With its election to the United Nations Security Council as a temporary member, the United Arab Emirates hopes to be an agenda-setter by leveraging its relationships with permanent members to prioritise fighting terrorism, tacking environment crisis, promoting tolerance, and the role of women in peacekeeping.
The UAE starts its term on the 15-nation council next year, when it will join Albania, Brazil, Ghana, and Gabon as new temporary members. India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway will serve until the end of 2022, when five new members will be elected to join the permanent Security Council members Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France.
As opposed to the UN’s General Assembly, the decisions of the Security Council are binding and require a majority of nine votes to be passed with no vetoes from permanent members. Although the five permanent countries may block a decision using their veto right, they need the support of at least four non-permanent members to pass a resolution.
A Seat at the Table
The UAE has a history of deep involvement in the international system with active membership and participation in international agencies and organisations. The country has joined most UN organisations and affiliates (previously serving on the Security Council from 1986 to 1987), as well as regional Arab and Islamic organisations such as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The UAE has taken part in international peacekeeping and humanitarian interventions in order to maintain regional security, but also to signal the country’s sense of international responsibility and contribution to a rules-based multilateral order. UAE representatives at the United Nations mission expressed the country’s commitment to be constructive partners and open to dialogue.
In the run-up to the Security Council election, the UAE ran on a platform of “Stronger United”. The UAE wants to prioritise some of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals that are not as integrated into the Security Council’s agenda. The regional balance of the council is somewhat imperfect, so in a sense the UAE will represent the entire Middle East region.
Temporary Member, Permanent Consequences?
For much of its history, the UN has been paralysed by superpower rivalry, but there has been a recent shift in the global order from a unipolar to a multipolar world.
This change in the centre of gravity may considerably increase the bargaining power of non-permanent-members, who could see more possibilities to form powerful alliances, with both permanent and non-permanent members. The UAE has strong ties with the US, China and Russia that could be leveraged to accomplish its goals.
There are three types of power-enhancing benefits that states seek through council membership, according to one of the few academic studies on the subject.
In the paper entitled “Elected members influence in the United Nations Security Council,” Jeremy Farrell, Marie-Eve Loiselle, Christopher Michaelsen, Jochen Prantl and Jeni Whalan of the Australian National University suggest these advantages include: (1) influencing the agenda; (2) networking and social interaction; and (3) elevating or maintaining status.
However, exercising influence is not simply a matter of assembling resources but also employing a set of tactics. Tactical skills and the tenaciousness of a country’s representative and its other senior diplomats are quintessential.
“The most influential members rely on leadership, diplomatic skills, and political capital rather than objective power,” argue the authors of the study. “(In order to be influential they need to be) innovative and seek out opportunities.”
Election as a non-permanent member of the Security Council is a major achievement, but it also requires a sense of responsibility to the maintenance of international peace and security, the council’s primary objective.
One of the UN’s founding principles is that it is far more cost-effective to handle issues of international peace and security collectively through the council than acting unilaterally. The UAE will be expected to contribute effectively to this mandate.
Dr. Kristian Alexander is a Senior Fellow at TRENDS Research & Advisory in Abu Dhabi and an adviser at Gulf State Analytics (GSA), a Washington-based geopolitical risk consultancy