In 2012 Finland stood for election to a two year term on the UN Security Council. It was competing for one of the two vacancies for states from the Western European and Others Group against Australia and Luxembourg and against expectations failed to get elected. As a result the Finnish foreign ministry contracted the International Peace Institute to find out why they didn’t get elected. The IPI conducted 50+ interviews with delegates from across the members of the UN and came up with some ideas why Finland didn’t make it.
It’s an interesting document because it casts light on a process I didn’t know anything about but also because of what it says about the importance of image even among diplomats and national decision makers.
The process of getting elected takes a long time; Luxembourg declared its candidacy in 2001 and Finland in 2002. Australia didn’t start until 2008 but is estimated to have spent about $25m while Luxembourg and Finland spent one and two million Euros respectively. The report makes the point that one of the mechanisms at work is trading promises of votes on other elections so I would guess that if you start earlier it gives you more elections to trade off. The elections are conducted by secret ballot so there’s no real guarantee that promises of support actually translate into votes.
Campaigns work at multiple levels. Firstly each country tries to put forward a general narrative particularly about its contribution to the UN, secondly, countries try to secure promises of support on a bilateral basis and thirdly, they try to use connections to particular blocs of countries to get support.
One of Luxembourg’s assets was its size – 105 countries are members of the UN Forum of Small States, it also tried to leverage its status as a Francophone state, as a monarchy and reached out to Lusophone states because it has a substantial Portuguese community. Australia used the Forum of the Pacific and the Commonwealth, Finland was limited to the Nordic and Baltic States.
Australia appeared to have an advantage because it’s not an EU member, given that there are already two EU members as permanent members of the UNSC there was certain resistance to effectively giving the EU four votes on the Council. Reading between the lines of the report Australia could count on support from Britain and the US and Luxembourg and the apparent lack of united EU support for Finland was seen to weaken its broader campaign.
There’s also a sense that the international identity forged by the Nordic countries during the Cold War has faded
Many delegates stressed that Australia, Finland, and Luxembourg were all seen as “Western” or “mainstream candidates, and that “despite the fact that all three pretended to be different and except for their take on Middle East issues, there was no real difference in their policies.”
One delegate is quoted:
The Nordics used to be seen as countries of social democracy, closer to the developing world than the United States or the Soviet Union or other European countries. But the world has changed. Their image is not so strong anymore. Developing countries have their own models
One point where the Finland and the other Nordic countries do have something of a distinctive identity is that they are seen as particularly militant defenders of “western values”
a number of delegates, in particular among the Group of 77 (G77) countries, also expressed frustration at attitudes that, they believed, are sometimes not respectful enough of cultural differences. This was particularly the case, according to some delegations, with issues related to women’s rights or freedom of expression. As one delegate put it, the “Danish cartoons saga reflected badly on all the Nordic countries.”
One delegate explained: “We have difficulties with the Nordic attitude on social and human rights issues. The Nordics impose their definitions, which sometimes are not acceptable to Islamic countries. Other EU members may think the same, but the Nordics are in the lead; they are more vocal. We want them to understand that there are different views, other cultures, and that the UN is not only Western. You cannot achieve your goal and make the others feel bad.”
It is difficult to assess if these views had actual consequences in terms of votes. However, in discussing Finland’s candidacy, several delegates did indicate during interviews their reservations on the profile of Nordic states at the UN and their preference for more “modest” candidates. One delegate noted: “Luxembourg was seen as the underdog, a modest country, not one that imposes its views among the Western countries. Being the small one among the West, Luxembourg was considered to be more understanding of the G77.”
The irony here is that Australia was seen as having the vulnerability of being particularly close to the US on Middle East issues.
The report suggests that as a UN good citizen Finland routes much of its aid through multilateral organizations which has the effect of reducing the country’s visibility.