What are non-permanent seats in the UN Security Council, how are they filled?

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Early on Thursday (June 18), the official handle of the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York tweeted: “Member States elect India to the non-permanent seat of the Security Council for the term 2021-22 with overwhelming support. India gets 184 out of the 192 valid votes polled.”

In a video message, T S Tirumurti, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, said he was “deeply humbled by the tremendous confidence which the member states of the United Nations have reposed in India”.


What are ‘non-permanent seats’ at the UNSC?

  • The UNSC is composed of 15 members: five permanent members — China, France, Russian Federation, the United States, and the United Kingdom — and 10 non-permanent members who are elected by the General Assembly. The non-permanent members are elected for two-year terms — so every year, the General Assembly elects five non-permanent members out of the total 10.
  • These 10 seats are distributed among the regions of the world: five seats for African and Asian countries; one for Eastern European countries; two for Latin American and Caribbean countries; and two for Western European and Other Countries.
  • Of the five seats for Africa and Asia, three are for Africa and two for Asia. Also, there is an informal understanding between the two groups to reserve one seat for an Arab country. The Africa and Asia Pacific group takes turns every two years to put up an Arab candidate.
  • Elections for terms beginning in even-numbered years select two African members, and one each within Eastern Europe, the Asia Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Terms beginning in odd-numbered years consist of two Western European and Other members, and one each from Asia Pacific, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • The current non-permanent members of the Security Council are Belgium, Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia, and South Africa, all of whose terms end this year; and Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, and Vietnam, whose terms end in 2021.
  • India begins its term in the beginning of 2021, and will hold the position until the end of 2022.


What happened at the election that India won?

  • India was the only candidate for the vacancy from the Asia Pacific. Its candidature for the seat was endorsed unanimously by the Asia Pacific group, which comprises 55 countries, including Pakistan and China, last year.
  • “A unanimous step. Asia-Pacific Group @UN unanimously endorses India’s candidature for a non-permanent seat of the Security Council for a 2-year term in 2021/22. Thanks to all 55 members for their support,” Syed Akbaruddin, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations at the time, had tweeted on June 26, 2019.
  • That endorsement meant that India would be a “clean slate” candidate for the elections, with an assured victory.
  • Besides India, China, and Pakistan the 55-country Asia Pacific group includes Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Cyprus, North Korea, South Korea, Fiji, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nauru, Nepal, Oman, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Qatar, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, UAE, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam, and Yemen.


Has India been in the UNSC earlier?

  • India has earlier been a non-permanent member of the Security Council in 1950-51, 1967-68, 1972-73, 1977-78, 1984-85, 1991-92 and 2011-12. For the 2011-12 term, India won 187 of 190 votes after Kazakhstan stood down from its candidacy.
  • Unlike Africa, which has formalised a system of rotation of its three seats, the Asia Pacific grouping has often seen contests for seats. In 2018, there was a contest between the Maldives and Indonesia. On the occasions when there is a contest, the elections for non-permanent seats can go on for several rounds. Back in 1975, there was a contest between India and Pakistan, which went into eight rounds, with Pakistan finally winning the seat. And in 1996, India lost a contest to Japan.
  • Even if a country is a “clean slate” candidate and has been endorsed by its group, it still needs to secure the votes of two-thirds of the members present and voting at the General Assembly session — which is a minimum of 129 votes, if all 193 member states participate.



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