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A seat on Security Council

Publication Date : 22-10-2012


South Korea’s election as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the years 2013-14 is another manifestation of its growing influence on the global stage.

The Security Council is the most powerful UN organ. It is entitled to make legally binding decisions on issues related to international peace and security. Only the council can authorise military action or economic sanctions against a country that threatens global peace or engages in acts of aggression.

As such, a seat on the council will help the nation expand its diplomatic horizon and give it a bigger say in handling global security issues, especially those involving North Korea.

Yet at the same time, it will give Seoul greater responsibility for tackling such challenges as nuclear non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, conflict prevention and resolution, and promotion of democracy and human rights.

South Korea will hold a seat at the council’s round table for the second time since it joined the UN in 1991 together with North Korea. Its first term was in 1996-97.

The second membership carries more meaning than the first one. Seventeen years ago, South Korea was still a developing country not ready to help other countries or to assume a large role in maintaining global security.

Now the nation has become more powerful and is eager to play more of a leadership role in promoting global peace and helping developing countries attain economic growth.

The nation’s return to the council is also meaningful as it would contribute to stabilising the volatile situation on the Korean Peninsula.

In fact, one important motivation for the Seoul government’s pursuit of a council seat was to deter North Korea’s provocations.

When the North torpedoed a South Korean warship in March 2010, the Security Council discussed the UN’s response to the provocation. But Seoul diplomats could not participate in the discussions because South Korea was not a council member. Seoul had to make its case through its allies.

But in the coming two years, the South would be able to spearhead discussions on responding to any provocations by the North. The South’s presence in the council alone would have some deterrent effect on the belligerent regime.

South Korea’s regaining of council membership is also timely as instability in North Korea has been growing since a young and inexperienced leader took power last December. The South’s status as a council member puts it in a better position to deal with any unexpected situation in the North.

Ongoing territorial disputes among East Asian countries also add significance to the nation’s council position. It would be an important advantage for Seoul to take a seat at the council table when the UN has to play a role in resolving the disputes.

During its second term, Seoul will face a unique role to play ― bridging advanced and developing nations. As one of the few countries with a foot in both worlds, Seoul is well suited for harmonising conflicting positions of the two sides.

The council seat will also test Seoul’s ability to act as a middle power ― a country that speaks in its own voice on global issues based on its economic power. On the council, Seoul will increasingly face the need to take an independent stance between the two rival blocs ― the United States on one side and China and Russia on the other.

Seoul’s election as a council member reflects the global community’s trust and confidence in its international commitment. It should do its best to vindicate the trust in it.

For this, it needs to expand its small foreign aid programme, contribute more to international peacekeeping operations and share its development experience with developing countries.


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