Portugal is in the running for a place as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. In his speech last Tuesday at the 76th UN General Assembly, the President of the Republic called for “confidence” from the other member states for a Portuguese mandate, starting in 2026, ensuring that the country will not deviate from the basic principles of multilateralism, sustainable and global development.
Achieving this will not be the first time that Portugal takes a seat among the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council, the most important UN body, the only one with the power to take mandatory decisions on a global scale. It has already happened in 1979/80, in 1997/98 and in 2011/2012. Can it be repeated now?
António Monteiro, ambassador, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, knows the corridors of the United Nations well: he has been assigned several times to work in the Permanent Mission in New York, represented Portugal at the UN from 1997 to 2001 and was president of the Security Council. To the DN, he expresses the conviction that Portugal will once again sit in the most important UN body in five years’ time: not only is this a “right” of the country, but history shows a path favorable to Portuguese claims.
Starting at the beginning of the process. The 193 Member States of the United Nations are subdivided into five regional groups, with Portugal being part of the Western Europe and Others (WEOG) group. A fundamental base of support to obtain the election to the Security Council, given that the group (which has two non-permanent seats on the Security Council) agrees positions on its own candidates, who are then proposed for voting by the General Assembly. António Monteiro recalls that in 1996 Portugal had a “very difficult dispute with Australia”, which was not agreed within the regional group, with the two countries competing for the votes of the General Assembly. The Portuguese candidacy won.
An agreement was then attempted within the group, which would guarantee the alternating and equal representation of the nearly three dozen countries that make up the regional bloc. “At the time we insisted and worked hard to find a solution within the group. Instead of letting the election be decided by others, we should find a rotation agreement within the WEOG. At the time I remember that releasing accounts would be around 11, 12 years to return “to the Security Council, recalls the former MNE.
“We always said that our candidacy would respect this non-formal understanding”, continues António Monteiro. And it was within this logic that Portugal once again presented a candidacy (announced years in advance) at the beginning of the last decade. “It turns out that the Germany, who had left the Security Council shortly before, understood that it should not respect this informal agreement and decided to go forward with a candidacy “, this when Portugal and Sweden were already lining up to occupy the two available seats. Result: “We had to fight Sweden [na votação na Assembleia-Geral]. And we won. Until now, when we have to beat the vote, we have always won “.
With decades of experience in international diplomacy, António Monteiro has an explanation for this: “We are the voice of the small ones, we have always gained the advantages with the support of small countries. From the African bloc, which has given us great support, and then from countries like the small island countries. Why? Because they know that Portugal can always be a voice in favor of their problems. We have no pretensions of imposition, of a power that wants to impose guidelines, we are a country known to defend democracy, tolerance and dialogue. This has been our mark.” Recognized in the corridors of the UN, argues António Monteiro, as seen in the election of António Guterres as secretary general: “The good name that Portugal has at the UN was as successful as it was. I’m not saying it was decisive, but evaluating. “
Decision-making power at the UN
Within the logic of informal understanding in the regional bloc, it is time for Portugal to return to the Security Council, says the former president of this body: “I hope that the WEOG respects this understanding, that it is again Portugal’s turn to be present at the Security Council , that there is a endorsement of the two applications [dois assentos a que o grupo tem direito]. Or else we’ll be there, and I don’t think we have to turn our backs on another fight, comforted by the idea that we’ve never lost as we’ve lost “. Already in the late 1970s, the first time it took a seat on the Security Council – after years of tension at the UN with the Estado Novo policy for Africa – Portugal had won a race over Malta.
How important is the seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, especially when this body has five permanent members – the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom – who have veto power over any decision? “We have to be aware of one thing: within the Security Council, the countries with a permanent seat are in charge, because they have a veto. And it is not so much because of the effective use of the veto, but because of the threat of use, which distorts as a consequence, it is blackmail: “either the standard signs take this route or we veto it”. When one of the five does this, you already know that it’s not worth it to continue down that road.”
But the non-permanent members (there are ten) have a “very important role” – “when the five permanent members dare not enter the veto, and try to covertly use it as a threat, the other ten have a decisive role, they are the ones who decide which the decision that must be taken, because they are the majority”. For António Monteiro, non-permanent members have “an action limited by the excessive and undemocratic veto power of the five, but they have an influence on the way they act, how they push for certain themes, often until they were able to unite in order to supply the divisions of the five”.
On the other hand, the countries that are there are able to “affirm their foreign policy better and, in our case, even more, because we are in the European Union. It is important that the countries affirm their bilateral capacity to influence the international scene, it also strengthens the internal position we have in the EU”.
“Too complicated” reform
Marcelo did not only speak about the election of Portugal, he also defended the need for reform of the United Nations, namely the expansion of permanent members except to an African country, to India and Brazil. The issue takes years of discussion without any practical result and António Monteiro is not optimistic about the reform of the most important UN body, “blocked since the beginning of the 1990s” by “the interests of the great powers”.
An answer that is not easy to overcome and the one that adds up is a difficulty in defining a new design. “There are big problems regarding new permanent members. Will new members be vetoed? No veto? Without veto is to create a new, intermediate category, which does not facilitate or improve the functioning of the United Nations. With veto is to extend the undemocratic statute to more countries.” To move forward with the reform of this body, it would be necessary for the five members of the Security Council to be “willing to make the necessary concessions”, which cannot be guessed at on the horizon. “I myself, in the Security Council and beyond, are part of reform groups. We spent hours and hours with ideas that later went against the wall of the interests of countries that have power and are not willing to share it. very complicated. “