x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Lebanon takes a seat at UN Security Council

US expert says the 'unusual collection' of countries elected to two-year terms may hamper the body's ability to act.

NEW YORK // Lebanon will succeed Libya as the Arab nation on the UN Security Council next year after winning a vote that brought other politically divided nations, such as Gabon and Bosnia, to a 15-nation body designed to maintain global peace. Analysts question whether Lebanon's government travails, Gabon's ongoing election dispute and Bosnia's ethnic strife will leave the new members hindering a body that is charged with tackling threats to international security.

Bosnia and Lebanon will be in the unusual position of hosting UN peacekeeping operations and will themselves be subject to the scrutiny of the council while they serve out their two-year terms. "It's an unusual collection of cripples and non-performers joining the council," said Jeffrey Laurenti, a UN expert at The Century Foundation. "Look at Lebanon and Bosnia. At least Gabon doesn't have a UN peacekeeping force holding it together."

The three countries, along with Brazil and Nigeria, each received at least 180 votes in a "clean slate" election for the 2010-2011 term. The candidates ran unopposed after being selected by the General Assembly's regional groups. Council seats are sometimes contested, but all five were a rubber stamping exercise, only requiring support from two-thirds of the 190 nations who voted by secret ballot yesterday.

They will join the five non-permanent members already serving on the council and the five permanent, veto-wielding members - Russia, the US, France, the UK and China. Lebanon, a founding member of the UN, joins the council for the first time since 1953-1954. By convention there is one Arab League council member, but because the 22-nation bloc straddles Africa and Asia, the "Arab swing seat" candidate is selected on rotation between the two regional groupings.

Lebanon has been on the Security Council agenda for decades, with UN peacekeepers deployed in the south near the Israeli border since 1978 and a UN-backed tribunal mulling possible indictments in the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Lebanon's political situation remains tense, with the western-backed majority in parliament and Hizbollah and its allies still deadlocked on forming a unity government following June 7 elections.

"We hope that our seat on the Security Council will help us also promote not only the rule of law, but the dialogue of cultures and civilisation and will helps us work for a more just and more democratic international system," said Nawaf Salam, Lebanon's ambassador to the UN. The European Union peacekeeping force stationed in Bosnia is likewise under a mandate from the Security Council following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and Europe's worst fighting since the Second World War, with 260,000 people killed and 1.8 million displaced.

Ethnic tensions between Bosnia's Muslims, Croats and Serbs remain divisive, hampering the country's efforts to join the EU. "In Lebanon and Bosnia we have two countries that have been through conflict and can bring their own national experiences to the Security Council," said Sir John Sawers, Britain's UN ambassador." In the past, countries that are on the Security Council's agenda have abstained on some issues because of conflicts of interest. This could happen with Kosovo in the case of Bosnia and with Iran in the case of Lebanon because of Hizbollah's close ties to Tehran.

Gabon, which last served from 1998-99, is not on the council agenda but also has political problems. The August 30 election results awarded victory to Ali Bongo, the son of the country's long-time dictator, but have been disputed by opposition candidates who accuse the victor of fraud. Mr Laurenti, from the US-based research body, described the danger of having countries subject to council decisions occupying seats within the UN's powerhouse, which can impose sanctions and dispatch peacekeeping troops.

"Back in 1994, Rwanda was on the council at the time of the explosion of genocide," he said. "The genocidalists were in a position to frustrate effective international action. "When you have country on the council that is itself a subject of the Security Council actions, it can be a major stumbling block to promote effective international response." The five countries elected to the council yesterday will take their seats on January 1.

jreinl@thenational.ae