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Danger in UN seat
article published in The Australian 10 March 2009

We have little to gain and much to lose seeking a Security Council seat, writes Des Moore
REPORTS by Patrick Walters and Greg Sheridan (The Weekend Australian, March 7) indicate that Kevin Rudd has ordered all hands on deck to persuade UN members to vote for an Australian seat on the Security Council in 2012.

But the Prime Minister has made no public statement as to the reasons for this initiative, and his announcement of the Governor-General's visit to several African countries, clearly designed to lobby for African votes, does not even mention the Security Council objective.

Having a seat on the UN Security Council is certainly worthwhile for the US, Britain, China, France and Russia, not because they have permanent seats but because each has a bullet-proof no vote: the veto.

What about the rest of us? What national interest is served by having a non-veto vote for two years? Is this initiative anything more than a reflection of Rudd's completely misguided view that decision-making international institutions are the way of the future?

For Australia a seat would have one advantage and only one: if you are worried that in those two years you may be hauled before the council.

Australia is most unlikely to suffer that ignominy. Even if we were, we could be certain of only one vote, and our having a seat would not help to persuade others on the council to vote for us. Their vote would be dependent on their individual national interests, such as how the issue at stake affects them, and on what inducements we can offer them, including hypothecating our future vote on issues particularly affecting them, or giving them aid money we would not otherwise give.

What about other issues coming before the council that involve our national interests, such as nuclear proliferation or terrorism or the Middle East? Again, our one vote is really valueless, except in the most unlikely case of none of the permanent members voting against and ours being the casting vote.

What about other issues coming before the council, not involving our national interests directly?

The only advantage for us there -- an inglorious advantage -- is that others may offer to buy our vote, though probably not with money.

What about the disadvantages of our having a Security Council seat?

Two stand out. One is that we will be obliged to take a very public attitude on matters about which we would otherwise wish to retain a sensible silence. The other disadvantage is that in canvassing for the seat we will be obliged to put in a huge effort that will cost not just scads of real money and the better spent time of the Prime Minister and other senior ministers and even the head of state, but will also cost unpublicised inducements for the votes of others disinclined to favour us because of our bright blue eyes.

As Sheridan points out, sucking up to African and Arab states has already involved totally unwarranted changes to our policy on UN voting on anti-Israeli resolutions and appears to be holding us back from deciding not to attend the UN's so-called anti-racist conference in Durban, although the US has decided to withdraw.

Despite all the foregoing, which Rudd as a former diplomat, even if a junior one, surely understands, Australia is engaging in a huge effort to win a seat. Why?

Simply so Rudd can big-note himself, domestically and internationally, and so back to domestically again. Is that appeal to the ingenuous among us in Australia's national interest? Palpably not. Neither would it be if the Opposition were ever to regain power.

Des Moore is director of the Institute for Private Enterprise and a life member of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

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