Now Open for Bidding: Pakistan’s UNSC Vote

For the fourth time since 1945, Pakistan will take a seat at the Horseshoe Table on January 1, 2012. In terms of the politics of the Security Council, this means that one vote got much more difficult to predict on any of the number of issues that the Council faces as remnants of 2011, much less the unforeseen challenges of 2012. Pakistan’s role as a non-permanent member of the UNSC will be that of a wild card, casting its gaze about for the best prize before it raises its hand for or against any proposal.

Pakistan’s seat was by no means a guarantee. While Kyrgyzstan isn’t the platonic ideal of a state that the framers of the Charter had in mind when developing the requirements for service on the Council, it did have a certain appeal in its campaign for the Asia-bloc seat. Foremost among its strong points: it isn’t Pakistan. At the time of the vote in the General Assembly, relations between the United States and Pakistan were already on the rocks, remnants of the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. No real counter-campaign to Pakistan emerged in Kyrgyzstan’s favor, as neither the US nor India stepped up to the plate to whip votes for the Central Asian republic. In the end, Pakistan came out ahead with 129 votes in the 193 body, a bare two-thirds minimum for acceptance onto the Council.

It’s surprising that the US didn’t lobby more heavily in favor of Kyrgyzstan. Doing so would have had several advantages. It would have provided a more likely reliable vote for United States initiatives. Kyrgyzstan has often been torn between the United States and Russia, and now increasingly China; US aid in gaining its first term on the Security Council would have been a strong point in the US’ camp. Further, Kyrgyzstan’s proximity to Afghanistan makes it ideal as an alternative shipping route for NATO logistics. Finally, and most importantly, it would have been a strong message to Pakistan that its role as a promoter of international peace and security is not a given. Denial of a Security Council seat would have been seen as an affront to Pakistan, especially if orchestrated by the United States, but such a shake-up would have been welcome at the time.

Instead, we today have a much larger rift in relations. Rather than being diplomatic in nature, this time the ire of the Pakistani military has been drawn over the accidental death of several Pakistani soldiers at the hands of NATO forces. Despite US and NATO efforts to calm the storm, Pakistan is now in the midst of re-evaluating its entire relationship with the United States, which will surely affect Pakistan’s behavior on the Security Council. The United States and the other Western permanent members have several equities at stake over the coming year that will require every vote they can muster, including Syria and other repercussions of the Arab Spring, further confrontations with Iran, as well as flare-ups in the Sudan and DR Congo. While the primary focus of Security Council dynamics often is focused on the working relationship of the Great Powers, the non-permanent members’ influence is keenly known to the ten holders of the rotating seats.

Empirical evidence supports their certainty. Several papers have come to the conclusion that states that serve terms on the Security Council see an uptick in United States foreign aid. This upswing begins when the member-state is first elected, continues throughout its two-year term, and then immediately decreases once its term has ended. While not spoken of, this knowledge is a factor in the race for Security Council seats among developing nations; the regional rotation of seats works against the original requirement of those most able to contributed to peace and security, so states may as well enjoy the spoils. Pakistan may find itself an outlier to this rule, as our continued military aid to a state that continues to hedge its bets in supporting non-state actors has come under sharper scrutiny. A reduction in aid at this time, while appropriate, could also serve to harm our interests during this two-year period outside of the scope of counterterrorism policy as Pakistan takes its seat.

The slowdown in aid without a resumption in 2012 would lead to the possibility that Pakistan will find itself more strongly allied with members of the BRICS-bloc throughout its term. The bloc, having lost Brazil to an expired term, is down a member-state that will constantly ally with it to put the brakes on Western efforts to utilize the Security Council’s full scope of powers. Even through abstention, the combined weight of the bloc leaves the other members of the SC scrambling to ensure that two other states don’t cast no votes or abstention of their own. Pakistan could easily fall into the BRICS camp, even if it does mean cooperating with its regional rival, India. The two are among the top contributors to peacekeeping missions, and are likely to work together to attempt to boost support for their forces in blue helmets.

The strain between the two may show its head when it comes to issues of fighting terrorism, however. India will be serving the second of its two-year term as the head of the UNSC’s Counter-Terrorism Committee throughout 2012. Formed in the aftermath of September 11th, the CTC hosts all 15-members of the Security Council. Any clash between India and Pakistan over the next year is likely to take place in this forum. Pushback on this issue may then reverberate to the Council writ-large, with the potential for destabilizing BRICS and splitting India from Russia and China while drawing Pakistan more into their camp.

This leaves Pakistan between the two sides, East and West, a potential wrench in the agenda for each. Up for grabs is its one vote among ten. When nine affirmative votes are required to pass anything through the Council, each one can matter, as Palestine learned when attempting to lobby for a full seat at the UN this fall. Unable to reach the minimum nine votes to force a US veto, the issue quietly died in committee. Pakistan is surely well aware of this, and will attempt to sway both sides on any issue, seeking political and economic promises before its support or dissent is given.

In theory, the two likely bidders for Pakistani support over the next two years are the United States and China; Russia’s primary strategic objective of defeating Western proposals needs no support as its veto power more than suffices. As for China, its footprint on the international community has been on the rise for several years, but has yet to translate to positive action in the Security Council, rather than serving as a brake with Russia. Should China choose to begin advancing its agenda on the Council more forcefully in the coming year, Pakistan would be a more than eager recipient of the attention and tangible benefits that would come along with supporting Chinese endeavors. This isn’t a certainty; the US using the Council to advance its own goals is.

As tempting as it may be to leave Pakistan grasping at straws with no takers for its product, it’s simply too valuable to leave on the shelf. The United States can, and will, attempt to build coalitions around Pakistan as often as possible, but there will surely be a time where that last vote is needed. And when that time comes, Pakistan will surely have an invoice ready.


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