As you may know, tomorrow Italy will face Sweden in the UEFA European Championship (and we all know the likely winner of that match). However, Sweden poses stiffer competition for Italy in their much more important race to fill the two non-permanent Western European vacancies in the UN Security Council. Although the Netherlands missed out on UEFA Euro finals this year for the first time since 1984, Italy and Sweden should be worried about them as the third candidate in the Security Council election on June 28th for the 2017-19 term.
Joining the Security Council, even temporarily, is a big deal for nations considering the momentous conflicts and crises around the world because it is the only UN body that can actually bind nations to resolutions. This means that Italy, Sweden, and the Netherlands will potentially have major influence in solving the world’s problems, ranging from the situation in the Middle East to international climate change. The five permanent members of the Council, who possess veto power, are China, France, Russia, UK, and the United States. The ten non-permanent members, who don’t possess veto power, are elected for a two year mandate by a two-thirds vote of the 193 countries that make up the UN General Assembly. The spots are divided by region: three places for Africa, two for Asia-Pacific, two for Latin America and the Caribbean, one for Eastern Europe, two for Western Europe, and Other.
As in the UEFA Euro, Italy is a powerful and influential international player. Since becoming a UN member state in 1955, Italy has served as a non-permanent Security Council member six times, most recently it was elected in 2007. This time there are three primary advantages Italy has over the other two candidates which may ensure them a position in the UN’s most authoritative entity:
Italy’s first significant advantage is its geographical location. Italy is located on the Mediterranean, in close proximity to the numerous conflicts occurring in North Africa and the Middle East. For example, Italy is right across the Mediterranean from Libya, a state virtually in chaos, with a refugee crisis directly affecting Italy. Additionally, the quickly growing Islamic State in Libya continues to pose a major threat, prompting Italy to take the lead in expressing diplomatic and military readiness.
For the first time in the UN’s 70-year history, open debates are taking place between the non-permanent Security Council candidates, with questions from member states and non-governmental organizations meant to make the election more transparent. Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi stressed the point about his country’s geopolitical location in the debate hosted by The World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA). He proclaimed, “If we are elected we think we will bring in the council our direct experience of situations that are happening right in our area, in our region, our experience of negotiating, our experience of always resorting to negotiation and dialogue instead of more robust solutions.”
Italy’s second political advantage is its UN peacekeeping contribution. Italy is the largest contributor of UN peacekeepers (“blue helmets”) among Western nations, and unlike many nations, its personnel have logistical and operational autonomy, almost entirely separate from UN resources. This could help Italy earn political points among nations benefitting from their peacekeeping missions.
Third, Italy has great influence over microstates. Each member state has a single vote in the General Assembly no matter how large or economically significant it is on the global stage. Italy has used and may continue to use this to their advantage by assuming influence over many European and Pacific microstates. Italy has led a microstate coalition for the last 20 years to prevent the General Assembly from reforming the UN Charter to grant Germany, Japan, Brazil and India permanent membership to the Security Council. If Italy can execute as great a strategy in diplomacy for GA votes as they do on the soccer field, the election may be a done deal.
However, both the Netherlands and Sweden present convincing cases for their candidacies.
The Netherlands may be the weaker link. The Dutch appear to be banking on the fact that the Kingdom of the Netherlands constitutes four distinct countries: Holland, and the Caribbean islands of Saint Maarten, Curacao and Aruba. The nation’s hope is that the approximately 40 small Caribbean island states will support them in the election, resulting in greater representation in the Security Council.
The Dutch also stress that as country mostly under sea-level and vulnerable to the melting polar ice caps, they will be most committed to addressing climate change. During the WFUNA’s debate, Ambassador Karel van Oosterom of the Netherlands explained that because the Kingdom represents countries from two different parts of the world including islands at major risk of climate change effects, the nation would be most suited to “building bridges” and addressing this international issue in the Security Council.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands Bert Koenders said when presenting the Kingdom’s candidacy in The Hague, “We need new and smart coalitions and networks committed to taking the lead and finding creative solutions, without losing sight of the legitimacy broad participation brings. New and smart alliances are what the Kingdom of the Netherlands can offer, and I believe that’s where our candidacy distinguishes itself. We are serious about partnerships and about putting people first.”
Unfortunately for the Dutch, the United States’ anger at the nation for refusing to resettle two Guantanamo Bay inmates may weaken their claim for a spot. The U.S. has a large influence over the General Assembly that may work against the Netherlands’ candidacy.
Sweden on the other hand appears to be Italy’s greatest threat. During the WFUNA debate Swedish Ambassador Olaf Skoog stressed that Sweden has served the Council only three times, most recently in 2000. Not to mention that Sweden is one of the top aid donors to the UN with $356 million this year alone, while the Netherlands has contributed $94 million, and Italy only $16 million. This is a tremendous advantage for Sweden because it places them at the center of Western Europe’s contribution to UN efforts.
Ambassador Skoog said at the WFUNA debate, “I believe Sweden is different. We are militarily non-aligned. We have a small country perspective. We act in solidarity, being the largest contributor per capita to development assistance, to climate finance and to the United Nations.”
Although Sweden may not have much of a chance at beating Italy tomorrow in the UEFA Euro, their leadership at the UN and infrequency as non-permanent members to the Security Council may be enough to take Italy down. Whether or not Italy can snag a seat over the Netherlands is a trickier question considering their potential Caribbean coalition. Regardless, this coming election year will be a difficult one for all the candidates. Unfortunately for the Italians, they can’t win this race on the soccer field.