What does a regional seat at the top table bring?

New Zealand’s long campaign to get itself a seat on the coveted United Nations Security Council came to fruition last month, when it quite comfortably won votes from 145 of 193 UN member states. It needed just 129 on the day. Turkey and Spain were the two other contenders. Spain won the second of the two seats up for grabs this year, with Turkey losing out. Both Spain and Turkey have each held seats only a few years ago but New Zealand has regained a seat after two long decades.

The Security Council is made up of 15 seats, with five of them being permanent seats. These are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. These were the five biggest nations on the Allied side in World War II, immediately after the conclusion of which the United Nations was formed. The five can also be seen to represent each of the post-war but now anachronistic classification of first, second and third worlds (though many ‘first’ worlders still use ‘third world’ in mostly a disparaging way, while the almost never-used ‘second world’ has completely vanished behind an imaginary iron curtain, as it were).

The 10 non-permanent seats are rotated every two years, across groupings of countries – so New Zealand will hold the seat for 2015-16 (Angola, Malaysia and Venezuela were elected unopposed in their respective groupings last month). New Zealand belongs to the ‘Western Europe and Other States seats’ grouping, and is the smallest among the three countries that contested in that grouping. Countries are known to splurge millions of dollars to garner votes from UN member states to get themselves on the powerful council.

The New Zealand Government, though, has been at pains to stress that it has run its own campaign on a shoestring, throwing in a junket or two for a few leaders from around the world in its salubrious destinations around the country. It has also been actively canvassing its most trusted friends in its very own neck of the woods – the Pacific.

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