We’re serious about our tilt at a UN Security Council seat
Recently I visited Andorra, Albania and San Marino. The trip elicited sideways glances from odd spot type gossip columnists who, with an almost salacious air, suggested that it may have had something to do with Australia’s UN Security Council campaign.
I confess: guilty as charged.
Australia is running for the UN Security Council. It is a tight race. We are trying to win. We are campaigning hard. Each of these countries has a vote. We are seeking their support.
While the rationale about running for the Security Council is quite properly the subject of debate, given we are running, that we are trying vigorously to win should hardly be a surprise.
It is important, however, to continually articulate why this campaign matters.
The UN Security Council is the most important forum in the world. Since the Second World War, tens of thousands of Australians have put their lives on the line in the name of Security Council resolutions: from Korea to Afghanistan. Tragically, many Australians have made the ultimate sacrifice.
It is a matter of national pride that Australia has played our part in each of these missions. We are a country that pays its way and does not freeload on democracy or freedom.
So it would be an odd conclusion to say that we will willingly put our own people in harm’s way in the name of Security Council resolutions but we are not interested in taking our turn to have a say in what those Security Council resolutions are.
And make no mistake: despite criticism about the timing of our run, it is our turn. Australia has not served on the Security Council since 1986. In the meantime 93 countries, out of 193 UN members - including regional partners Indonesia and Malaysia (which have both served twice) and G20 states South Africa, Argentina, Italy, India and Turkey - have all served on the Security Council and in the process determined the fate of Australian lives.
Yet the rationale for serving on the Security Council is more profound even than this. While there are tenets of our foreign policy which are clear such as our relationship with the US, our engagement in Asia and our commitment to the UN; how we see ourselves as a member of the global community is less clear.
For me it has been best articulated by Kevin Rudd when he described Australia as being an activist middle power.
We are indeed a middle sized country which is greatly affected by international events and which can, with wit and creativity, impact these events in a modest way. How we navigate and shape our path through the sea of global affairs has a determining effect on the prosperity of all Australians.
At the same time, we are a people who like to have a go.
So to describe ourselves as being an activist middle power really says it all. We are and we need to be.
But we can hardly seek to be an activist middle power and not take an interest in serving on the world’s most important council.
Every person who has run for public office knows that the process of an election campaign is the most instructive experience in teaching us what matters. Through the intensive series of discussions with constituents that are part and parcel of campaigning – discussions which reveal the way people think about the big issues and alert us to the issues which don’t gain attention – we attain a unique understanding of our community. This is how democracy works.
In the same way this Security Council campaign has importance because it is full of learning for Australia. When we place ourselves before every country in the world and ask for their support to serve on the Security Council, in the process we invite each of these countries to tell us what really matters to them. This in turn will help Australia better plot its international course, no matter what the result of this election.
The arguments against this Security Council campaign have never amounted to much more than personal attacks on Kevin Rudd. That opponents have tended to play the man and not the ball betrays the fact that at the heart of the opposition to the campaign is a myopic and isolationist world view which this government will never subscribe to.
Campaigning for Australia has been a humbling experience full of national pride. With every telling of our story it becomes ever more apparent that Australia is an amazing country with so much to offer the world. Whether we will win is a question full of the uncertainties inherent in any election. But you can be rest assured: the Gillard Government will leave no stone unturned in trying.
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