Global Policy Forum

Integrity Too High a Price for Security Council Role


By Greg Sheridan

February 3, 2010

Is it really worth the trouble, expense and moral compromise for Australia to seek a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council in 2013-14?

The revelation in The Australian yesterday that the Arab League would hold against us Australia's long-standing support for Israel in considering whether to vote for Australia is important.

Hasehm Youssef, chief of cabinet for the Secretary-General of the Arab League, told The Australian that Canberra kept "bad company" at the UN in opposing anti-Israel resolutions.

He further said the 22 members of the Arab League would take Australia's pro-Israel position into account when deciding how to vote.

At the same time, it was revealed that the Syrian ambassador in Canberra, Tammam Sulaiman, had written to Kevin Rudd drawing an explicit connection between Australia's support for Israel and its Security Council candidacy.

However, the most embarrassing part of the letter was where the Syrian envoy actually praised the Rudd government for voting against Israel, in a way that the Howard government had not done, on a number of resolutions.

One of the resolutions that Australia now supports but once opposed favours Palestinian self-determination. Of course everyone is in favour of Palestinian self-determination. Australia previously opposed the resolution because it is explicitly based on the International Court of Justice ruling that Israel's separation barrier is illegal. Australia does not accept that proposition.

The Rudd government still does not accept the ICJ ruling, but will no longer vote against resolutions that celebrate and affirm the ICJ ruling.

All of this matters very little.

As Australia's former ambassador to the UN John Dauth said when he completed his assignment in New York several years ago, the UN General Assembly is "defunct". It is the "core" of the UN and the UN is "rotten to the core". Dauth pointed out that UNGA resolutions never resulted in action, there was never any compromise, nothing was negotiated there. And they receive little publicity.

The Rudd government hasremained a staunch friend of Israel, although slightly less supportive than the Howard government was. Can anyone really imagine that these foolish changes to our voting pattern have any other purpose than to curry favour with the Arab and African blocs at the UN in a probably vain attempt to gain votes for the Security Council election?

But here's a bulletin for the Rudd government. On the basis of Arab League reaction and the efforts of Arab diplomats, you either have to be Sweden or you may as well be George W. Bush.

The world, especially the Arab world, is never going to regard Australia as Sweden, so there is no point engaging in a little bit of appeasement to try to con them.

Have you noticed how whenever an Australian minister, especially the foreign minister or the Prime Minister, visit anywhere, they have to announce a new driblet of aid running generally into some tens of millions of dollars? The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's budget has been run into the ground while the aid budget has ballooned. Aid does buy you votes in the Third World, but almost certainly not enough to win.

In the years leading up to the vote, Australia will be open to pressure by every country with a vote at the UN, all 192 of them. And if we succeed, what do we get then? How much do you remember of the recent term by Burkina Faso on the Security Council? All real action is among the five permanent members.

In 1996, Australia lost a vote for a Security Council seat. In 2004, it considered having another go but thought the costs too great and the benefits too small. Instead, it championed the idea regional groups at the UN should put forward consensus candidates, avoiding sordid vote buying and policy blackmail. Now that would be real UN reform.


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