Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Azerbaijan Voted Onto UN Security Council For First Time In 20-Year History

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.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Serbia Follows France to Somalia, Hopes to End Up In Europe

By Matthew Czekaj

Though little noticed in the press, Serb-EU relations reached a new milestone, recently. On September 23, Serbian Secretary of State for Defence Tanja Miščević announced at a conference on Serbia’s EU integration that around November 10, her country would send Serbian officers to take part in the European Union’s anti-piracy mission to Somalia – Operation “Atalanta.” According to Miščević, Serbian officers will participate on board a French naval vessel attached to the Atalanta mission. In addition, Serb military personnel will assist in training Somali security forces as part of the EU Training Mission in Uganda.

Belgrade’s military cooperation with Paris in Uganda and off the Horn of Africa is the result of a Serb-French diplomatic breakthrough, which culminated in early April of this year. In the first visit of a Serbian Head of State to Paris in about a century, Serb President Boris Tadić and his French counterpart Nicholas Sarkozy signed a strategic partnership agreement cementing France’s support for Serbia’s European integration. In addition to political, economic, and cultural cooperation, the two governments also agreed to defense collaboration and military exchanges as well as discussed joint action in the Atalanta and the EUTM mission Somalia – Uganda. Serbia’s participation in EU military campaigns was made possible by the Balkan country’s formal acceptance on May 26, of the EU’s security procedures for the exchange and protection of classified information, and an official agreement reached between Brussels and Belgrade on June 8, to cooperate in military and civilian missions.

Exact numbers of Serbian soldiers taking part in the EU missions in and off the coast of Africa were not cited in any English-language media sources, and the Serbian Embassy in Washington, DC had not responded before this article was posted. However, the level of Serb participation is likely to remain small. Only a handful of Serbian military personnel are deployed in multinational peacekeeping missions abroad, and the largest contingent currently in place is composed of 45 troops and individuals serving in the United Nations (UN) peace mission to Cyprus. Nevertheless, the Serb-EU military relationship is groundbreaking for another reason: namely, it represents the first time that Serbia has participated in a European led mission abroad; all of Serbia’s previous multinational peacekeeping contributions served under UN missions.

Though an aspiring EU member, Serbia is under no obligation to take part in the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) missions. Its voluntary involvement is a clear effort by Belgrade to associate itself more closely and significantly with Brussels. The EU and its Member States (MS) share this sentiment. EU foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton noted that Serbia’s participation in CSDP efforts is “a step that will bring Serbia closer to the Union” and “a clear sign of mutual trust” (EurActiv, September 30). These remarks were echoed by the British and German ambassadors to Serbia. That is not to say that Belgrade has changed its attitude toward the other major Euro-Atlantic security organization – NATO. Serbia still considers the North Atlantic Alliance a threat, and has no interest in joining, currently bound by a resolution mandating the country’s neutrality toward all military alliances (EurActiv, September 30). Nevertheless, closer EU-Serbia ties are important to Belgrade in all areas, including the military.

Serbia’s willingness to play by Europe’s rules seems to have paid off. On October 12, the European Commission recommended that Serbia receive official candidate status, citing positive reforms taken over the past decade in political and economic spheres. The EU Council of Ministers will formally vote on Serbia’s status in December. Yet, the EU refused to offer a date to begin accession talks until Serbia improved its relations with Kosovo. Indeed, the issue of Serbia’s conflict with Kosovo, which it still considers a break-away province, will likely prove to be a major stumbling block in Serbia’s future accession negotiations with the EU. And the issue has been compounded in recent months by the violence that has been occurring on the Serb-Kosovar border.

Though the European Union is far from unified in its stance vis-à-vis Kosovo, enlargement fatigue following Bulgaria and Romania’s entry as well as ongoing financial woes are likely to encourage some EU members to use Kosovo as an excuse to keep Serbia out for now. The presence of Serb military personnel accompanying French forces in the Indian Ocean is a significant outcome for Serbia, which has been trying to improve the international image of its armed forces. Yet, its participation in EU missions abroad is unlikely to completely smooth Serbia’s rocky and winding road toward European membership.