Leveraging power at the UN

Staff essay

Jochen Prantl is researching how countries can wield influence on the UN Security Council.

We’re in a secure room of the Australian Mission at UN Headquarters, on a chilly December day in New York.

No electronic equipment is permitted – no laptops, no mobiles, no cameras – but we do have the undivided attention of everyone in this room.

We’re here to brief the incoming member countries who are about to commence their two-year elected, non-permanent term on the UN Security Council.

Conventional wisdom holds that the Security Council is controlled by the five permanent members (P5) – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and United States. They have powers of veto over the additional 10 members who are elected to serve two-year terms.

Those 10 members come from the 188 UN member states that are not permanent members of the council.

So when a country serves a two-year elected term on the council – as Australia did in 2013–2014 – they must use innovative diplomacy if they want their voice heard.As a popular political saying goes, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”  But with the UN Security Council, even when you’re at the table, if you’re not in the P5, the pathways of influence are limited.

We have been invited to brief the incoming members – Belgium, Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa – on the preliminary findings of our four-year research project which investigates diplomatic practices that can help elected members wield more influence on the council, and the world stage.