Dream of Influence Germany Renews Campaign for UN Security Council Seat

Germany is once again dreaming of a permanent presence on the UN Security Council and is hoping to secure a non-permanent seat in a vote next month. But hopes of reform seem slim, given that the current permanent members are reluctant to give up any of their influence.


Peter Wittig is involved in an election campaign. It's something of an unusual pursuit for him, considering he is the German ambassador to the United Nations. Wittig, a quiet man with a keen sense of humor, is sitting in the Deutsches Haus in New York. He describes how he, as a diplomat, goes about drumming up votes. In his case, the votes he needs are those of entire countries.

Next month Germany will attempt, once again, to secure a non-permanent seat for two years on the UN Security Council. For the first time, the German government will be up against two competitors, Canada and Portugal. Eight years ago, only two countries were vying for the two seats allocated to the so-called Western group, and the same situation applied eight years before that.

The two-year seat is the Security Council's economy class, if you will. Unlike the five permanent Security Council members -- the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain -- a non-permanent member has no veto. But Germany is also dreaming of traveling in first class at the UN -- in other words, securing a permanent seat. The vote on the non-permanent seat, which will take place in mid-October, is a small step in that direction.

Official Goal Is European Seat

Just how seriously the German government takes the decision will become apparent next week, when Chancellor Angela Merkel travels to New York, with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle following soon afterwards. Both politicians are going to the UN to campaign on behalf of Germany, and to make it clear that they will not be satisfied with the status quo.

Ironically, the two politicians' respective parties, Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Westerwelle's liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), were once opposed to the Security Council ambitions of Merkel's Social Democratic predecessor, former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The effort to secure a permanent seat on the Security Council was viewed as being too nationalistic, the consensus being that a European seat would be preferable.

The government still supports a European seat, at least officially, according to the coalition agreement signed by the two parties after the September 2009 general election. Nevertheless, everyone knows that no German politician is ever likely to see the day when the European Union agrees to accept a joint seat. For this reason, the coalition agreement also states that "in the interim, Germany remains prepared to assume greater international responsibility with a permanent seat on the Security Council."

Wittig has strong arguments in Germany's favor to support his campaign. Germany is the EU's most populous country and the third-largest payer of dues to the UN. German soldiers are part of UN contingents in Afghanistan, in Kosovo and off the coast of Lebanon. A country that is providing so many resources has a strong interest in determining how they are used. Germany's desire for a Security Council seat is not presumptuous, but understandable.

Wittig has only been in office since December, but he has already met with 190 of his 191 UN counterparts. He has explained to them how important it is to cast their votes for the Germans in October, and he has promised that Germany will approach the office with transparency and a sense of responsibility. Wittig's campaign for a non-permanent seat appears to be going quite well.

The question of whether the UN can enact fundamental reforms and expand the Security Council is a different story. Those reforms are Germany's only chance of becoming a permanent member.

Rock Bottom

The situation is more difficult today than it was when Berlin made its first attempt in 2005, a time when the mood at the UN had hit rock bottom. The organization had failed in Haiti, in Rwanda and in the run-up to the Iraq war. It was clear to everyone that something had to change. The two-thirds majority in the General Assembly which is needed to approve a new Security Council seemed within reach. But in the end the members failed to come to an agreement.

When UN diplomats are asked about the issue today, their responses suggest a mood of resignation. It will be a long process, they say, and it's impossible to tell when the necessary reform will even be feasible. Still, everyone knows that the status quo is untenable. "Not a week goes by without someone addressing the reform of the Security Council," says Robert Orr, the assistant secretary-general for policy coordination under UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Orr, who was also responsible for strategic planning under Ban's predecessor, Kofi Annan, is sitting in a somewhat shabby office in a temporary pavilion next to the East River. His regular office is contaminated with asbestos and, together with the rest of the UN building, is currently undergoing renovation. It's a fitting metaphor for the condition of the organization as a whole.

The UN has received serious competition in recent years. It did not play a role in the international financial crisis, when the so-called G-20 nations assumed responsibility for crisis management. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon did not play a role when the world's most powerful nations came together in Copenhagen in December 2009 to negotiate policies to fight climate change. The UN is no longer as important as it once was, and if it doesn't reform itself it could eventually become politically irrelevant.


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Norberto_Tyr 09/17/2010
1. Can't believe that Germany does not realize that have no nuclear weapons !
Kindergarten's puzzle, match the countries: 1- China; 2- France; 3- UK; 4- USA; 5- Russia (ex USSR); 6- Germany; 7- Costa Rica; 8- Spain; 9- Philippines; 10- India; With the bombs: a- N1; b- N2; c- N3; d- N4; e- N5; f- N6; g- none1; h- none2; i- none3; j- none4. Solution: 4-a, 5-b, 3-c, 2-d, 1-e, 10-f, 6-g, 7-h, 8-I, 9-j. Corollary: having the bomb is a necessary but not sufficient condition given the current state of affairs. Proposal: 1- deconstruct the UN, 2- reconstruct the UN on a rational manner, 3- freeze. Norberto
lakechamplainer 09/18/2010
2. Membership doesn't have any benefits
As an American, I would suggest to the people of Germany that they shouldn't concern themselves with being on the UN Security Council. The US membership on the council has benefited me and my fellow Americans not at all.
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