival would not be punished". To accept and repeat such an assurance, after the brutality of the crackdown, defies belief.
For Australia, another issue with membership of the UN Security Council is that it would involve our country in votes which affect relations with our long-term allies.
In the past, when Australia was a member of the Security Council, it usually voted with the other Western nations, including the US and the UK, reinforcing perceptions of its pro-Western position, reflecting the American alliance and Australia's role in multilateral military operations alongside the US and the UK.
The question now is whether Mr Rudd wants Australia to be part of the Western alliance, or whether he wants Australia to chart a different course. Despite Mr Rudd's stated commitment to the American alliance, it is not clear that he wants such a partnership.
The Afro-Arab bloc in the United Nations has consistently used the Security Council to put forward resolutions which undermine the security of the state of Israel - resolutions which have been consistently vetoed by the US.
To vote with the majority would erode Australia's relations with the United States, which Mr Rudd described as being of "crucial importance" to Australia. To vote with the United States would confirm the widely held belief that Australia is Washington's closest ally in South-East Asia.
To win a seat on the UN Security Council will require ambiguity, political "deals" and compromise, when what is needed is courage and straight talking. It would be a tragedy if expediency triumphed over principle.- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.