October 11 - Issue 31 - Security Council Election October 16 – Two Regions Contested

New York, October 11, 2007 - The General Assembly will elect five non-permanent members to the Security Council next Tuesday, October 16.

Last year's election lasted seventeen days due to a contest between Guatemala and Venezuela for the Latin American seat. This year, the contested seats are in Eastern Europe and again in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. These contests may require several rounds of voting.

The available seat for Asia appears to be uncontested, due to an agreement the Asian Group made one year ago to unanimously support Vietnam for the 2008-2009 term. Additional arrangements have been reported since then, including an official clean slate for Africa. Arrangements made between States before the election ensure an exchange of support for one another. Such arrangements may undermine the selection of members based on their qualifications for membership on the Council, which are defined in the Charter as "in the first instance ... the contribution ... to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the organization" (interpreted either as troop or financial contributions) as well as "equitable geographic distribution" (Article 23).

Regardless of regional support, each candidate still must receive support from a two-thirds majority of states present and voting, which is expected to be 128 states.

The new members will replace the states elected two years ago, whose seats terminate on December 31, 2007: Congo, Ghana, Peru, Qatar, and Slovakia. Remaining on the Council for another year are Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panama and South Africa.

Regional Details for 2008 Seats

The UN Charter dictates a formal distribution of Council seats among the regional groups. The election is conducted accordingly, with separate ballots for each region. (Much of the information below is derived from Security Council Report's recent Special Research Report: Security Council Elections 2007.)


  • Seats available: Two (to replace Congo and Ghana)
  • Candidates: Burkina Faso, Libya. Both candidates have African Union endorsement, which generally assures a candidate of election. Mauritania declared itself a candidate in May 2007 by notifying the President of the General Assembly and bypassing the region's usual endorsement processes. Last month, however, it withdrew its candidature after Libya promised to support Mauritania for a Council seat in 2012-2013. Mauritania could have pulled votes from either candidate.
  • Regional Practices: The African Group has a formal system of sub-regional rotation and candidate endorsement.

o        Five distinct sub-regions: North, West, Central, East, and Southern Africa take turns holding elected seats in the following pattern. West Africa gets a seat every other year. North Africa alternates with Central Africa for a seat every other year. East Africa alternates with Southern Africa for a seat every other year. This year, West Africa and North Africa should rotate in, with one seat for each.

o        African Group's process for selecting a candidate: 1) Each sub-region selects a candidate. The candidate's name goes to the African Group of Ambassadors, who in turn forward the nomination to the African Group Committee on Candidatures (in New York). 2) That group is responsible for sending nominations to the African Union's Ministerial Committee on Candidatures. At this point in the process, regional organizations or the candidates themselves can also send names to the AU Ministerial Committee, without having been through the sub-regional/African Group process. 3) The AU Ministerial Committee selects the candidates using its Rules of Procedure and sends its selection to the AU Executive Committee during Summit meetings.

o        The practice of regional endorsement and sub-regional rotation often means that by the time the General Assembly is presented with candidates during the election, it is left with little choice. Mauritania's withdrawal and the resulting clean slate is an example of this. It is thus difficult to select Security Council members according to the criteria defined in the UN Charter.

  • In the election itself, both countries will need support from a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly.
  • In its GA speech last month, Libya said that it was committed to finding "permanent solutions to international problems based on justice, transparency and respect for the principles of international law." It is also hosting a meeting on ending the conflict in Darfur later this month. Libya held Council membership previously in 1976-1977. Human rights and democracy groups, as well as the Community of Democracies, have argued that Libya is not an appropriate candidate for the Council, citing human rights violations.
  • Burkina Faso is expected to be active in West African peace processes, especially through its role as Chair of the Economic Community of West African States.


  • Seats available: One (to replace Qatar)
  • Candidate: Vietnam
  • Regional Practices: The Asian Group has no established practice of regional rotation, resulting in regular competition for the seat. But there is an understanding that ASEAN countries do not run against each other (ASEAN has ten members out of the Asian Group's 53). The Asian Group has an agreement that a candidate can be endorsed a year in advance if there is no other candidate.
  • No contest for this seat is expected.
  • Given the Asian Group's endorsement of its candidature, Vietnam has the support of the 53 Asian states, in addition to several other countries.

o        New Zealand said that it was offering its support to Vietnam in exchange for future votes from it for election to other bodies. It also said that its support was "based on our recognition of its importance in our region, its importance as one of the world's largest populations."

o        President Triet said that Vietnam would support New Zealand's efforts to return to the Security Council in the future, in return.

o        India cited Vietnam's fast-growing economy as one of the major reasons it should be selected to serve on the Council. Others commented that Asia's endorsement of Vietnam was appropriate given its perceived growing stature and prestige in the region. Vietnam is a member of both the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

o        Moldova publicly offered its support out of recognition of the country's market economy.

o        A security academic recently suggested that Vietnam's basic position would be to uphold national sovereignty and the leading role of the UN in the maintenance of global peace.

o        At the GA debate last month Vietnam expressed commitment to the responsibilities of a Security Council member and said it would make contributions particularly in the areas of global peace and security and UN reform, including reform of Security Council working methods. It promised to "work closely with other countries to reduce tension, prevent and peacefully settle conflicts in different parts of the world." Vietnam has never held Council membership.Human rights and democracy groups have argued that Vietnam, like Libya, is not an appropriate candidate for the Council, citing human rights violations.

Eastern Europe

  • Seats available: One (to replace Slovakia)
  • Candidates: Croatia, Czech Republic
  • Regional Practices: Eastern Europe has not established practices for endorsing candidates.
  • Czech Republic has served on the Council before, while Croatia has not. Croatia is not an EU member.
  • In its GA speech last month, Croatia affirmed its willingness to take part in reform of the Council.
  • It is possible that the election for this region will take several rounds of voting.

Latin America and the Caribbean

  • Seats available: One (to replace Peru)
  • Candidates: Costa Rica, Dominican Republic
  • Regional practices: Has no established practice of regional rotation, but often reaches consensus beforehand and provides clean slates.
  • Costa Rica has served on the Council previously. Dominican Republic has not held membership.
  • The election for this region could take several rounds of voting.

Western Europe and Others

  • Seats available: None
  • Candidates: None

o        Next year WEOG will need to replace Belgium and Italy. Turkey, Austria, and Iceland are all expected to run.

  • Regional practices: The region regularly has competition for seats - contested seats are more a tradition than is reaching agreement ahead of time.

o        There are sub-regional groups (Nordic, "Benelux," and CANZ), but they do not always prevent competition within the groups.

o        The Nordic group has an established practice of putting forward a candidate every four years. Its candidate for 2009-2010 is Iceland.


About the Security Council

The Security Council is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations. According to Chapters 5-7 of the UN Charter the Council bears primary responsibility for the "maintenance of international peace and security."

The Security Council is made up of fifteen members, making it the smallest of the principal organs, and only ten of its members are elected by the broader UN membership. The other five are permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Proposals for the expansion of the Security Council's membership and reform of its working methods to incorporate more transparency mechanisms currently are being considered in the General Assembly.

The scope of the term "international peace and security" is currently a topic of discussion and disagreement between the Security Council. Members of the Security Council see security as a concept that has widened with various changes in global circumstances, while many GA members are wary of Security Council "encroachment" on issues under the GA purview.

Criteria for Membership

The UN Charter says that members should be selected based on their qualifications, which are: "contribution ... to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the organization" as well as "equitable geographic distribution" (Article 23). According to Security Council Report, the first part of that definition is "often interpreted ... as levels of contribution to peacekeeping or financial contributions for peacekeeping operations and peace processes." The "other purposes of the organization" is interpreted more broadly.

Factors often taken into account informally by Member States include:

Positive Factors

Negative Factors

- Troop contributions to UN peacekeeping operations, peacekeeping experience and record

- Representation of a significant demographic group

- Experience in international leadership

- Financial contributions to the UN budget

- Domestic insecurity

- A current campaign for other offices or seats     (i.e. Human Rights Council)

- Small size


(Derived from Security Council Report, Special Report on Security Council Elections 2006, August 14, 2006).

Election Procedures

Each year the General Assembly elects five new non-permanent members to the Security Council, where they serve two-year terms. The terms are not renewable.

To declare candidacy, a Member State must circulate a note to all UN members and/or to the chair of its regional group, stating its intention to run. This can take place several years in advance.

The formal system of regional distribution began in December 1963 when the General Assembly amended the Charter to increase elected members from 6 to 10, in Resolution 1991 A (XVIII). The Resolution also specified how seats would be distributed between regions:


Total Membership

Seats on Security Council

African Group



Asian Group



Eastern European Group



Latin American and Caribbean States



Western European and Other States



Additionally, by an informal agreement one Arab state is elected as either Asian or African every year - alternating between the two regions.

The elections follow the General Assembly's Rules of Procedure, in particular Rules 83 and 93, which call for an unlimited number of voting rounds until one candidate obtains a two-thirds majority of the present members. In cases when voting takes many rounds, often agreement is due to informal negotiations between States, which in some cases focus on finding a compromise candidate.

The voting rounds alternate between "restricted" and "unrestricted."  In unrestricted ballots, votes can be cast for any member of the regional group that is not currently on the Council.  In restricted ballots, only the two highest-scoring candidates of the previous round can be voted for. 

In the News: UN Elections and Appointments