Opposition calls on government to reconsider foreign policy priorities and to provide a complete public account of the cost incurred to campaign for the UNSC
The 193 member United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted for the Republic of Korea with 149 votes over Bhutan and Cambodia to serve on the Asia Pacific non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council (UNSC), on Thursday.
At the UN Security Council seat elections the score line after the first round read South Korea 116, Cambodia 62 and Bhutan 20. As per the UN rules since no country had secured the required two third or 128 votes to be directly elected the two countries with the highest votes South Korea and Cambodia went through to the second round where South Korea got 149 votes and Cambodia got only 43 votes.
“Bhutan got 20 votes -some dubbed it the Happiness vote,” wrote Matthew Russell Lee of the Inner City Press.
However, the Opposition Leader, Tshering Tobgay in a press conference with local reporters in the capital yesterday said the government’s bid for Security Council membership was ill conceived and misguided also questioned the government’s current foreign policy. (Full story on page 12)
He said, “even if Bhutan could somehow get elected to the council, we would have done more harm than good.”“As a young democracy, our focus should be at home, within the country, addressing issues of national importance rather than craving for the international limelight,” he added.
Terming the governments international priorities ‘irresponsible at best’ he said, “We also feel compelled to voice our deep concern over the overall direction of Bhutan’s foreign policy under the current government.”
The Opposition leader said the government must “Provide a complete public account of the expenses incurred to campaign for the high table,” highlighting growing calls from the public on making the expenses public.
Given the fact that the PM and his first lady as per the state protocol flies first class to New York the plane tickets alone would cost around Nu 1.5 to Nu 1.6 million to the government exchequer for just the two of them based on international rates. The whole delegation is much larger.
Foreign Ministry staff travelling to the USA gets a DSA of around USD 200 along with DSA for various other staff like media attaché team etc. There are also expenses in entertaining and meeting foreign guests. Even if in some cases travel costs are borne by host countries officers still get a percentage of their DSA.
In many trips abroad and also due to the large nature of some of these delegations the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) on a constant basis has to request for supplementary budget from the Finance Ministry. Despite requests from the members of the media on the total UNSC seat expenses the government is yet to make the accounts public.
The government had carried an all out campaign for the last two years since September 2010 after it formally announced its intention to run for a seat in the Council. The campaign resulted in the strengthening of various diplomatic missions. The Brussels Mission was established partly with the aim of engaging more countries for the Security Council seat. Every possible bilateral and multilateral event since then like SAARC, Non Aligned Movement, United Nations, Least Developed Countries, Rio Summit etc were used to aggressively lobby with UN member nations.
In these two years Bhutan increased its diplomatic links from around 21 countries to 46 countries and met with representatives of virtually every one of 193 UN member countries mainly on the sidelines of larger summits including permanent five members like China lobbying for support.
There was a lot of international and regional interest on the Bhutan Prime Minister’s meeting with the Chinese Premier after which a host of mainly Chinese press agencies and an official post on the Chinese Foreign Ministry Website quoting both leaders declared that both countries had agreed to ‘establish diplomatic relations soon.’
“While a seat in the Security Council was the end objective, equally important was the process and journey to get there. The process has been most rewarding and enriching as it provided unparalleled opportunities for bilateral engagement with all UN member states,” a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.
In New York which was one of the main nerve centers of these operations a mission which was used to keeping a low profile was suddenly in the thick of international diplomacy planning, lobbying and negotiating with various countries big and small for the coveted seat.
It was due to these hectic diplomatic efforts by a resource strapped nation that at least 20 seats were achieved.
The world’s officially happiest country Finland and Bhutan’s happiness rival which was expecting a smooth sailing lost to European minnow Luxembourg.
Bhutan, however, from the beginning faced tremendous odds against South Korea which is the world’s 14th largest economy, has a population of 50 million and a GDP of USD 1,556 bn in 2011. An added benefit for South Korea was its annual foreign aid budget of US$ 5bn which exceeds the total GDP of Bhutan. Bhutan by comparison is the world’s 162nd largest economy, has a population of 700,000, GDP of around USD 4.3 bn in 2011 and is an aid recipient.
Bhutan whose attention was mainly focused on South Korea also underestimated the strength of Cambodia which came in second. Cambodia has a population of around 15 million and GDP of USD 36 bn.
For Bhutan it was not just a Security Council seat but also an attempt to stand up to South Korea which had kept silent on Bhutan’s early pronouncement of wanting the seat in 1999 from the Asia block but suddenly surprised Bhutan by announcing its candidature in 2007. South Korea was a member of the council from 1996 to 1997. In the case of South Korea, Lyonchhen earlier said, “we had repeatedly requested them to withdraw their move for candidature. We told them that they had previously been a member in the Security Council that they have been a UN member for only 20 years whereas Bhutan is now in its 43rd year as a member”.
South Korea, however, stated its own compulsions of wanting the seat to strengthen its international position vis-à-vis North Korea.
The MFA release stated, “Bhutan’s candidature was based on the principles of sovereign equality of states, multilateralism, and equitable representation and fair rotation.”
Earlier on arrival from attending the 67th session of the UNGA in New York City, Lyonchhen prepared the country for defeat and said “It will be difficult to gain a seat on the UNSC through elections”.
Lyonchhen cited the country’s limited diplomatic relations as one of the main reasons due to which Bhutan fell miles short of clinching the desired votes. He said that South Korea and Cambodia are nations which have diplomatic relations with almost every country which gave them an advantage.
The UNGA elected Argentina, Australia, Rwanda, Republic of Korea and Luxembourg at the UN headquarters in New York, on October 18th 2012 to a two year term as non-permanent members on the Security Council.
The five non-permanent members were elected according to a pattern in which one will come from Africa, one from Asia-Pacific, one from Latin America and the Caribbean and two from Western European and other States.
The newly-elected members will replace Colombia, Germany, India, Portugal and South Africa, whose terms end on December 31, 2012.
The five other current non-permanent members in the UNSC are Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo. Their terms will be completed at the end of 2013.
The remaining five slots in the UNSC are reserved for the veto-power holding permanent member-states, namely China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Bhutan doesn’t have diplomatic ties with any of them.
“Bhutan takes pride in the fact that the Security Council campaign has further strengthened the sovereignty of the country and enhanced the respect and goodwill of the international community for Bhutan and its people. It has further fostered greater understanding and appreciation of the principles that Bhutan has always upheld,” the MoFA press release stated.
The UNSC renews five of the 10 non-permanent seats every year on a regional basis.
The Security Council is mandated to act on behalf of all members of the United Nations to “ensure prompt and effective action” with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security, and shall act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations. However, the main criticisms of the Council is that the permanent five wield all the powers while the non-permanent members are have little or no say. Nine of the 15 votes is required to pass resolutions on issues before the council but the main power lies in the veto with the Permanent five any of whom can make or break council decisions.
The MFA press release goes on to say “Bhutan will continue to dedicate itself to the cause of peace, development and the rule of law. Bhutan will also continue to promote the view shared by the majority of member states that the legitimate aspiration of small states to participate in the work of the elected UN bodies must be recognized and respected.