The protracted battle underway between Venezuela and Guatemala over one of the Latin American Regional Group's non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council is a case study in the bedeviling dynamics of the UN General Assembly. For an account of where the fight stands after 22 rounds of inconclusive voting, read here.
For Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, there would be no better global platform for provoking the US than a 2-year seat on the Council. For Washington, having Chavez represent our regional neighbors would be an immediate slap in the face, and a significant long-term nuisance on the array of top priority issues now sitting with the Council, i.e. North Korea, Iran and the Lebanese ceasefire.
So, what can we make of the UN membership's deep divide on this one?
A majority of the UN membership does not want to see Chavez face the US down day in and day out, paralyzing the Council in the process - While they haven't won the required two-thirds majority, the Guatemalans have been ahead of Caracas in every round. Much as recent events can make it seem like the whole world is out to get us and wants nothing more than to rally around the likes of Chavez, its just not true. We have many dozens of allies, and like-minded countries who recognize a despot-cum-spoiler like Chavez for what he is and don't want him poisoning UN debates. Its encouraging to know that even now, most UN members put certain values ahead of sticking it to the US.
Developing world solidarity only goes so far - The strength in numbers developing countries derive at the UN can be a formidable obstacle to Western proposals. But, as this vote illustrates, there are objectives that trump lockstep third world unity.
US support is a double edged sword - Some commentators have remarked that Guatemala would already have won outright were it not for the US's vigorous support of their candidacy, and the perception that voting them in would represent an undeserved victory for the Administration. It's long been true that many US proposals at the UN are dead on arrival if stamped made-in-the-USA. But for the world's superpower, its tough to effectively advance proposals and positions without leaving our fingerprints all over them.
China will back anything that heightens their influence - Here's what China's UN envoy said to explain why Beijing backs Venezuela: "The United States cannot expect the composition of the Security Council to be 15 members which all have the same position as the United States. . . Multilateralism means countries have different opinions. I think that is not really a bad thing. Accommodating diversity is part of democracy." Having Chavez on the Council means one more vote on China's side of the debate on Iran, and an even more important role for Beijing as a power-broker in a Council that's bound to deadlock even more often.
John Bolton is no less tone deaf now than when he arrived at the UN - After 22 rounds of voting, here's what Bolton had to say: "All I can say is, in the year 2000, I spent 31 days in Florida. . . This has just begun." Oblivious to the detrimental impact of placing the US front-and-center in the anti-Chavez campaign, Bolton annoints himself the Karl Rove of Guatemala's election effort. I served at the UN in 2000 as Florida unfolded and can remember debates adjourning so that the delegates could race back to their TVs in time to hear the results of recounts of hanging chads in Miami-Dade, and to read about John Bolton's infamous proclamation: "I'm with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the count." The UN membership was in many ways as traumatized by the process and outcome as were the American people. Evoking those unsettling days and the threat they posed to democracy is about the worst campaign tactic imaginable.
Suzanne Nossel blogs regularly at www.democracyarsenal.org