Vol. 4, No. 21 (November 01, 2011)

Azerbaijan wins election to the UN Security Council

Fareed Shafee
Independent Researcher

On October 24, Azerbaijan won election to the United Nations Security Council after a campaign that reflected far more than business as usual at the UN.  According to UN Charter, the Security Council consists of 5 permanent members and 10 rotating non-permanent states elected for 2 years term, 5 of which are being replaced every year.  The non-permanent seats are allocated by region. [1] Sometimes each of the five regions agrees in advance on a candidate, but this year, Azerbaijan, Slovenia and Hungary competed for the seat allocated for Eastern Europe. 

Three days before the final vote (October 24, Monday), the UN General Assembly began the voting process (October 21, Friday).  After nine rounds, Azerbaijan had 113 votes, while Slovenia had 77, with Hungary choosing to withdraw because of its failure to get more votes.  That the voting went nine rounds was unusual.  Typically, following a few rounds of voting, the losing side would withdraw and a winner would get required two-thirds of the 193 votes of the member states.  But Slovenia chose not to do so, something that struck observers as somewhat surprising and led to speculation that one or more of the permanent members opposed the frontrunner.  Thirty years ago, something similar happened when Cuba and Columbia were competing, and the UN General Assembly had to vote 154 times. 

The voting on October 21 might have continued until midnight, but the French representative objected citing the lack of simultaneous interpretation in the six official UN languages at that time.  Azerbaijan then asked the UN Secretariat to provide such interpretation services, a request the Russian Federation supported.  Nonetheless, the voting was stopped precisely at the moment when Azerbaijan was in a position to obtain the needed 129 votes.  This sequence was no accident. [2]

Novruz Mammadov, a foreign policy advisor to President Ilham Aliyev, pointedly noted on Friday: “I only wish that no pressure would be made on any party. … The situation is tense enough now.  Azerbaijan needs only 14 votes and following this a historical event may take place: Azerbaijan may become a non-permanent UNSC member.  But, Slovenia requires 51 votes to win the elections.  If any certain changes are recorded here, then it will mean that these countries were strongly pressured and they changed their positions.  We will regret if that happens.”

Such pressure could have come from the US or France or both.  The mere fact that Slovenia was not withdrawing after nine rounds suggests that it had a strong backer among the permanent members.  Close observers of the UN “kitchen” have often observed that issues like a problem with interpretation or a sudden change of votes do not take place unless there is pressure from one of the great powers.  Indeed, as Novruz Mammadov added,  “The elections at the UN always run until nine or ten o’clock at night.  A Qatari representative chaired the elections.  However, some decided that the elections could be stopped a little earlier.  I understand reasons for this to a certain extent.  Many become worried about Azerbaijan’s unexpectedly gaining so many votes under such circumstances.”  [3]

Some observers suggested that Azerbaijan faced objections in this case because of its human rights record.  That is certainly untrue.  Many member states on the Security Council have significantly worse human rights records than Azerbaijan.  Other observers noted that Azerbaijan is involved in a serious conflict, but so too is Pakistan, which was just elected. 

Ideally, according to the UN Charter, a candidate country for the Security Council should be elected because of its contribution to international peace and security and on the basis of the principle of equal geographic distribution.  In this regard, Azerbaijan is even better candidate than Guatemala or Togo (who were elected on Friday) as it made contribution to the peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and Iraq and continues to make in Afghanistan.  Moreover, in terms of equal geographic distribution, Azerbaijan is applying for the Security Council seat for the first time and it would be the first country from the South Caucasus region to be elected.

In the real world, of course, countries base their choices on their own national interests and bilateral ties.  A major factor determining voting is the assessment member states make of what this or that candidate could do for them if elected.  Countries also tend to vote for close allies.  Thus, the European Union states voted for Slovenia, and the majority of the Islamic countries voted for Azerbaijan.  Apart from this, countries do vote swap: you vote for me this year and I shall vote for you next.  

In the end, Azerbaijan managed to win a majority of UN members, but apparently many Western countries opposed its election.  Indeed, after Slovenia finally withdrew, Azerbaijan received 155 votes—a sign of confidence in the country on behalf of the international community.  That means, however, that approximately 35 countries (probably European) abstained. 

After the vote, the Slovenian foreign minister noted that “we don't approve the way this campaign was held and we don't approve the way these elections were held.” [4] In reality, of course, if anyone should complain, it is Azerbaijan.  As the election showed, a majority of UN members supported Baku, but Azerbaijani officials clearly recognize where the opposition to its election came from.  Since 1991, Azerbaijan has provided broad support to the Unites States, the EU and other western countries, but despite that the Western bloc opposed Azerbaijan’s bid for the Security Council.
Some Azerbaijanis might be inclined to view Armenia as the organizer of this, but that seems unlikely and, if true, is unfortunate, all the more so because the Armenian factor prevailed over much broader security, political and economic interests.  According to Reuters, “Western diplomats in New York said that Azerbaijan might join other nations resisting any renewed U.S. and European Union push for UN sanctions against Iran or Syria next year.  They said Pakistan would likely take a similar approach.” [5] In this case, however, Western diplomats should blame themselves for alienating Azerbaijan. 

Azerbaijan still won nevertheless.  The result reflected the success of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy and its diplomacy, as well as the reputation it has garnered.


[1] In total, five regions are represented among the 10 non-permanent seats in the UN Security Council: Western Group, Eastern Europe, Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, Africa and Asia.

[2] See http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/site/c.glKWLeMTIsG/b.7741609/k.778/Special_Research_Report_No_4brSecurity_Council_Elections_2011br21_September_2011.htm (accessed 29 October 2011).

[3] See http://en.trend.az/news/politics/1948205.html (accessed 29 October 2011).

[4] See http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/24/us-un-council-idUSTRE79N7PV20111024 (accessed 29 October 2011).

[5] See http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/24/us-un-council-idUSTRE79N7PV20111024 (accessed 29 October 2011).