Final push in Finland’s campaign for seat on UN Security Council
Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen
By Maria Manner
Finland’s campaign for non-permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council will soon reach the final stretch, which means busy times for Finland’s UN Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen.
The General Assembly of the world organisation is to vote on October 18th on what countries will be named non-permanent members for the next two years.
Finland is competing with two other countries, Australia and Luxembourg, for the two slots earmarked for Western countries.
“The last seven weeks will be the busiest. We are trying to bring the campaign to an ascending climax”, Viinanen says.
Finland’s top figures in foreign affairs have been recruited for the effort.
Travelling to New York to support the membership effort before the vote will be President Sauli Niinistö, former presidents Martti Ahtisaari and Tarja Halonen, a number of government ministers, Speaker of Parliament Eero Heinäluoma, as well as leading civil servants.
Before the final climax, Viinanen will take a break at his home in Kirkkonummi.
He probably needs it. In the past year, he has hosted more than 100 events in New York, met endless numbers of colleagues, and has travelled around the world marketing Finland.
The campaign has been in full swing for the past three and a half years. Its budget is EUR 2 million. Finland has sought to profile itself in the sectors of peace mediation, UN Women, and in resolutions on peace and security.
“Most of our activities are things that we would do anyway. We have tried to maintain a higher profile and to tell more about what we have been doing”, Viinanen says.
A typical way to win new supporters is to promise support for the aspirations of other countries for other EU bodies, and to back resolutions in the General Assembly that are important for those countries.
The campaign also has EUR 200,000 in annual funding for small projects with which Finland can embellish its reputation. These funds have been used for grants to the University for Peace in Costa Rica, and helped pay for the participation of representatives of poor countries in international events. At the request of Jamaica Finland donated money to assist in the construction of a monument in New York dedicated to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Viinanen says that he is “cautiously confident” in Finland’s possibilities for success. In the past six months he feels that support for Finland has increased significantly.
Finland needs the support of 129 countries to be chosen. Ambassador Viinanen says that the number of written or oral promises of support have exceeded the number. However, this does not mean that Finnish success would be a foregone conclusion, as the vote is by secret ballot, and sometimes countries renege on their promises.
“Some countries have said that up to 40 per cent of promises for support never materialise. We know that there are probably countries that have promised support for us, Australia, and Luxembourg”, Viinanen says.
Plenty of countries want to get into the Security Council, but the actual work of the non-permanent members is not very conspicuous to the outside world.
As this story was being planned, people were asked at random if they knew which countries are the current non-permanent members of the Security Council. Hardly anyone knew any of them. Is the level of awareness any better at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs?
Helsingin Sanomat went to the Foreign Ministry’s main building in Helsinki just as working hours were ending to ask ministry employees if they knew which countries are currently the non-permanent members. In a period of nearly an hour and a half only two employees were able to name two of the ten countries. Many of them rushed away and refused to be photographed. Some feared that their jobs might be at risk if it came out that they did not know the answer.
So why is Finland so eager to become a non-permanent member of the Security Council if nobody even knows who those members are?
“It’s a good question. I would imagine that it is about shouldering responsibility. We are a country that acts to strengthen the UN, and part of this means serving on the Security Council. But there is always some national self-interest involved. Each country that wants to be a player of some kind in the world organisation needs to be on the Security Council now and then”, Viinanen says.
While there is little awareness about the workings of the Security Council, nobody in Finland is actually opposed to the effort to become a non-permanent member. In Australia the political opposition actively opposes the government initiative.
Viinanen attributes the difference in approaches to the tradition of Finnish foreign policy. “We are fairly unanimous about foreign policy, even though we do not say as much actively. The Cold War idea that Finland is a neutral country has required powerful consensus. The idea has remained very much alive since then as well.
In the autumn we will see if all of this is enough to put Finland on the Security Council.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 29.7.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
Race intensifies for Security Council seat (28.2.2012)
Halonen confident that Finland can get into UN Security Council (23.9.2011)
Tarja Halonen´s UN legacy (22.12.2009)
United Nations Security Council
MARIA MANNER / Helsingin Sanomat