Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 19:13 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 19:13 | SYDNEY

Reader ripostes: Our costly UNSC bid

21 September 2012 12:54

Below, a comment from Nina Markovic. But first, Hugh Wyndham:

I have been following the debate about our Security Council bid with a terrible sense of déjà vu. I was posted to the UN mission to assist the ambassador on the Security Council when we were members in 1973-4. I remember then many of my colleagues had the same point of view towards work at the United Nations as Danielle Cave. There is no way of convincing those who regard foreign relations as largely about bilateral relations that there is value in multilateral diplomacy.

The point is that, in such a forum as the Security Council, we can show what we can do; we can make a contribution. Much of what goes on is invisible to the public eye. If we take ourselves seriously as a country, it is right that, from time to time, we take a place in the Security Council, as well as in leadership positions in other organisations. It shows the world, including those parts of the world we do not know well and who do not know us, who we are. At the same time, we can help our friends and allies, including those in this region, and ensure that the perspectives of this region are taken into account. My views have nothing to do with altruism. I believe our being a member of the Security Council from time to time is in our national interest.

However, for those who, with Paul Keating, believe that a clever country can do two things at once, let me say that I believe our two years on the Security Council were well spent and, if we are elected, will be again in the future.

It happened that Australia chaired the Security Council during the Yom Kippur war in 1973. It was far from easy. Sir Laurence McIntyre had to cope with tremendous pressure, the US Ambassador at one moment letting fly with a string of four letter words when McIntyre indicated he was unwilling to defy the Council's rules of procedure to do something the ambassador wanted him to do; at another moment, trying and failing to get a word in edgeways when the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister, not understanding how the Council worked, let fly at him because he thought McIntyre was going to stop him speaking by ruling in favour of a point of order taken against him by the Soviet Ambassador.

If the campaign for election involves ministerial visits to some countries that we would not otherwise visit, I do not agree that that is a bad thing. Certainly, some of the countries in Danielle's list would not have otherwise received an Australian visit. However, some of them contain some of the world's most intractable problems. Others are significant in their region and/or are important trading or investment partners.

My final comment on Danielle's somewhat Romney-esque dismissal of so many countries is that, even though it might grieve politicians to know this, there is more to diplomacy than ministerial visits. If one were to compare the total effort made in our relations with China to the total effort made over the same period in our relations with Saint Kitts and Nevis, I have no doubt that the former would (quite properly) be considerably more extensive than the latter.

Nina Markovic, a PhD candidate at the ANU Centre for European Studies, who writes to us in a private capacity:

Danielle Cave's post invites the question whether the UN is relevant any longer. The 67th United Nations General Assembly session is set to begin in New York, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard making her way to address, next week, the world's largest leaders' gathering and to advance our UN Security Council bid ahead of the crucial vote in October. Heads of state/government frequently use this opportunity to hold bilateral side-meetings with hard-to-catch counterparts, visit their country's national mission, and perhaps even consolidate ties with US institutions, time permitting.

Isn't then another engagement in a 193-member 'talk-fest' (as some would brand it) very superficial, extravagant and unnecessary? Is Australia's bid just another 'dead duck’', as critics point out?

Whilst the UN system is undoubtedly operating within an archaic, post-World War Two framework and Australia is sometimes found wandering alone in the 'Western Europe and others group', an important point that emanated from the Australian Institute of International Affairs' lecture by Donna Petrachenko is worth noting. Australia is making a difference at the UN by directly bringing regional issues into international focus. This was demonstrated by joint diplomatic success of June 2012 when Australia and Pacific Island countries united to include 'Blue Economy' on the global sustainability agenda. If elected for the term of 2013–14, Australia will have a unique opportunity to advance regional issues further, and to put into the UN focus sustainable development and other needs of our vulnerable Pacific neighbours, as well as gender equality.

Serbia was recently also criticised for by-passing polite diplomatic conventions by putting forward, very late in the race, its ambitious then 35-year old Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic as a candidate for the UN General Assembly's presidency. The European Union members were not impressed, since a respectable Lithuanian diplomat, Dalius ?ekuolis, was their preferred candidate. With Russia's and China's support, vote from most members of the Non-Aligned Movement and also Australia, Mr Jeremic became President of the 67th session, allowing Serbia to have some influence over the Assembly's forward agenda. Serbia's President, Tomislav Nikolic, is now due to address the Assembly as the third speaker, beating Marshall's Tito's Cold War record as the fifth. If Serbia could do it, at the same time as battling decades-long tarnished image internationally, Australia has certainly got a chance.

Bilateral relationships forged during Australia's UN Security Council campaign are benefiting Australians at home and abroad (look at the creation of the ANU Centre for Latin American studies and many other initiatives which were non-existent before). In order to matter, we must be present. In order to be present, we chose pay a fee for the UN gala dinner. Even if we don't win the MasterChef title, our new investment relationships will benefit Australian businesses and resource-depleted diplomacy for the foreseeable future. Investing into the promotion of Australia's positive image abroad and voicing the needs of our Pacific partners globally must never be put on detox.