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Jakarta Post

Arguing for difference on indifferent council

  • Fitriani and Maria M. Widhia Putri

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Jakarta   /   Tue, August 4, 2020   /   09:36 am
Arguing for difference on indifferent council United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres (second from left, seated) donned a tenun shirt in the Indonesia-chaired UNSC meeting on Tuesday, May 7th, 2019 in New York, United States. (Foreign Ministry/File)

This is Indonesia’s second year sitting as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), raising the question as to whether Indonesia has made a difference on the council. If Indonesia has yet to make its mark, perhaps this August, during its UNSC presidency, the country can leave a lasting legacy.

It is a difficult period for members of the UNSC, as rivalries between great powers straddle its ability to issue substantial resolutions that can bring about global peace and order. We witness violence committed by armed groups, pandemic, territorial disputes intensification, as well as regional and domestic political posturing that the council chooses to sit on the fence and watch.

Of course, it would be a tremendous burden, if not entirely unfair, to expect Indonesia to save the world alone while the great powers choose to stall or fight among themselves.

Nevertheless, except for COVID-19, Indonesia has been aware of the arduous task of working toward global peace when it campaigned to win the UNSC seat in 2018. Then the United States began to threaten China with increased tariffs and Russian diplomats were expelled from several European countries after a spy poisoning case.

When Indonesia began its membership, the UNSC was experiencing a decline in the number of resolutions issued. In 2016, it issued 77 resolutions, including those substantive issues on fighting violent extremism in Syria. But in 2019, there were only 51 resolutions, 37 of which were extensions of previous mandates. As of last month, the council has issued 32 resolutions with more than half being extensions.

For the optimist among us, they may argue that there is persistence on the UNSC, but for some others yearning for a breakthrough, they may see the council as hedging sustainable peace by not taking drastic measures.

In the preparatory period, Indonesia, with other elected members, sent a letter to highlight “the need for fair burden-sharing and equal distribution of work among all members of the security council”. The letter urges UNSC reform from the dominance of the P5 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the US) toward more meaningful participation from elected members by accepting them as “penholder” in drafting the council’s resolutions.

Together with Germany, Indonesia is co-penholder for the situation on Afghanistan and has successfully negotiated for two mandate extensions of UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in March and September 2019. This is a particularly challenging diplomatic case as mandate extensions usually last one year, not six months.

Still, the negotiations were highly politicized by great powers rivalries, especially with the Western group’s concern about China’s Belt and Road Initiative complicating the discussion as Afghanistan’s national election was due to take place. In the deadlock, Indonesia took the role of bridge-builder, pushing for a peaceful resolution by supporting resolutions that reflected the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

Indonesia also displayed its commitment to Afghan’s peace process by being a member of the International Contact Group (ICG) on Afghanistan and having Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi as one of the honorary members of the Group of Friends of Women of Afghanistan.

Indonesia endeavored to provide empowerment for Afghan women by holding dialogue on the role of women in building and sustaining peace last November. Furthermore, as 2020 marks the two decades implementation of UNSC Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, earlier this year Indonesia also conducted online training for women diplomats, negotiators and mediators from Afghanistan and beyond, reaching those of ASEAN member states, Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea.

The free-and-active foreign policy principle provides Indonesia with a constructive foundation for its adept participation on the council. Such a principle has enabled the country to navigate and mediate the differing positions of the council’s members through partnership and regionalism.

Admittedly, not all issues yield progress. One rocky topic for Indonesian diplomacy is Palestine. Indonesia has been consistent in supporting a two-state solution that would bring about an independent and sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. The challenge is not all the council’s members agree with the idea, including Indonesia co-penholders on the issue of Palestine— the US and Kuwait.

Nevertheless, Indonesia unwaveringly promotes Palestine’s peace process, including by drafting UNSC press statements on the demolition of residential buildings in the Sur Bahir/Wadi al-Hummus, East Jerusalem; the closing of Temporary International Presence in Hebron by Israel, and organizing an informal discussion on illegal settlements at the time of Indonesia’s presidency at the council in May 2019.

Presidency at the council was significant because Indonesia demonstrated its ability to lead by means of agenda-setting and discussed issues of great importance for the country. In its last presidency, Indonesia held two open debates with the topic of “Training and Capacity Building in Peacekeeping and Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”, highlighting the importance of the involvement of women in peace and security issues.

This August, not only Indonesia will celebrate its 75 years of independence but it will also hold the UNSC presidency. Indonesia will carry the theme “Advancing Sustainable Peace” to emphasize the council’s effort in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, which poses challenges to global peace and stability.

In the presidency, aside from chairing at least 14 meetings on global conflict situations, Indonesia also proposed three signature events, namely a discussion on the linkage of counterterrorism and organized crime, pandemics and the challenges of sustaining peace, as well as an informal discussion on cyber and protection of civilians.
From the UNSC presidency, Indonesia aspires to issue two outcome documents. First, the outcome document on countering terrorism that will focus on the prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of terrorists. Second, the outcome document on women peacekeepers, aiming for greater inclusion of the women and gender perspective in the UN peace mission. A great task lies ahead for Indonesia in uniting UNSC members, particularly in bridging the interests of major powers and fostering dialogue.
In its presidency, Indonesia needs to lead collective action in responding to COVID-19, ensuring the nexus between peace and sustainable development, as well as keep the council relevant in addressing emerging security challenges, including cyber, terrorism, or yet another pandemic. However, Indonesia may put the UNSC on a pedestal to wish that it will be able to readily agree to speak with one voice, as great powers within may not be willing to cede their dominance. Nevertheless, keep marching onward, Indonesia has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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Fitriani and Maria M. Widhia Putri are respectively researcher and research intern at the department of international relations, Centre for Strategic and International Studies Indonesia (CSIS). The original article was published in CSIS Commentaries.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.