Ignoring the need to quietly and steadily rebuild relationships and Australia’s international reputation, Rudd in a grand statement announced that Australia will seek a seat on the UN Security Council in 2013. It is a thankless task to have befallen the new Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith. The quest has been elevated to Australia’s primary foreign policy objective over the next four years by the Prime Minister’s office. The task will be even more difficult in view of the likely downturn in the international economy over that period.
The cost of this exercise has been variously estimated at $20-$30 million. This figure is said to take into account travel costs, man hours and other administrative costs associated with a sustained and worldwide lobbying effort.
This undertaking has to be resourced against the substantial DFAT budget cuts outlined above.
In an exercise such as this, a country the size of Australia, particularly with its somewhat tarnished reputation, needs other welldisposed and influential countries not seeking a seat or already on the Council to lobby on our behalf. The US is unlikely to secure us many votes in light of the perception that Australia has a foreign policy closely linked to that of the US. Wrongly or rightly at the moment, a vote for Australia would be seen as placing a US puppet on the Council.
Also, in the light of the influence of US financial institutions on recent and future international economic uncertainty, the leverage of the US will be reduced. Who else might help? Well, no one really. Not India or China, not Russia or Japan, and no one in Europe, Africa, Latin America or Asia, with the possible exceptions of Canada, New Zealand and Singapore.
Howard and Downer used up our UN credit accumulated over the past 30 years on issues such as disarmament, nuclear proliferation, and the fair and proper treatment of refugees.
With the exception of a statement on climate change – as yet without the prospect of substance – and the export of minerals, Australia at the moment has little to offer the world.
No wonder, then, that experienced and seasoned Australian diplomats are tearing their hair out at the prospect of such an uphill battle, particularly now in such an unsettled and unpredictable international environment. The only prospect of success for Australia to gain a seat on the Council is to buy it, and it will not come cheap. Aid to African, Asian, Pacific and Latin American countries for any prospect of success could run into the many millions. And what, ask these old diplomatic dogs, do we get for our money?
We might not get much, but others seem to have gotten plenty. In a Harvard research paper, How much is a seat on the Security Council worth? Foreign aid and bribery at the United Nations, the authors find that countries that win a rotating seat get a big cash bonus as well – a 60 per cent increase in US foreign aid. When they leave, of course, so does the extra aid injection.
The next five lucky countries elected to the Council will take their seats on January 1, 2008. Burkina Faso, Vietnam and Libya are in. Croatia, Czech Republic, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic are still slugging it out.