Feature of the Week: In the Company of Hawks and Doves


Feature of the Week: In the Company of Hawks and Doves

For the first time Iceland has made a bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. It is one of three candidates for one of the ten non-permanent seats for 2009-10. To win the seat it needs a minimum of two-thirds of the 192 votes that UN member states will cast in the General Assembly in October 2008. IR editor Sveinn H. Gudmarsson spoke to the director of Iceland’s campaign, Kristín A. Árnadóttir of Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about Iceland’s chances of joining the big leagues.

Published in the 2007 autumn issue of Iceland Review – IR 45.03. By Sveinn H. Gudmarsson, photo by Páll Stefánsson.

Sveinn H. Gudmarsson: What are the main arguments for Iceland joining the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)?

Kristín A. Árnadóttir: The key motivation behind the bid is Iceland’s aspiration to play a more active role in the international arena. The UNSC is sometimes called the high table of world politics and we are determined to become able participants in that venue. Every four years, one of the Nordic countries has been a candidate for a seat on the UNSC, supported by the other Nordic countries. We emphasize this and the fact that Iceland is a first-time candidate.

SHG: When was this decision introduced?

KAÁ: In 1998, the government declared that Iceland was to become a candidate for one of the non-permanent seats allocated to the Western European and Other States Group in 2009-10, indicating the country was now ready to carry the responsibility of promoting Nordic values in the UNSC for the first time.

SHG: What are these Nordic values?

KAÁ: Equality, human rights, human dignity and democracy, to name a few. These values are firmly grounded in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as many resolutions passed by the UN. The Nordic countries have also gained respect for the welfare values that they promote as well as the peaceful solutions to international disputes they propose.

SHG: How do you run a campaign for a seat on the UNSC?

KAÁ: There are 192 UN member states and it’s important to garner the support of as many of those as we possibly can. We do that by promoting our policies and values and actively seeking their support. Since there are various platforms and various committees within the UN that many states want to become members of, such as the Human Rights Council and UNESCO, we sometimes agree upon mutual support.

SHG: So is this some kind of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” system?

KAÁ: Well, I wouldn’t go that far. It is about sharing responsibility and power. Besides, we always make sure to follow certain principles and we never compromise on basic policies to get votes by supporting states that we believe won’t uphold democratic principles.

SHG: Turkey and Austria are also vying for that same seat on the UNSC, two states that are both bigger and more experienced. Does Iceland have a chance?

KAÁ: Their strength is something we definitely have to take into account. However, many small states are UN members and many of those states share our experiences. They are either developing states or used to fall into that category; some are island nations and others are former colonies, like Iceland. We appeal to those states in a different way than Austria and Turkey can.

SHG: The Icelandic government’s foreign policy has received some criticism domestically, especially because many argue it is a carbon copy of the foreign policy of the US. Do you think this criticism damages Iceland’s chances in the campaign?

KAÁ: All negative publicity on the domestic level can have implications in the international arena. We are campaigning globally and the debate in Iceland about the candidacy is scrutinized by all the UN member states. Besides, according to 2004 US State Department statistics, Iceland voted with the US in the UN General Assembly in only 45 percent of cases. Iceland voted with the other Nordic countries in 90 percent of cases compared to the EU countries that vote in line with each other in 75 percent of cases. The claim is therefore totally unfounded.

SHG: What happens to you if the bid becomes a success? Will you become part of Iceland’s delegation at the UNSC?

KAÁ: That remains completely undecided and is beyond my worries. My task for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is only to direct the campaign for Iceland’s candidacy. I’ve never made any decisions about my future that have implications beyond the projects I’ve been working on at any given time. What is important for me if we succeed is to live up to the expectations that come with a UNSC seat and I have no doubt that we will.