And the Newest Members of the Security Council Are…

Update: Turkey lost to Spain in the third round of voting.

The General Assembly is holding elections today to replace five permanent members of the Security Council. The two year terms of Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, Korea, Rwanda are expiring. They will be replaced by other members of their regional group. This means that there are two seats open for Africa and Asia, two seats open for the WEOG (Western Europe and Other Group) and one seat for Latin America.

This election would be a bit of a snoozer if not for the fact that Turkey is running in a competitive election for a seat.

The Latin American countries decided amongst themselves to nominate Bolivia for their one seat; and the African and Asian countries nominated Angola and Malaysia for their two seats. This means there’s one competitive election: Turkey, New Zealand and Spain are vying for the two seats being vacated by Luxembourg and Australia. (A candidate needs the support of two thirds of the General Assembly in order to win the seat.)

In practice this means the real drama will be whether or not the General Assembly wants to select a frontline state to the Syrian conflict as a battle rages just a mile from Turkey’s border in the Kurdish town of Kobane. And the answer is…

Now, both Turkey and Jordan — two of the countries arguably most affected by the Syria crisis — will now serve on the Security Council in 2015. In practice this may not change much. So long as veto-wielding members USA and Russia remain at loggerheads, the ability of the UNSC to determine the course of this conflict and its resolution will be limited.

But one area where this might affect outcomes is on the question of Palestinian statehood. Mahmoud Abbas is trying to gin up support for a Security Council resolution that would set a deadline for the two state solution and Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Turkey would almost certainly be one more vote in favor of this measure.

The USA is opposed—and could veto it if it needed to. But the USA would very much like to avoid having to cast a veto, which would be diplomatically costly and embarrassing. One way to avoid a veto is by lobbying the other member states to vote against or abstain from the measure. If a Security Council resolution fails to gain 9 affirmative votes, it fails. This is precisely what happened in 2011, during the last big push by Palestine at the Security Council. The measure failed to get the requisite 9 votes (they were one shy), so the vote never occurred and the USA was saved from casting a veto.

This drama will unfold again this year at the UN Security Council. With Turkey on the council, the USA is more likely to face the uncomfortable decision of whether or not to cast a veto–which, in effect, could be read by many as a veto against the two state solution, which is a policy the USA adamantly supports. So again, this could be very awkward and damaging the US credibility on the Arab-Israeli conflict and possibly undermine foreign policy priorities elsewhere.  

Bottom line: these elections matter!