Security Council Elections
On 17 June, the General Assembly is scheduled to elect five states to two-year terms on the Security Council, beginning on 1 January 2021. For more detailed information, please see our Research Report: Security Council Elections 2020.
The five seats available for election in 2020 according to the regular distribution among regions are as follows:
- one seat for the African Group (currently held by South Africa);
- one seat for the Asia-Pacific Group (currently held by Indonesia);
- one seat for the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC, currently held by the Dominican Republic); and
- two seats for the Western European and Others Group (WEOG, currently held by Belgium and Germany).
Seven member states—Canada, Djibouti, India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway—are currently running for the five available seats. Djibouti and Kenya are contesting the single African Group seat. Canada, Ireland and Norway are contesting the two WEOG seats. The other two candidates, India and Mexico, will run unopposed for the Asia-Pacific and GRULAC seats, respectively. All seven candidates have served on the Council previously:
- India has served seven times (1950-1951, 1967-1968, 1972-1973, 1977-1978, 1984-1985, 1991-1992 and 2011-2012);
- Canada has served six times (1948-1949, 1958-1959, 1967-1968, 1977-1978, 1989-1990 and 1999-2000);
- Mexico has served four times (1946, 1980-1981, 2002-2003 and 2009-2010);
- Norway has served four times (1949-1950, 1963-1964, 1979-1980 and 2001-2002);
- Ireland has served three times (1962, 1981-1982 and 2001-2002);
- Kenya has served twice (1973-1974 and 1997-1998); and
- Djibouti has served once (1993-1994).
The Eastern European Group is not contesting any seat this year as its seat, held by Estonia through 2021, comes up for election every other year.
Regardless of whether an election is contested, a country must obtain the votes of two-thirds of the member states present and voting at the General Assembly session to secure a seat on the Council. This means that a minimum of 129 positive votes are required to win a seat if all 193 UN member states are present and voting.
Election to the Council, as with other principal organs of the UN, requires formal balloting even if candidates have been endorsed by their regional group and are running unopposed. In theory it is possible, although unlikely, that a member state running unopposed might not garner the requisite votes in the General Assembly in the first round. Such a country could then be challenged in subsequent rounds by a new candidate and ultimately not obtain a seat.
There have been several instances in which extended rounds of voting were required to fill a contested seat. Such situations have usually been solved by the withdrawal of one of the contenders or the election of a compromise candidate, rather than by agreeing on a split term. The sole exception to this practice since 1966 was the 2016 agreement between Italy and the Netherlands to split the 2017-2018 term.
On 22 May, the President of the General Assembly submitted under silence procedure (until 29 May) a draft decision on the process of holding elections by secret ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the draft, the President of the General Assembly will give at least ten days’ notice to UN member states of the date of the elections and a designated venue for casting ballots. Given the pandemic-related limitations on large gatherings, the draft envisages that member states would cast ballots during designated time slots and at a specified venue. The same method would be used for additional rounds of balloting, if required.
Potential Security Council Dynamics in 2021
Geopolitical tensions and divisions among Council members, notably among the permanent members (P5), seem likely to persist following the departure of five non-permanent members at the end of 2020 and the arrival of five newly elected members in January. The divisions among permanent members were made very apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the inability of the Council to react promptly to this global crisis with implications that go well beyond matters of health. For the last several years, Russia and the US have been on opposing sides in conflicts in the Middle East and Europe. China, which has become increasingly assertive globally and in the Council, has often sided with Russia. At the same time, the US has retreated from active engagement in multilateral institutions and increasingly pursues its foreign policy interests unilaterally. France, the UK, and the US (P3), which were a united bloc for over a decade, have in some cases been divided on issues such as the Sahel; Iran; women, peace and security; and climate change and security.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as an issue with potentially wide-ranging consequences for international peace and security and which may affect various situations on the Council’s agenda. In the coming months, the Council will have to contend with the implications of the pandemic on UN peacekeeping and its humanitarian impact in countries on the Council’s agenda. Although it is difficult to assess how the Council’s dynamics might evolve next year, the priorities candidates have cited in their campaigns, as well as their long-standing interests, indicate some general patterns that might emerge.
Among the current candidates, Djibouti, India, Ireland, and Kenya are significant troop contributors to peace operations and are expected to play a role in advancing the Council’s discussions on this topic. India has historically been among the largest troop and police contributors to UN peacekeeping operations. Canada is among the top ten contributors to the UN peacekeeping budget and has a long–standing interest in this issue. In the context of peacekeeping, Kenya has emphasised the need for more predictable funding to support the work of AU peace operations. These candidates are likely to be interested in ongoing discussions about the role of the Council in designing and overseeing the mandates of peacekeeping operations and efforts to improve their effectiveness and efficiency.
Post-conflict peacebuilding is an area of interest to several candidates and appears likely to remain a focus of the Council’s work in the coming years. This is especially so given the recent transition to a political mission in Haiti and transitions to a post-peacekeeping environment that are underway in Darfur and possibly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Over the past several years, a growing number of the Council’s elected members have emphasised the linkages between development and international peace and security. This trend is likely to continue in 2021, given that several candidates have highlighted this issue. The P3 have been receptive to Council discussions of the links between specific aspects of development and peace and security. However, China and Russia have been more cautious in this regard and have advocated keeping the Council’s agenda more narrowly focused on issues that primarily involve situations of armed conflict.
Despite resistance by some members, the Council has become progressively readier to acknowledge the relationship between climate change and threats to security and stability in several situations on its agenda. During their campaigns, most of this year’s candidates have stressed the importance of addressing climate change as a security risk. Canada, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway have all placed climate change high on their list of priorities.
Most candidates have committed themselves to promoting greater transparency and inclusiveness in the Council’s work. This has been a prominent theme in candidates’ agendas during recent election cycles and an issue on which elected members traditionally play the leading role. Several candidates have expressed interest in improving the working methods of the Security Council and if elected are likely to advance this issue during their term.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SECURITY COUNCIL ELECTIONS
|General Assembly Documents|
|7 June 2019A/73/PV.89||This was the record of the 2019 election of five non-permanent members.|
|8 June 2018A/72/PV.93||This was the record of the 2018 election of five non-permanent members.|