Voice Lessons:  A “Fabulous Five” sets the bar for their Security Council Successors, Dr. Robert Zuber

20 Dec

Last year at this time, we published a piece that sought to honor and assess the contributions of the five non-permanent members who vacated the Council at the end of 2014.  As we noted just last week, this group has gone on to continue the pattern of distinguished leadership they refined while on the Council, with a special nod to the Republic of Korea’s current stewardship of the Economic and Social Council.   The current departing five members – Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania and Nigeria – are all poised to do nothing less.

We have long been of the view that a limitation of the UN, even in this year of extraordinary movement on development, climate and now, perhaps, on Syria as well, is its apparent resistance to institutional memory.  There is so much turn over, so many people passing in and out of UN service, so many diplomats and policymakers coming to New York to make their own mark rather than build upon and honor the marks of their predecessors.  In the Council, the irony is that just as non-permanent members are finding their way through a maze of often-arbitrary P-5 power dynamics, so-called “provisional” rules of procedure, and evolving working methods still better suited to a bygone era, they are obligated to vacate their seats around the oval.   Just as they are coming into their own, their voices communicating strength and wisdom as well as urgency, these non-permanent members must now forfeit a portion of their security policy relevance.

And over the past two years, it is more than states that must shed their voices; it is the competent women leading several of these delegations who have also left the oval.   Last year it was Argentina and Luxembourg that left a void.  This year the losses are excessive, even painful:  Lithuania, Jordan and Nigeria will all rotate off, as will Chile, a delegation led by (quite thoughtful) men who have regularly invoked Chile’s President Bachelet, well known to the UN community for her tenure at UN Women.

Specifically, Ambassadors Murmokaitė, Kawar and Ogwu leave a distinguished Council legacy.  They have each in their own way evolved as policy leaders.  Their voices have become progressively strong, challenging, even elegant.   Those like GAPW who are mostly “twitter onlookers,” rise in attention when the Chair calls for their delegations’ statements.  Even the (many) other women in chambers – from US Ambassador Power and deputy representatives from Malaysia and New Zealand to junior mission staff – seem to listen more intently when these three Ambassadors are sharing their remarks.

This is no “add women and stir” moment.   And these senior diplomats are certainly not the only voices in Council chambers worth heeding.  But there has been high competence in evidence here, supplemented by a pattern of mutually-supportive engagement, that has been a pleasure to behold.   Indeed, such support seems in varying degrees to have been appreciated by a range of high-level, female Council presenters this year including the ICC’s Bensouda, UNDP’s Clark, CAAC’s  Zerrougui, SRSG Bangura, the EU’s Mogherini and many others.  It surely helps to make difficult cases within such an august setting when these extraordinary UN actors can appeal to a policy audience diverse by gender as well as by geography and culture.

Clearly, the three female Permanent Representatives now leaving the Security Council are no more or less representative of what has become a cacophony of voices from talented women leaders at the UN that has recently featured Special Adviser Mohammed, UNFCCC’s Figueres and UNESCO’s Bokova.   Ambassadors Ogwu, Kawar and Murmokaitė have themselves spoken with passion and conviction; they have taken policy risks as well as exercised policy leadership; they have massaged the sometimes inscrutable structures governing Council practices to convene discussions seldom held; they have not shied away from calling the Council to end its self-shielding impunity for policy malfunctions and neglect while it seeks to address and remediate the abuses perpetrated by rogue states and terror groups.

As we noted last year, the task for non-permanent members is to find ways to use this temporary platform to revitalize Council methods, build stronger and more trust-worthy bonds with the rest of the UN system, and create platforms that can give voice to otherwise muted policy concerns and neglected policy stakeholders.  Given the stubborn power disparities within the Council itself and the often unruly political machinations that sometimes proceed from this imbalance, we can only honor the many and diverse efforts by all these departing members.  As a group and as individuals, they have helped to level the “playing field” for security policy while undermining whatever latent resistance there could still possibly be to the leadership of women at the highest levels.

There are lessons here to help encourage the next group of non-permanent members — Egypt, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay – perhaps the greatest of which is the potentially transformational power of diverse policy voices coupled with the benefits of having wise and competent women seated behind more and more of those Council microphones.

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