Vienna Leads the World

Austria to chair the UNSC as its 2-year membership nears end

January 2010 not only brings with it a new decade, but also five new countries that will be part of the United Nations Security Council as non-permanent members. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria will start their two-year term as per the decision of the General Assembly on Oct. 15 at the New York headquarters. Until then, the current members of the Security Council (SC) rotate on a monthly basis to acquire its chairmanship. This November, Austria took the lead.

Austria joined the SC for the third time in 2009 and its membership will terminate – along with Japan, Mexico, Turkey and Uganda – at the end of 2010. The seats of the Council are assigned on the basis of geographical groupings, and the candidate countries must get approval from two thirds of the present voting Member States in order to be chosen for membership. Austria’s previous terms were in the 1970s and the 1990s, but the highlighted accomplishment of its chairmanship this year is of an exceptional significance, not only for Austrians but for the people of every country still struggling with war. On Nov. 11, members of the SC unanimously adopted Austria’s proposed draft for a new resolution aimed at improving the protection of civilians in armed conflicts and assigning considerable responsibility to combatants regarding civilian safety.

Sixty different countries adopted the decision during a meeting in New York chaired by the Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger. “We chose the tenth anniversary of the old resolution dealing with the protection of civilians to improve on this matter,” said Mr. Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, head of the Press Department of the Ministry for European and International Affairs. When Austria chaired the Council, its main focus was the application of the rule of law, but the work of the SC goes beyond that and is driven by different events; sanctions against Iran, UN peacekeeping forces around the globe, relations between Columbia and Venezuela, Somalia, and the Middle East are just some of the many topics that flood the SC’s international agenda. “As chairman of the Security Council, you are an active moderator,” explains Mr. Launsky, “you see the issues and work to see improvements.”

Though some members may address internal matters, the SC remains occupied with international issues as they arise – the Middle East for instance is a regular subject of discussions. “To attract the interest of other members of the Council, countries need to talk beyond borders, to bring others on board,” explains Launsky, “but in the case of the Middle East or former Yugoslavia, regional issues may have implications on the international level.” And so to ensure peace and stability in these regions, the five new members face the challenge of “bringing to the plate the issues that concern the community at wide.” Mr. Launsky believes these new members will not need much advice. “By choosing a timely topic, a comparatively small country like Austria was able to get ahead. It is not a question of size,” he continues, “but rather of substance.”

Austria has been successfully trying to re-establish Vienna alongside New York and Geneva as one of the seminal UN cities. In a creative new approach, members of the SC were invited to a retreat in Tyrol for an informal meeting to contemplate today’s pressing issues. The United Nations is currently considering institutionalising such meetings in the future. Vienna currently hosts more than five thousand United Nations employees and their families at the IAEA headquarters. This is a major contribution, which is mutually beneficial for the UN and the Austrian economy. “It makes us aware that the world does not end outside of the EU,” admits Launsky.

The sum of these successful contributions makes the Austrian experience in the SC a positive one. The challenge that every member country faces – especially during the month-long chairmanship – is to build and maintain alliances. No member country can bring about the change needed on its own, and the interests of the other members should be accounted for. “In the SC you are constantly reminded that what you are able to achieve within ‘coalition building’ is important and that all the 15 countries are important,” explains Launsky.

At the end of 2010 Austria will fall back naturally into its normal rhythm again. After a two-year effort lobbying the international community to gain the SC, the traditional priorities will regain their positions. Austria has proven highly capable of covering issues around the globe with success by concentrating on the areas where Austrians have know-how and historical ties. Today, Vienna offers its services for all sorts of talks, both official and non-official. An example of this is the legal delegation from Nepal that recently visited Vienna to consult with Austrian constitutional experts regarding the drafting of the Nepalese constitution. Providing such services shows commitment to the goals of the UN and contributes a great deal of to the international community.

Launsky showed an intrinsic faith in the goals and structure of the organization. “The UN is as successful as its member countries allow it to be,” assures Launsky, “but it is somehow like democracy; as much as they may criticize it, still no one has come up with a better system or platform to solve the conflicts.” Many Europeans share this feeling about the UN. “I feel comfortable that it went through ups and downs,” he continues. “Sure it is difficult to combine all 192 opinions but we (Austria) are deeply involved.”

Today, with the new U.S. administration and its more positive approach to the UN, hopes are rising for a better future. “It felt like a shot in the arm for multilateral diplomacies and that is the difference as compared to few years ago,” points out Launsky. “It makes it worth to put in more effort in the UN.” It is certain though that both bilateral and multilateral relations are needed, and Mr. Launsky has a personal experience in both fields. While with bilateral diplomacy you can see progress more easily, multilateral agreements remain more satisfying as it brings groups of countries together, even if the process is sometimes long and frustrating.

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