There is nothing really special about the news that Indonesia wants to become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in 2019. Although some observers in the country have characterized this bid as unique, the Southeast Asian country has been a non-permanent member of the council three times before: 1973 to 1974, 1995 to 1996, and 2007 to 2008.
Participating in the implementation of a world order based on freedom, lasting peace and social justice is highly desirable. However, the veto power wielded by the Big Five (the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom), the Security Council’s permanent members, makes these laudable goals difficult to achieve.
Meanwhile, Japan and India have agendas that go far beyond just wanting non-permanent membership of the Security Council. They want to overhaul the system and become permanent members themselves. Japan has even established itself as the second-greatest contributor of funding to the United Nations, after the United States.
For the United Nations, which is often constrained by a lack of financial resources, refusing to grant Japan permanent member status will likely create challenges. Further complicating matters is China’s enduring antipathy towards Japan.
For the United Nations, which is often constrained by a lack of financial resources, refusing to grant Japan permanent member status will likely create challenges
India, meanwhile, is also stepping up its diplomatic efforts to attain permanent member status, and it has the support of its G4 allies (Brazil, Germany, and Japan), but faces strong opposition from Uniting for Consensus (UfC), a large group of countries led by Italy that opposes expansion. The organization is urging the UN to maintain the permanent membership status quo but has requested an increase in the number of non-permanent members to 20.
In 2016, Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, criticized the proposed increase in the number of permanent members. Pakistan has argued that the ambitions of India and its G4 allies are based on unsound reasoning. Adding more permanent seats, it contends, would serve the interests of individual countries at the expense of other members of the world body.
The expansion of the UN Security Council’s permanent membership requires a degree of consensus that is difficult to achieve. The Security Council’s decision-making mechanism requires the Big Five’s approval (a negative vote amounts to a veto), which often makes it difficult to make any progress. Desra Percaya, a former Indonesian ambassador to the UN, said the veto, or the threat of its use, is often selfishly used by permanent members when it serves their national interest or that of their allies. Double standards are often applied.
Inevitably, when the international community voiced opposition to America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the decision. Once again, a permanent member’s veto stood in the way of collective action.
As for non-permanent members, how much impact can they really have in terms of achieving goals such as world peace when they hold the position for just two years? Consider how long World Trade Organization negotiations and the resolution of international conflicts take. Non-permanent members must be in place for longer if they are going to make an effective contribution.
In its bid for non-permanent membership of the UNSC 2019-2020, Indonesia outlines its commitment to world peace, which includes providing 2,800 to 4,000 UN peacekeepers, and it has vowed to respect and champion human rights. The latter, however, is still in doubt as President Joko Widodo’s campaign promises to address past abuses has not yet been fulfilled.