The Great Power Council

I spoke recently to Colin Keating, a former UN ambassador from New Zealand and head of Security Council Report, which keeps a close eye on that body. He pointed out something interesting: in 2011, the UN Security Council will likely include more major powers than at any time in recent memory. In addition to the five permanent members, the Council will have Brazil and Nigeria (current members whose terms expire at the end of 2011.) All but certain to be new members are India and South Africa. And depending on how the General Assembly votes this fall, Germany and Canada could both snag seats (they're in a three-way race for two seats with Portugal). In all, more than half the G-20 may be represented. It will be an interesting test run for how an altered Security Council might perform. 

For the aspiring permanent members, Council membership will be a delicate dance. On the one hand, they'll want to show the broader UN membership (whose votes they need to get any Council reform plan through the General Assembly) that they can stand up to the permanent five on key issues. But too much freelancing may annoy the P5 and make them less amenable to adding new permanent seats (some diplomats I've spoken with believe that the Brazil/Turkey foray during the Iran sanctions debate may have already had this effect).


The Multilateralist

Wanted: a non-African to indict

The slow-motion tussle between the International Criminal Court and Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir continues. In recent months, the head of state has traveled abroad several times in an apparent effort to break out of the isolation created by his 2008 indictment (which was recently broadened to include genocide). In the wake of this year's reelection victory, Bashir traveled to Egypt. Last month, it was neighboring Chad. This month, he was in Libya.  Of these, Chad may have been the most significant. An ICC member, that country has a legal obligation to arrest indicted persons that it chose to ignore.

The backdrop to Bashir's peregrinations is strong African discontent with the court's direction and resentment that all those indicted have been African. In July, the African Union sharply criticized the court and rebuffed its offer to coordinate more closely. Launching a formal investigation somewhere outside of Africa may soon be a political imperative for the court. But there aren't many spots it could land without stepping on the toes of major powers. An investigation in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Colombia would anger Washington and revive somewhat dormant anti-ICC sentiment. Russia would go ballistic if the court brought charges related to the Georgia conflict (unless everyone indicted was Georgian). China—already miffed over the Bashir indictment—would be apoplectic if the ICC investigated Burma. Hard choices are ahead in the Hague.