By Matthew Czekaj
The votes are in and the results have been announced: for the first time in its 20-year history as a post-Soviet state, Azerbaijan will sit as a non-permanent member on the UN Security Council. After 17 rounds of voting in the General Assembly, Azerbaijan was able to obtain the necessary support of two thirds of member countries, thus taking over the Security Council seat – traditionally reserved for an Eastern European country – being vacated by Bosnia-Herzegovina on December 31. In the last round of secret ballots cast, Azerbaijan received 155 votes, while the other contenders vying for the seat, Slovenia and Hungary, received 13 and one vote, respectively. Azerbaijan will sit on the UN’s highest body from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2013.
The final vote came as a disappointment for Hungary, which hoped that its diplomatic actions during the Libyan civil war would win it greater international support. When fighting grew most intense in the North African country, the Hungarian Embassy in Tripoli was one of the few foreign diplomatic representations that did not close for security reasons during the entire Libyan revolution. Budapest maintained a presence in Libya long after US, British and French diplomats left. Despite the “great security risk” they worked under, Hungarian embassy employees became diplomats of “last resort” for around 50 governments seeking access to Libya during the seven-month conflict.
The Central European state served as the rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers when the Libyan uprising erupted, and felt it was its duty to remain on the ground amidst the conflict. As the pro-Gaddafi forces clashed with the rebels, Hungarian diplomats aided in the release of Western journalists held prisoner during the fighting, as well as in helping Western citizens escape Libya. They also sought to be a “bridge” between the two warring Libyan factions. Their efforts were recognized both by the locals in Tripoli (who renamed the street on which the Hungarian Embassy stood “Hungarian Street”) as well as the United States government, which sent a formal letter of gratitude from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi (Bloomberg, October 18; Wall Street Journal, October 19).
Budapest hoped that Washington’s open gratitude would put it over the top in its candidacy to the Security Council. But, its record in North Africa was not enough to generate the needed votes (Bloomberg, October 18). Consequently, over the next two-year term, Baku will have the responsibility to debate and vote on matters of international security, war and peace in the world’s highest international forum. It remains to be seen whether this South Caucasian country, which has been locked in a frozen conflict with Armenia over the break-away territory of Upper Karabakh for two decades, will attempt to use its new influence to bring the regional issue to the Security Council. The Armenian side claims to be “unfazed” by the Azeri Security Council seat. Yet, it is certain that Yerevan will now be stepping up its lobbying pressure to ensure that Upper Karabakh – or at least Azerbaijan’s preferred solution to it – stays off of the UN agenda over the next two years.