Saudi Arabia Rejects Seat on U.N. Security Council and Confuses Everyone

In an unprecedented move, the kingdom declines a seat on the coveted body

  • Share
  • Read Later
Jason Szenes / EPA

The U.N. General Assembly during the election of five nonpermanent members of the Security Council at the U.N. headquarters in New York City on Oct. 17, 2013

On Thursday, the 193 countries making up the U.N. General Assembly held a secret ballot to select new members of the Security Council. Each year, the Assembly elects five new countries to serve two-year rotating posts; competition is keen, and countries lobby years in advance for a seat at what remains the highest table in international politics.

In one round of balloting, the five countries rotating off­ — Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo — were replaced by Chad, Chile, Lithuania, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. There was a hearty round of applause and some criticism of human-rights records, but otherwise little in the way of surprises from the annual election.

Less than 24 hours later, Saudi Arabia announced it was rejecting its coveted seat on the council, an unprecedented move that shocked the diplomatic community. Its diplomats cited the council’s inability to take firm action on the current crisis in Syria (ostensibly the fault of vetoes from Russia and China) and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (ostensibly the fault of the U.S.). “The manner, the mechanisms of action and double standards existing in the Security Council prevent it from performing its duties and assuming its responsibilities toward preserving international peace and security as required,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill its people and burn them with chemical weapons in front of the entire world and without any deterrent or punishment is clear proof and evidence of the U.N. Security Council’s inability to perform its duties and shoulder its responsibilities.”

The rejection was especially surprising because Saudi Arabia had lobbied for the seat and reportedly given its diplomatic staff special training on Security Council procedures. A seat on the Security Council, in addition to giving a country a measure of prestige, allows them to be in the room for crucial votes, an opportunity no nation has ever turned down in recent times.

“There’s really no precedent for this in the council’s history,” says David Bosco, assistant professor of international politics at American University in Washington, D.C., who writes frequently about the U.N. To find a historical example, you have to go back to 1950. That year, the Soviet Union proposed expelling the Nationalist Chinese representative and recognizing the People’s Republic of China as the true Chinese government. When the proposal was defeated, the Soviets boycotted the council and missed out on the chance to veto military action in Korea. The Soviets later rejoined the Security Council. “Countries think that being on the Security Council is worthwhile, that they get some influence,” Bosco says. “And they do — they get some influence. It’s perplexing.”

The announcement was also out of character for the Saudis themselves. “It runs very much against their style in foreign policy, which tends to be more low key, less public, more working behind the scenes,” says F. Gregory Gause III, a political-science professor at the University of Vermont who specializes in the international relations of the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. “Why not withdraw your candidacy before? To go and get elected and then turn it down, it’s very puzzling.”

For decades, Gause explains, the Saudis preferred to move behind the scenes. But in the past 10 years, Riyadh looked around the Middle East and saw that no other country could stand up to Iran, whose Shi‘ite revolutionary government is ideologically anathema to the deeply monarchical, Sunni orthodox Saudis. They became much more public in pushing back against Iran in the region and took a leadership role that was, in many ways he says, uncomfortable for the kingdom. The effort to gain a seat on the Security Council seemed like it was part of that shift.

The Saudis noted their objections to the council’s handling of the Syrian civil war, but it’s hard to tell why Riyadh chose this time and this issue to protest. “Foreign policy is always a very personal thing, because it’s held by the chief executive,” Gause says. “It’s different from domestic politics. That’s just as true in Saudi Arabia as it is in the United States. The King calls the shots.” King Abdullah has a very experienced hand in Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who has served in that position since 1975, making him the longest-serving Foreign Minister in the world. “He’s a really professional diplomat,” Gause says. “It’s not like him to fly off the handle. It’s possible that the King decided that a strong statement needed to be made because he’s very upset about the violence in Syria. But one wonders if the temporary focus that Saudi Arabia gets by doing this is worth giving up a seat on the Security Council where at least they’d have some voice in resolutions on Syria.”

The Saudis’ other chief complaint was the rules governing the council. Under its current structure, in which the five permanent members (the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China) can veto resolutions, the 10 rotating members have much less power, and those countries have felt marginalized. This is a gripe shared by the rest of the non-veto-wielding international community. But just by being on the council, a country can have influence. A member can call special meetings, and the presidency of the council rotates every month, so a country can push an issue that might not otherwise be discussed. “Occasionally, if it does come down to a close vote on the Security Council, every vote counts,” Bosco says. “The nonpermanent members can be influential.”

What happens next is a bit of a mystery. The General Assembly could declare that the seat belongs to the Saudis and the Security Council will meet with only 14 members present. In 1950, there were six rotating members, and until the Soviets returned, the Council met with 10 members and one empty seat. The assembly could also hold another vote and the Asia-Pacific group, which includes nations from the Middle East like Saudi Arabia, would nominate a new member. Because most countries stood down their lobbying efforts and deferred to the Saudis, a new election for the seat could be a bit of a free-for-all. In the oft-predictable world of international diplomacy, a wide-open, unpredictable vote would indeed be something to watch.

172 comments
StelEn
StelEn

Saudi Arabia is the capital of intolereance. these muslims ask for equal rights in every country.  but they dont allow a single Hindu temple or Buddhist templ;e.

JimBooli
JimBooli

Saudi Arabia, a dictatorial absolute monarchy, ruled by a tribal family that was installed by the British 100 or so years ago as a way to break the back of the Ottoman empire.  The ruling family practices a dark, twisted Wahabi religion (aka AQ) that by most accounts have little to do with Islam and are enemies to most Muslims themselves  (as evidenced by how the great majority of AQ's terror victims are Muslims praying in mosques!)  Everyone knows AQ was financed and backed by the Saudis.  Whenever you hear talk of "moderate Arabs" and they refer to Saudi Arabia, just start laughing.  See how they had no trouble financing Saddam in the 80s as he went on the killing spree of Iranians and Iraqi Shiites, how they financed Saddam's use of chemical weapons against those populations, and now the same ruling family is bitching about Syrian victims.  Not that it's OK for Syrians to be killed conventionally or by chemical weapons but when the Saudi Murderers take sides you know they have no leg to stand on. 


The sooner this backward regime is offed the better.  As for why they didn't take the UN seat?  Wait for the next set of revelations from someone like Wikileaks or whoever accesses some secret database when the true reasons come out.  There is definitely more to this story than we know now.

Abu Jood Hisham
Abu Jood Hisham

And to be honest with you the west and your country one of them beg money day and night from this country and try to be slaves to it till they get its mercy on them..

arvay
arvay

Good!

We can hope that the saudi royals will be eliminated and their tribalist mentality replaced by people from the 21st century.

Ryan McCracken
Ryan McCracken

I would refuse a seat if I had almost no say or vote. The permanent members of the security council have far too much veto power.

HermonBenIsrael
HermonBenIsrael

Clearly, this move by Saudi Arabia is a vote of no confidence of the Obama Administration's policies in the region, one that is characterized by lack of knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the role of the various parties, and the long term dangers involved.


Specifically, the US White House approach to Saudi Arabia, to Egypt, to Bahrain, to Syria and, first and foremost, to Iran have accumulated a resentment that is felt throughout the region about Mr. Obama and the administration that he leads.


But, sadly, it is not clear that the disciple of the Rev. J. Wright of Chicago, and the long time associate of the likes of Profs. E. Said and R. Khalidi of New York will change in mind and heart. The losers will be the people of the region in question, the people of the US and humanity as a whole. 

Marco Antonio Rodriguez
Marco Antonio Rodriguez

se ven uras mujeres sentadas en una ,esa de trabajp, siendo monitoreadas desde arirba

Janet Vernell
Janet Vernell

We are boyscouts compared to those countries

SAUDI-WOMEN
SAUDI-WOMEN

so American people!

you think we SAUDIS need your help!

What a JOKE!


You are in need to our Oil. You are a poor country with debits and loans! so pathetic, however , since we have kind hearts we are buying from you some military weapons.


you know US is not the only country that produces weapons. Guess we are nice people after all!

But bear in mind that even kind people has limits, so you better suit yourself

ooh forgot to mention, for those with poor knowledge in such poor country: Bin Laden is from Yemen, and with kind heart Saudis gave him the Saudi nationality however after what happened  we Withdraw our nationality from him


a poor knowledge & poor country

rick390
rick390

I don't see why its a big mystery why Saudi Arabia rejected the seat. They have NO power as a non-permanent member and that is completely unacceptable. Russia, China and the U.S. have hijacked the council and the others are there just for window dressing. The so-called permanent members of the security council should rotate just as the non-permanent members do. As it is the five big boys call the shots while the little guys are shunted off to the side.


Bully for the Saudis!! 

Samuel Chukwudi Ogbonna
Samuel Chukwudi Ogbonna

Has anybody noticed that aside from their other problems, Arabs are also plain weird?

George Bell
George Bell

Cant fund terrorist activities and Join un council too? The UN is a JOKE !

Said Kandiel
Said Kandiel

I believe in that, U.N is no longer Functional especially in the Middle East.

Kyalthee May
Kyalthee May

yes, I agree that. the other are follower....

Ebadur Rehman Talha
Ebadur Rehman Talha

Correct decision.There is no use of the seat.UN has failed in it was made for.

Leon Lahoud
Leon Lahoud

yeah. this doesn't make much sense. If they have such a low opinion of the UN, why not just leave it?

FredSmith3
FredSmith3

Good for them. The United Nations doesn't really do much anyhow. At least not it should be doing. Saudi Arabia is making a wise choice to not be manipulated by others all for a supposedly "Honorable" position. 

Manoj Kollam
Manoj Kollam

Being a arab nation the diction is perfect.. otherwise they have to agree all with the other permanent members, which is not accepted by the arabs

Jawed J. Kh
Jawed J. Kh

they might prefer beds to rest on instead.

Mohamed Farid Elsisi
Mohamed Farid Elsisi

No confusion is there; it is a protest against and rejection for the hegemony the five veto countries. I wish the rest of Arab countries might follow KSA leaving this puppet-like organisation for them.

kwizzbeatz
kwizzbeatz

Wow! I can not believe you people. I'm a Saudi and I love America. What our government did was the absulote right decision, because if we accepted, that won't make any difference about the Syrian crysis. And for those who are calling for women rights, just can't see why you are so concerned with a Saudi women driving while Syrian women (and children) are shredded every single day. Doesn't make sense!

Ashraf Islam
Ashraf Islam

Only if UN was such a effective organization. Otherwise, it doesnt matter.

Challaghatta S Srinivas
Challaghatta S Srinivas

India being such a huge country and being the largest democracy in the world and not being able to get a perm seat is confusing Indians

Daryl Tang
Daryl Tang

Nice work Saudi Arabia! Roy Liew

ShadesOfGrey
ShadesOfGrey

Yeah, They needed to reject because everyone knows that Saudi Arabia is a 300 year old dictatorship, where women will be stoned to death if they even held a hand of another man. The Saudi prince is brutal and oppressive dictator who barely managed to escape the Arab Spring by the teeth. They have no right to criticise the UN or even Syria in that matter. Their human rights record is one of the poorest in the world. It will be a disgrace is Saudi even became part of the UN security council. Further the only reason Saudi Arabian regime is not in NATO's cross hairs is because they supply them oil.  

False_Believer
False_Believer

Those poor little Saudis. My heart really bleeds for them. But like it or not, we don't need their oil or their meat grinders any more. We are not going to war just to make them feel good. Our ham-fisted meddling in the region has created more problems than it has solved, and now we all have a price to pay: "protecting" us from Middle East inspired terrorism is infringing on everyone's privacy. Goodbye Saudi Arabia and good riddance.

MikeHarris
MikeHarris

The Saudi Monarchy is best friends with the US and is the head of the terrorism snake, spreading evil in many Muslim nations, if the US had any shame it would go for regime change there instead of Syria.

azumaguy
azumaguy

Israel = azz-holes as well.  Not worth WW3

azumaguy
azumaguy

Islam = death on a huge scale

azumaguy
azumaguy

Islam = murder & violence!

pauldoherty74
pauldoherty74

@SAUDI-WOMEN how cute! Behold the only opportunity to ever "see" a raving female Saudi sunni without the presence of her male guardians.

rick390
rick390

@ShadesOfGrey and are skirts are perfectly clean? Sending drones into other countries and killing their civilians, having NSA, our version of the secret police vacuuming up all our data.

Russia and China are probably worse, yet you really give to the Saudis! 

FredSmith3
FredSmith3

@ShadesOfGrey ..... That may be true, but at least they are true to themselves and run their country the way they want to not like everyone else tells them to. I don't agree with what they do but it is their country. The people living may decide when they want things changed. 

yshabazz2
yshabazz2

Christianity=500 years of global genocide