We are Africa’s largest and world’s fourth troop contributor to UN mandated peacekeeping. Constituting around 10 percent of UN troops, more than 8,000 Ethiopians are serving in Peacekeeping Missions around the world with additional value added resources and capabilities, writes Yeshiwas Degu.
I have been keenly following developments in the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York because Ethiopia, after 26 years, was lined-up on the Security Council (UNSC) election final lists. Primary responsible for the maintenance of international peace, security and order, the UNSC adopts legally binding decisions on all member states. This stature, coupled with the dynamic nature of international politics, makes it plausible why States’ are aspiring and competing to obtain what Alex Bellamy and Tim Dunne (2012) said the biggest prize of all; a seat at the UNSC table.
Looking at its institutional arrangement, the UNSC is hardly romantic. Its limited membership and veto principle have apportioned the power in a very few states, who are enjoying double privilege and repelling any reform that necessarily affects their status. This has put the Council under consistent critic, but there is no alternative symmetric institutional structure of this kind at the international level.
On June 28, 2016, Ethiopia became a member of the SC for two years term (2017- 18) commencing on the 1st of January. Joining its African counterparts Egypt and Senegal, the country received the highest number of votes (185/190) with many smiling faces in the UN General Assembly. What exactly does it mean?
We had been a member of this small club of decision makers twice; 1967- 68 and 1989-90. What I have witnessed is the current membership loudly trumpeted by top political leadership. Of course it sounds a lot; a loss in the race might result in unfavorable public view and disappointment for state officials and representatives. Will it be another variable to make a political comparison with the previous regimes? Well, it is a matter of time. The clearer thing is the leadership eagerness to have a position in the institution while outspokenly criticizing liberal internationalism at home.
I would say it is not politically inapt that the government has placed the UNSC membership as part of its diplomatic mission. Nor it is surprising to see the overwhelming welcome to Ethiopia’s membership to the Council across the online community and the heading of the event in major national circulation media outlets. The question, however, remains: given the exclusive monopoly of veto power in the hands of five virtually eternal members of the Security Council, is it a big deal to be elected for non-permanent position? Though contentious, I believe that reacting to this question will not be impolitic.
The Structure of the UN Security Council
As stipulated in the UN charter, chapter V (art.23-32), the Security Council is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. Its centralized authority is exercised through resolutions including establishment of peacekeeping operations, international sanctions, and the authorization of military action.
It is an organ of very limited membership consisted of five permanent members (mostly victorious states of World War II) such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia who have essentially a negative vote, which would mean that a resolution or decision would not be approved; and 10 non-permanent members elected by the General Assembly (GA) for two-year terms of which five are elected and replaced each year.
The 70th session of the UN General Assembly that was held at its Headquarters in New York City conducted a secret ballot election to the Security Council membership. The election favored Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Sweden, and Netherlands/Italy (agreed to take the seat for 1 year each), representing Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Western European and Others groupings, to take seats for the coming two years.
Certainly, membership to the UNSC is competitive; states intensively compete for very limited seats within their respective groupings and for the votes of the General Assembly as well. Obtaining the hearts and minds at the regional and international levels is not an easy task. It demands a robust diplomatic effort, scarification of some state interests and lot of promises that might not be materialized.
Ethiopia, like Bolivia, is a country that marched to UN General Assembly without a regional contestant. Beside its negotiation with Kenya and Seychelles to withdraw from the race in its favor, it exerted a huge effort to make its aspiration backed by the African Union (AU). Beyond the region, Ethiopia received support from Brazil whose Foreign Minister, Mauro Viera, said Ethiopia “with its extensive experience in regional, African and global peacekeeping missions” could make “an immense contribution” to the UN Security Council.
Obviously, unlike other candidates except Bolivia, there was no significant doubt as to whether Ethiopia would be elected to the Security Council. The election was smoothly orchestrated illustrating the cumulative effect of various level diplomatic negotiations that went through the past months and years. The leadership was so confident.
Why the UN General Assembly voted for Ethiopia?
Well, regional distribution is one key factor in addressing this question. But, for now let us focus on Ethiopia’s contribution. The country has engaged in UN and AU mandated peacekeeping operations. Since its first participation (1951-1954) as part of the UN Command multinational force in the Korean War (1950-53), Ethiopia has been accepting requests to join peacekeeping operations around the world. Our brave brothers and sisters were deployed in Congo (ONUC) from July 1960 to June 1964 and in Rwanda from August 1994 to July 1995 under the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR 2); and in Burundi in 2003 as part of African Mission in Burundi (AMIB).
The recent Ethiopia’s peacekeeping deployments under the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), the UN-AU Hybrid Mission to Darfur (UNAMID), the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) are worthwhile. The largest troop contributor to UNAMID, Ethiopia deployed almost the entire military component of UNISFA, comprising approximately 4,000 soldiers, commander and leadership. In addition, more than 4 thousand Ethiopians are deployed in Somalia as part of the AU peace support operation (AMISOM).
We are Africa’s largest and world’s fourth troop contributor to UN mandated peacekeeping. Constituting around 10 percent of UN troops, more than 8,000 Ethiopians are serving in Peacekeeping Missions around the world with additional value added resources and capabilities. The commitment to regional peace and security is manifested in its Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy understanding that the development, peace and security of our nation is intertwined with the situation of neighboring states. Its role in mediating parties in South Sudanese conflict signifies a lot although another episode of war starts in the past few days.
It is due to this weight of contribution to the maintenance of peace and security, rather than the domestic political landscape in the country, which enabled Ethiopia to receive a firm pledge of support from African states and the backing of the wider international community. Some critic of the General Assembly said that Ethiopia’s election has involved in compromising the UN fundamental principles such as human rights. Undeniably, the country’s role to other goals of the UN has received a significant diminutive place.
Closely observed, the General Assembly‘s vote (185/190) signifies three elements: (1) how much we have contributed to the maintenance of international peace and security; (2) the international community’s confidence on Ethiopia’s leadership to carry out the obligations associated with its membership; and (3) the country’s successful effort in avoiding “taxation without representation”.
What are the benefits that Ethiopia will gain from the UNSC Membership?
International Prestige and Domestic Legitimacy: Ethiopia’s membership at the UNSC is an international prestige with significant domestic ramifications. As a country it gives us the opportunity to be part of highly valued small club of selected states who have a decision making authority on questions of global peace and security. It is recognition of our capability and prominence in deciding on enforcement measures, economic sanctions or collective military action and in representing Africa in the international arena.
It is not naive to say that this international prestige accrued from membership at the UNSC might help the leadership to make the international standing of the state a central political issue to galvanize domestic support and so as to extend more its ruling tenure in the country.
Foreign Aid: Recent scholarship like Bruce Mesquite and Alastair Smith (20101) found that UNSC membership serves as an instrument for foreign aid: non-permanent members receive more foreign aid from the United Nations, the United States (US) and United States-led organizations, like UNICEF, during their tenure. On average, as indicated by Kuziemko and Werner (2006), non-permanent member of the council enjoys 59 percent increase in total aid from the US and 8 percent increase in total development aid from the UN. Why? Perhaps, vote trading and seat commercializing based on give and take principle.
Although the linkage between foreign aid and council memberships remains debatable, Kuziemko and Werner (2006) stated that developing country serving on the council, like Ethiopia, can anticipate an additional USD 16 million from the US and USD one million from the UN. During important years, controversial issues on the UNSC table, these numbers rise to USD 45 million and USD eight million respectively. If this will be the case, it appears that a seat could help to improve both the country’s economic growth and the ruling regime’s chance of reelection in domestic politics.
Agenda Setting and UNSC Presidency: SC membership is an important opportunity for states to initiate and propose fundamental issues. For instance, Canada (1999-2000) introduced “Naming and Shaming” strategy for those states failed to comply with Security Council demands and the issue of protection of civilian in peacekeeping; Venezuela (1992- 1993) developed “Arria Formula” which allows members to seek advice from NGOs on particular issues; and Lithuania (2014-2015) drafted two resolution on the protection of journalists in conflict situation and small arms and light weapons and ratified by the Security Council; and Rwanda (2013-14) initiated the issue of conflict prevention and natural resources.
I hope that more than any other time, in the next two years (2017 and 2018) Ethiopia can bring up significant national, regional and global issues to the UNSC table. It can sketch issues in the region and beyond which might lead to international and regional insecurity. It can also propose how such problems might be addressed including the use of economic sanctions or, as a last resort, military action against state or non-state actors. Unlike the domestic politics, leadership circulates in the SC; Presidency at the UNSC rotates among member states alphabetically for one calendar month. Ethiopia can use its presidency to control over agenda and lead the discussion.
What issues need to be prioritized?
It could be a huge speculation but given the fragile context of the horn of Africa, Ethiopia will be very keen to raise and discuss peacemaking and peacekeeping process in South Sudanese conflict, resource mobilization for peacekeeping and state building efforts in Somalia, the reconsideration of Ethiopia- Eritrean boarder conflict and further sanction against Issayas Afworki’s regime. Moreover, Ethiopia should promptly initiate the following thematic issues to the council: terrorism and radicalism in the region, conflict prevention and trans-boundary water resource use, and the security implication of climate change and migration in Africa.
Undoubtedly, the country will pledge to discuss the need for greater cooperation between the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) and the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the need to reform the structure of the UNSC. With regard to the later, the leadership in Ethiopia should be more committed in finding possible options bearing in mind that “Reform the Security Council” speech by Robert Mugabe during the 26th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of AU rolls in the minds of Africans. Hence, more is now expected of Ethiopia than ever before.
Taking in to consideration the above mentioned issues, a seat on the UNSC is not only a fascinating privilege but also a huge responsibility hardly shouldered by top leadership alone. It is vital to engage a broad range of government agencies, experts, opposition parties, academicians and civic associations in prioritizing and drafting issues. This, inevitably, would positively impact on establishing our membership to the UNSC as a national project.
I would argue that the most important yardstick for rejoicing Ethiopia membership at the UNSC should be on the issues and draft resolutions that the country could put forward to the UNSC but not just having a seat at the table. Unchallenged fact is what the leadership has done enabled us onboard, but don’t forget our responsibility as the capital of Africa. Let’s cherish for that. But, will the country use its non- permanent position to articulate fundamental national, continental and international issues and possibilities of new arrangements in the UNSC structure? Political uncertainties, the Egyptian stand and the veto principle should not be overlooked in approaching this question. That is why, although I am optimistic, I should have to say what Ethiopia’s seat on the UNSC means for the nation, the continent and the world remains to be seen. Peace!
Ed.’s Note: Yeshiwas Degu is an Assistant Professor at the College of Law and Governance of Mekelle University, Ethiopia. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].