UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Politically divided Lebanon and Bosnia were among five countries elected to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, in a move diplomats hoped would help strengthen the two countries’ fragile institutions.
In an uncontested election, the U.N. General Assembly voted for Bosnia, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria to serve on the council through 2010 and 2011. All five had been selected in advance by their regional groups.
From January 1 they will replace Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Libya and Vietnam as non-veto-holding members of the 15-nation body, the powerhouse of the United Nations with the authority to impose sanctions and send peacekeeping forces.
Unresolved political and security issues have meant that both Lebanon and Bosnia are subject to Security Council scrutiny. Lebanon has some 12,500 U.N. peacekeeping troops in its south, stemming from past conflicts with Israel, while Bosnia, torn by war in the 1990s, has a European Union force.
“The experience of being on the council will help strengthen their national government systems to enable them to take decisions on international issues,” British Ambassador John Sawers said of Lebanon and Bosnia.
There are five veto-holding permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- and 10 temporary elected members without vetoes.
But the elected members have some power because a council resolution needs nine votes in favor as well as no vetoes.
Diplomats said they expected Lebanon to be able to speak for Arab countries despite its sectarian divisions, but one said he anticipated it would abstain if the council decided to impose further sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Three rounds of sanctions have already been passed.
Iran is a sensitive subject in Beirut, where politicians are seeking to put together a new government, because of the political weight of the Iranian-backed Shi‘ite Hezbollah group, whose militants fought against Israel in 2006.
“If it comes to Iran, that would cause quite deep divisions within the Lebanese government, and it would be difficult for them to take a definitive position, i.e. they’re likely to abstain,” said one Western diplomat who had spoken to Lebanese officials.
But the diplomat, speaking on condition he that he not be identified, also expected Lebanon to be a more moderate Arab voice on the council than outgoing Libya, which has clashed with the United States over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“They may look for a more moderate way through and take a lead perhaps more specifically from the Palestinians,” he said. “There have been occasions when the Libyans have refused to take the advice of the likes of Palestine and Egypt because it wasn’t to their own national taste.”
Lebanese Ambassador Nawaf Salam said his country, on the council for the first time since 1953, had “a special mission as a country of tolerance, diversity” but declined further comment on how it would act.
Bosnian Foreign Minister Sven Alkalaj said his country’s election was a tribute to the long way it had come since its 1992-95 ethnic war. The Balkan state remains politically divided between a Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat federation.
He said Sarajevo would favor a council policy of preventive diplomacy, “never to allow the crisis and loss of human lives to happen ever again as we experienced in Bosnia.”
Nigerian Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe also said preventive diplomacy “will be central to our approach.” Nigeria and Brazil have both been mentioned as possible new Security Council permanent members under reform proposals now under discussion.
The five countries elected on Thursday could only have been blocked if they had failed to obtain two thirds of the votes cast. All five were elected with overwhelming majorities.
Editing by Jackie Frank