Last week the UN Security Council, the only body in the United Nations that can issue legally binding resolutions for the 193 UN member states, elected new non-permanent members. For Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the vote was yet another defeat.

Why Does the UN Security Council Matter?

Due to the power that the United Nation’s Security Council can project — among other things authorizing wars and imposing sanctions — a seat on the council, though limited and without veto-power, is considered an achievement for many countries. It is an important sign of recognition by the international community.

The council consists of the five permanent members. These are the only ones who possess the aforementioned veto-right right. They are the USA, Russia, China, Great Britain and France. The council also includes ten non-permanent members. The General Assembly elects the latter for two-year terms. Five seats are allocated every year via a regional key. The campaigns for one of the seats often take years and therefore require not only substantial financial investments but also steady nerves.

Who are the New Members?

The five new states who have entered the United Nations Security Council from January 2021 onward are India (184 votes), Ireland (128 votes), Mexico (187 votes) and Norway (130 votes). All of these nations will be part of the body for two years.

Initially, the fifth seat remained vacated, as Kenya and Djibouti missed the necessary two-thirds majority to secure the place, with 113 and 78 respectively. The necessary runoff election was conducted on Thursday, and Kenya prevailed.

The vote for the five seats was less encouraging for Canada. The G7 member state obtained only 108 votes, and thus did not secure enough votes to assert itself in the “Western Europe and Others” group for one of the two open positions. Instead, it was Norway and Ireland that got seats. With 191 valid votes cast in this group, 128 votes were precisely the quorum required.

For Canada, the vote followed a 2010 defeat was the second failed campaign in a few years and thus a major defeat for Trudeau. Canada’s Prime Minister announced his goal to become part of the council in 2015 but will now have to wait even longer. Trudeau nevertheless congratulated the winners and assured the panel that his country would continue to work internationally even without a seat.

Norway’s Success

In contrast, Norway achieved a goal it had set itself thirteen years ago. The seat now provided the country with the opportunity to advance its foreign policy and to stand up for Norwegian interests and values, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said. Moreover, Norway seeks to focus its membership on the protection of civilians in war zones as well as the better protection of children and people who are exposed to sexual and gender-based violence.

To make way for the five new members, Germany, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia and South Africa are departing. The remaining five non-permanent members currently on the council, i.e. Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent, Tunisia and Vietnam, will follow in January 2022.

Besides the five new non-permanent members, a new chairman of the UN General Assembly was also elected on Wednesday. Volkan Bozkir from Turkey obtained 178 votes with 11 abstentions and will succeed Tijjani Muhammad from Nigeria and serve as chair next year.

Rule Changes

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all voting was conducted differently than usual. Instead of casting votes in plenary, the member states had been allocated time slots to cast their votes in the mostly empty boardroom.

The Security Council, which is often criticized precisely due to its composition, the permanent members and their veto-power, as well as the associated ineffectiveness due to the latter, was recently criticized again for its undecided and divided attitude on the question of how to tackle the corona crisis. Once again, the veto powers were unable to agree on a shared path.