Sweden's Solidarity Is Needed on the UN Security Council

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photo: Jonas Svensson, Swedish Armed Forces

On November 4th Americans will elect a new President. As for me, from the little country of Timor-Leste I am already invoking God and all Christian Saints and Animist Spirits to deliver to us Hillary Rodham Clinton. Timor-Leste owes much to William Jefferson Clinton, who as President in 1999 played a central role in getting the UN to authorize an international peace force to be deployed to our island, quelling the violence in our countryside and paving the way to our independence. In September, 2012, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the only US Secretary of State to have the sensitivity and caring to visit our young democracy.

With less drama and less fanfare, at some point in the autumn the UN Security Council and General Assembly will jointly select a new Secretary-General after 10 years with Ban Ki-moon. The selection process has become more transparent than in the past, with public hearings of the official candidates for the first time.

At the end of June, there is another election, that of non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. In the Western European and Other States Group (WEOG), Sweden is in the running, against Italy and the Netherlands, for two places. The candidates are in full campaign mode, but there is very little public discussion of their merits.

According to the UN Charter, non-permanent members should be selected on the basis of their contribution to the "maintenance of international peace and security" and to the "other purposes of the Organization." Sweden has a unique identity in the United Nations and a stellar history of contribution. Rooted in its credibility as a small, militarily non-aligned country without a colonial past, it has given us UN leaders from Dag Hammarskjöld and Folke Bernadotte to Hans Blix and the current Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson.

It has certainly met and exceeded the criteria of contributing to international peace and security, with more than 80,000 people from a country with a population of 9.8 million having served in UN peace operations. Its important role in the Peacebuilding Commission has shown how Sweden builds trust by talking "with" countries rather than "at" countries. It has been a consistent voice for disarmament and a global leader on issues such as Climate Change and migration.

What sets Sweden apart most, however, is its solidarity with those less fortunate and those subject to oppression and inequity. Perhaps this is because Sweden itself has made the journey from poverty to wealth in just over one hundred years, or perhaps because of its egalitarian and socially inclusive society. It is one of only three countries to commit more than 1% of its gross national income to development assistance; it is the only current UNSC candidate to do so. It is one of the world's largest humanitarian donors and in fact is the UN's sixth largest contributor of assessed and voluntary contributions - in absolute terms.

Throughout its modern history, as exemplified by leaders such as Olof Palme, Sweden has stood in solidarity with those, such as my own country, fighting for independence and against repression, apartheid and inequality. Today it is the only Western European country to recognize Palestine.

The UN Security Council is marred by a deficit of trust among the broader UN membership. Its credibility is damaged by the fact that the group of permanent members is not representative of today's world and that the P5 wield such disproportionate power. Equally important, the UNSC has been unable to find ways to listen to the broader UN membership, including troop contributors and countries on the UNSC agenda.

If elected, Sweden will take its seat at the UNSC table on the same day as a newly elected Secretary-General. With its integrity as a small, militarily non-aligned country acting in solidarity, Sweden would be perfectly suited to contribute to new important forms of dialogue.

Sweden would put particular focus on the vital issue of maritime resources and security and the so-called Blue Economy, which covers oceans, seas, coasts, lakes, rivers, and underground water. It comprises fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, transport, shipbuilding, energy, bio-prospecting, underwater mining and related activities such as fighting piracy and pollution, trafficking in drugs and human beings and, not least, enforcing respect for international law.

Peace and the fight against poverty and corruption are linked to the blue economy, as marine resources provide the opportunity to secure both food and energy supplies in the future. Currently just a few companies control the majority of global trade in fish and seafood. Thirteen companies control approximately 40 per cent of the planet's largest fish stocks. It is still the case that at least 15 per cent of catches throughout the world are illegal.

Sustainable use of domestic resources including marine resources gives nations means to build institutions for economic development and thus increased independence against bigger countries. Here again, Sweden has proven itself to be a leader, acting as a clear voice within the EU and the UN for sustainability in the marine arena, and contributing advanced technical know-how, innovations and encouragement of entrepreneurship in the areas of ecotourism and small-scale fishing.

It has been a major contributor to the Green Climate Fund, and, together with Fiji, has taken initiative on the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goal on oceans, seas and marine resources, known as SDG 14.

Sweden has not served on the UNSC for nearly twenty years. Of the candidates, they have had the least representation on the Council over time. Yes, they are a comparatively small state. But it is small states that make up the majority of the UN membership, which makes their representation on the Security Council even more vital.

Of the three upcoming elections, this one may get the smallest headlines. But for many of us around the globe, it is not less significant. I for one have my fingers crossed for Sweden.