This morning, the United Nations General Assembly held elections for five of its ten non-permanent Security Council seats for the 2015-2016 term. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the election from a US perspective was the replacement of US-ally, Argentina, with Washington’s adversary, Venezuela. More on this later in the post. First, the election results:

  • Angola for the African Group (to replace Rwanda);
  • Malaysia for the Asia-Pacific Group (to replace Korea);
  • Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States (to replace Argentina); and
  • New Zealand and Spain for the Western European and Others Group (to replace Australia and Luxembourg).

How the vote went down

Angola, Malaysia and Venezuela ran unopposed. All three states managed to acquire the two-thirds majority of votes necessary for election to the Council (see the General Assembly Rules of Procedure). Angola received 190 votes and Malaysia received 187 (one abstention) of the 193 ballots cast for the election of the African and Asia-Pacific representatives. Venezuela received 181 votes (one invalid vote and ten abstentions) of the 193 ballots cast for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States. In the race between New Zealand, Spain, and Turkey for the two contested Western European and Others Group (WEOG) seats, New Zealand was the only state to receive the required two-thirds majority during the first round of voting (the number of votes required was 122 from 193 ballots cast). New Zealand’s tally of votes came in at 145 while Spain and Turkey only received 121 and 109 respectively. The vote then proceeded to the first restricted vote to determine the final WEOG seat. Neither Spain or Turkey obtained the required two-thirds majority during this round of voting. Spain received 120 votes, Turkey receives 73 while the number of votes required for election was 129. After a second round of restricted voting, Spain emerged as the eventual winner.

Concerns about Venezuela

Some of the most significant news about the Security Council’s new makeup is the addition of Venezuela, led by President Nichoás Maduro who was elected in 2013 after the death of former President Hugo Chavez. The socialist nation is well known for its anti-American rhetoric, frequent human rights abuses (see reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International), and tendencies to associate with America’s foes such as Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, as listed by Diego Arria, who served as Venezuela’s UN ambassador the last time the country had a seat on the Security Council in 1992-93.

According to the Guardian, the government of Venezuela is “one of the world’s top buyers of Russian arms and one of just 10 countries in the general assembly to vote against a resolution criticizing Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula” and “the only country of 47 to vote against extending a UN human rights council investigation into abuses committed during [Syria’s] civil war.” Arria warned the Guardian that  “Venezuela on the security council will be a real obstacle to having a serious conversation. . . . It will waste a lot of people’s time and become like a theatre for radical groups.”

The U.S successfully blocked attempts by Chavez to secure Venezuela a seat on the council in 2006 and 2008. However, this year, the US was accused of adopting a “wait and see” approach to this year’s election and of ignoring calls for diplomatic efforts to deny Venezuela a seat on the council. Arria suggested to the Center for Security Policy that US President Barack Obama had “dropped the ball” and that Venezuela’s election campaign managed to fly under Obama’s radar until it was too late. The “rogue” state had garnered the unanimous support of the Latin American and Caribbean countries and unlike 2006 and 2008, the US no longer had the political clout necessary to influence the vote at such a late stage.

The New York Times and The Washington Post  have written worriedly about the potential ramifications of Venezuela’s election to the council. In an article published by the Guardian,  Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research, suggested that “Maduro’s concern for national sovereignty is in step with other regional leaders, he said, so having Venezuela on the security council could serve as a counterweight to the US when debating the use of force.” However, other commentators suggest that Venezuela’s seat on the Council will merely be a “thorn in the side for US officials” given that non-permanent members will not have veto power. Venezuela has sat on the Security Council four times before. However, this will be the first time that the South American country has held a seat on the Security Council since Chavez’s socialist party came to power in 1999.

The winners of the other non-permanent seats

New Zealand’s campaign focused on emphasizing its “integrity”, “independence” and “innovation,” a “consistent and independent foreign policy,” and “lack of national interest in the conflicts currently on the Council’s agenda, which can make it an honest broker” [see the Security Council Report, p.3] . Although, in the lead up to the campaign, there was speculation that the country would become involved in the fight against the Islamic State. New Zealand has served on the council three times, the last being in 1994.

The last time Spain held a seat in the Council was 2004.  After announcing its candidacy for the 2015 seat in 2005, its campaign focused on on Spain’s commitment to multilateralism, fighting terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation, UN conflict prevention in the Mediterranean, as well as Spain’s initiatives in the “field of intercultural dialogue and preventive diplomacy.”

Angola, shares the longest international border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and states that it has an interest in “contributing to the peace and security in that region,” according to the Security Council’s guide to the 2014 election. Angola claims that it will also focus on the Security Council’s “conflict prevention role.”

Malaysia emphasized that it is “a country where moderate Islam is the largest practiced religion…it has a role to play in contributing to the council’s thinking on how to tackle radicalisation in the Middle East and North Africa and Beyond.”

The five new non-permanent members will commence their term on Jan. 1, 2015, and will conclude on Dec. 31, 2016.