Representatives from Australia’s United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Taskforce have recently been in Malaysia for a series of meetings and courtesy calls with government officials and local think tanks to share their experience of sitting as a non-permanent member of the UNSC and offer advice on how Malaysia can maximise on its recently started term.
With Malaysia taking its seat from Jan 1, 2015, what can it hope to achieve over the next two years?
For one, being a non-permanent member will allow Malaysia a platform to expand its international agenda.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has said that the five priorities of Malaysia’s role will be to advance moderation globally; advocate mediation as an approach to conflict resolution; promote UN peacekeeping operations; facilitate the peace-building process in strife-torn countries; and pursue deliberations on UNSC’s comprehensive reformation.
It will be interesting to see how this concept of “moderation” will be applied on the international stage. The term was added to the Malaysian political lexicon during a speech the prime minister gave to the UN back in 2010.
So, its recent reiteration adds a somewhat symbolic full-circle touch to the idea. But, until now, moderation has primarily been used on the domestic front to separate the voices of the responsible, centred and oft-described “silent majority” from the extreme, loud and visible fringe.
A stronger indication on how Malaysia plans to act during its term comes from Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, who elaborated further by saying that Malaysia would focus on the enhancement of peacekeeping operations in supporting those countries that are emerging from conflict, as well as pursuing reforms to the Security Council.
There is no lack of deeply complex issues currently affecting international security that Malaysia will have to take a stand on. These include the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, as well as the increasing barbarism of Islamic State (IS).
Growing reports of Malaysians leaving the country to go and fight for IS highlight the importance of Malaysia’s response to this and the foreign fighter phenomenon. Only last month a 14-year-old girl was detained at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on suspicion of trying to leave the country to join the terror group.
While initially slow, the rhetoric at home has been getting stronger on these issues. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Joseph Kurup recently stated that we cannot allow extremist groups to “flourish”.
Though at times there is a disjunct between this strong language and the action actually taken against the perpetrators, Malaysia will have to take a clear stand in front of the world stage if its time on the Security Council is to be remembered.
This may also mean alienating sections of the voting public that are sympathetic to the perpetrators and ideologies behind some of these radical conflicts.
However, there are areas where Malaysia can hit the ground running.
The most obvious of which is to carry the torch of Resolution 2166.In response to the downing of MH17, this resolution demanded that all armed groups operating around the crash site surrender the area so that the bodies of victims could be repatriated and investigators were given safe, secure and unrestricted access to obtain evidence.
This resolution was drafted and sponsored by Australia during its time as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. Australia’s quick and decisive action here has been universally praised. The fact that the resolution was unanimously passed by all 15 member nations — including Russia, which has been widely accused of backing the separatists guilty of shooting the plane down — should serve as a reminder to Malaysia that it can punch up a weight class on the world stage, if it is willing to make a stand.
While Malaysia took its seat as Asia’s representative to the UNSC with overwhelming support garnering 187 of the 193 (UN General Assembly votes), this year will also see Malaysia put on the world stage for another reason. It will take the position of Chair of Asean — the regional political and economic organisation which lists among its various mandates the promotion of regional peace and stability. Alongside Angola, Venezuela, Spain and New Zealand, Malaysia will serve on the UNSC until2016.
However, this is not the first time Malaysia has sat as a non-permanent member, with previous stints in 1965, 1989/1990 and 1999/2000. In 2015, Malaysia can take the risk-adverse muddle through approach, which is likely to mean its time will be forgotten. Or, it can stand up and show it is a good global citizen in pursuit of the goal of maintaining worldwide peace and security that the UNSC was founded upon.
The writer is a senior policy analyst with the Centre for Public Policy Studies, Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute.