Ireland’s UN Security Council success is a victory for small nations everywhere
Seat offers opportunity to foster the positive international relations the world clearly needs
Alongside newly-elected Norway, Mexico and Kenya, Ireland will be looking to add to the collaborative power of the temporary members. Photograph: Stephane Lemouton/AFP/Getty
Ireland’s securing of a United Nations Security Council seat is a significant success that speaks volumes about its standing globally.
It points to Ireland’s ability to foment genuine relationships with like-minded states, to deep experience in areas of peacekeeping, peace-building and women’s rights that have spoken louder than words or money, and to the skill of Ireland’s diplomats. This seat presents an opportunity to reinforce the importance of multilateralism, contribute to debates on UN reforms and to make real change in global inequalities.
The security council is not an uncontroversial body. Despite a radically changed and globalised world since the UN’s founding in 1945, China, France, Russia, the UK and the US remain its only permanent members and hold a “veto” on its decisions.
Ireland has much to contribute in influencing the kinds of international relations that our world so badly needs
The 10 rotating seats, one of which Ireland will hold from January 2021, are held on an elected basis by the UN’s remaining members. Over a quarter of UN membership have never held a seat on the security council. It is perhaps the most undemocratic of the UN’s bodies.
The security council and the UN broadly are steeped in legacies of colonialism which greatly influence enduring power imbalances among members today, while the permanent five are now the world’s largest producers and sellers of arms.
As the principal body of the United Nations, on issues such as peacekeeping operations, country-level interventions, terrorism and sanctions, its decisions directly impact on the daily lives of some of the most of marginalised peoples. Despite and because of these realities, it thereby matters greatly who is involved in those decisions and how those decisions are made.
It is because of this very legacy and the complexities inherent to the security council that Ireland’s tenure is so important. In a global climate where multilateralism struggles against a tide of populism, Ireland has much to contribute in influencing the kinds of international relations that our world so badly needs right now.
And as a nation that shares the experience of colonialism, and brings leadership and expertise on disarmament, sustainable development and the peace process in Northern Ireland, it behoves Ireland as a western European nation and member of the EU to do its utmost to undo the impacts of enduring inequalities globally.
Not since the Cold War era, which paralysed much of its potential in its early years, has the security council experienced as much contention as it does right now, with a real risk of a return to stalemate politics.
Tensions over Syria and Ukraine have soured US-Russia relations and over the last couple of months, the Trump administration’s focus on China as the harbinger of all things Covid-19, has further soured relations between those two states. It is easy to wonder whether access to PPE will be the new currency on which international relations will depend.
These tensions affect the efficacy and legitimacy of a council wholly dependent on consensus to make its decisions. Recent attempts at a resolution to strengthen co-ordinated responses to the pandemic and reinforce the UN secretary-general’s call for a global ceasefire, collaboratively tabled by Tunisia (a non-permanent member) and France (a permanent member), were recently quashed. The US rejected reference to the role of the World Health Organisation, despite that organisation’s vital role which we have all witnessed on our TV screens over the last number of months.
Ireland is well placed to build on its leadership on the security council’s 'women, peace and security' agenda
Reform of the security council has been a necessary and oft-repeated mantra in the halls of the UN. Countries such as Germany, India and Brazil, with powerful economies and militaries, question why they should not hold a permanent seat. Rotating members question the lack of transparent transactions among the permanent five. Ireland has been a voice on reform and smaller states will look to Ireland bring their voice on such issues into the debate. Alongside newly elected Norway, Mexico and Kenya, there is much potential for the collaborative power of the temporary members to have effect here.
Shifting the security council towards centring its work around peace and equality rather than state-centric security might be an ambitious aspiration, yet I would argue it is an imperative for the security council’s substantive work, especially if it is to remain relevant to today’s global climate and events.
Ireland is well placed to build on its leadership on the security council’s “women, peace and security” agenda which addresses human rights violations experienced by women and girls in armed conflicts and establishes the importance of women’s equal voice in decisions that affect their lives in peace and peace-building processes.
The security council will mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of its women, peace and security resolutions later this year. This is an optimal moment for its membership, which now includes Ireland, to reflect on what has been achieved and to become a driver of urgent and better fulfilment of women’s rights in peace and security.
In the current climate, Ireland has its work cut out. It nonetheless has a critical opportunity to contribute to and foster the kind of positive international relations that the world needs right now. Ireland must use this seat well to that end. And I have no doubt that it will.
Aisling Swaine is associate professor of gender and security at the London School of Economics. She takes up the position of professor of gender studies at the department of social justice at University College Dublin next month