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Australia and the Security Council

April 13, 2012

An op-ed I wrote, published in The Australian on April 10:

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo torn by civil war there are about 24,000 UN peacekeepers. These people are protecting civilians and building local capacity to conduct elections.

Today, the UN has the highest number of peacekeepers deployed in its history, about 120,000 in 15 operations. Their white four-wheel-drive vehicles and their blue helmets render them familiar. There have been about 66 UN peacekeeping operations since the first: supervision of the 1948 truce between Arab states and Israel.

Peacekeepers are on duty wherever the UN is called on to solve problems too big for local authority. They are there to maintain peace and protect civilians. They work with transitional governments to train police, restore justice and to uphold the rule of law. They enforce disarmament and monitor human rights and the conduct of elections. They appear on the ground as a result of a decision made by 15 members of the UN Security Council.

In October, the 193 members of the UN will vote to fill two seats allocated to the Western European and Others Group on the Security Council. Australia is one of three candidates. The decisions of the Security Council affect all nations of the world and will directly affect Australia’s interests and Australian lives.

Australia has not had a seat at this table for more than 25 years, not since the end of the Cold War.

That’s surprising because it could be said we punch above our weight as a contributor to UN peace operations and UN forums.

When I asked for the figures, I was told more than 65,000 Australians had served in more than 50 UN and other multilateral peace operations since 1947. Today, Australia is the 12th largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping budget and has more than 3000 personnel serving in peace and security operations across the globe.

In Bougainville, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, Australians have worked with regional partners to restore peace.

Australia led the intervention in East Timor in 1999, an action authorised by the Security Council. This year we celebrate East Timor’s 10th anniversary of independence.

Then there is one of the largest and most complex UN peacekeeping exercises in its history: Cambodia. Last month, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen reminded me that foreign ministers Bill Hayden and Gareth Evans had driven the peace process. Here was a muddle of politics, bombing and invasion, civil war and, on a staggering scale, crimes against humanity.

Evans envisaged a new role for the UN: to set up an interim administration and an Australian, Lieutenant General John Sanderson was to command the military component of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia to implement the outcome of peace negotiations, under the Paris peace agreements.

I was reminded that Cambodia is itself contributing peacekeepers to UN operations in Africa.

Today, I am visiting the UN headquarters in New York to meet Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and several UN ambassadors to discuss global challenges.

These include allegations of crimes against humanity in Syria, Iran’s nuclear program and the UN’s work in Burma as the country continues reform after the historic by-elections last week. They also include the crucial transition period in East Timor and sustainable development, ahead of a major summit in Brazil mid-year. A particular focus of mine will be protecting the world’s oceans.

I will also be talking about the contribution Australia can make as a member of the Security Council. If elected for a two-year term we will be more involved in the transition to Afghan control of security forces.

We are likely also to wrestle with nuclear policy in respect of Iran and North Korea, as well as nuclear safety in general.

Beyond these specifics lies the noble goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

Yes, I know it may seem idealistic. But later this month in Istanbul, 10 states brought together initially by Australia and Japan will meet to discuss ways to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and ultimately reach this goal.

On the Security Council, Australia would be able to contribute even more directly to global problem-solving, consistent with our national interests and values.

As an Asia-Pacific country, surrounded by countries and partners primarily from the developing world, we would also bring a different perspective from our friends in Europe.

It is a tough race. It always is in international forums.

Australia has a long history of contribution to the UN. We are a people of good and strong values. As a creative middle power, we will be an effective voice for the small and medium countries of the world and we will look to promote the interests of our nation and our region.

  1. Paul B permalink
    April 13, 2012 2:55 pm

    While it is interesting to list the numbers of troops we have had involved in UN operations and the other things we have contributed, sadly we all know these are not the relevant criteria. Lobbying, back scratching and what’s in it for me are the main deciding factors. I support us having a seat on the UN. What I dont support is going to extraordinary expenses in the name of vanity when we all know it is a stacked deck. Anyway Senator Carr, thanks for all these updates. I read them all.

  2. Ralf Kluin permalink
    April 14, 2012 7:11 am

    Hi Bob, our ALP Gillard Government might consider undertaking a citizen survey seeking to discover public sentiment about the UN amongst Australian voters. I recall, during the conservative Howard years, negative sentiment expressed by persons concerning Australian membership in the UN. This puzzled me greatly, because I had to remind them as we gathered around the barbecue, that the UN was also established by Australian effort, following WW2, in a bi-partisan manner, as was the case with refugees, and, that we Australians were regarded by many people throughout the world, as a freedom-loving nation, exercising our political will, based on values, as with freedom of speech, worship, fear and want.

    Today, reflecting on your letter, I continue to sense a kind of feeling, talking with some people recently again about this subject, that many Australians do not fully understand how these values may be more effectively promoted for all mankind. With ice melting and seas becoming more acid bound, we must prepare our people for any future events. This is only good risk management etcetera.

    However, the notion that we can use parliament to create better freedom, order and equality of opportunity seems somewhat illusive amongst some voters. One only has to reflect on some of the words chosen by current speeches made in parliament by elected parliamentarians.

    Whilst I do not agree with some of his ideas, Joseph Schumpeter, in his writings about analytic analysis concerning social vision may be worth quoting in part, “… The more honest and naive our vision is, the more dangerous is it to the eventual emergence of anything for which general validity can be claimed. The inference for the social sciences is obvious, and it is not even true that he who hates a social system will form an objectively more correct vision of it than he who loves it”.
    (Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, p.42-43)

    Best wishes, Ralf Kluin

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