by Philip Worré, former Executive Director, ISIS Europe
On Saturday, 20 October 2012, the whole of Luxembourg turned out in the streets of the capital waving red, white and bright blue flags, celebrating the marriage of the Grand-Duchy’s crown prince. But Luxembourgers had another reason to celebrate: two days earlier, Luxembourg obtained a temporary seat at the United Nations Security Council, for the first time in its history.
On Thursday, 18 October 2012, Luxembourg was elected to a UN Security Council temporary seat, one of two reserved for members of the regional group of Western European and Others Group (WEOG). In a surprise result that saw long-time favourite Finland not obtain a seat and challenger Australia being voted in directly in the first round, Luxembourg obtained 131 votes, to be elected in the second round. Luxembourg will officially become a member of the Security Council on 1 January 2013, and will also be, at least until the end of 2013, the only EU non-permanent member.
What can a country the size of Luxembourg effectively contribute to the Security Council ?
Luxembourg is often seen as a small actor in the field of global politics, particularly in the field of security and defence. According to the IISS’s 2012 Military Balance, the Grand-Duchy’s defence budget averages 204 million euros. Although not “game-changing”, Luxembourg’s contributions to international peacekeeping operations are worth noting. Luxembourg currently supports EUNAVFOR Somalia/Operation Atalanta by funding a pair of maritime patrol aircraft. The country has also deployed 11 members of its 900-strong army to ISAF, and a further 22 to KFOR.
But the presence of a self-described “small State” at the famed table of fifteen is not a coincidence, nor is it pure luck. A country such as Luxembourg has much to offer, even if its traditional sphere of influence is the realm of international finance and the development of a European monetary union (Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker is the President of the Eurogroup). Historically, Luxembourg has often had to rely on its strong negotiation skills when dealing with complex political issues; for example, the country played an important role in the discussions leading to the 1966 Luxembourg Compromise that shaped the future of the degree of supranationalism within the European Economic Community—later the EU. Although the Compromise ended up being a disappointing “non-action” plan, Luxembourg’s mediating efforts of identifying common objectives and developing a process thereon is remembered.
Luxembourg also benefits from other historical assets. It is a founding member of many international governmental organisations, including the UN, NATO and the Western European Union, the now-defunct European defence alliance. It is the only founding member of the European Union, then the European Communities, that has never been a colonial power, and thus has a different approach to issues relating to former colonies. Luxembourg, a country invaded numerous times since its official founding in 963 A.D., knows the horrors of war, and the importance of maintaining a national identity. For a country with a population of slightly more than half a million, of which approximately one third are foreigners, tolerance and diversity are essential elements of society, and this attitude affects its external policy vision. Also, in terms of development aid, Luxembourg is the third-highest development aid donor according to the ODA/GNI ratio. These points reflect Luxembourg’s commitment to international peace and development.
Although Foreign Minister Asselborn has indicated that it is too early to talk about priorities, it is possible to foresee crucial challenges Luxembourg will have face during its two-year membership. The withdrawal of ISAF troops from Afghanistan, the deployment of an ECOWAS force in Mali and the situation in Syria, together with the emergence of new events and conflicts, and the renewal of current peacekeeping mission mandates, will call upon its negotiation skills. Luxembourg’s experience in development aid might also play a role in the setting of priorities, particularly during the Presidency month/s, during which Luxembourg will have an opportunity to set the agenda. It is at these moments that Luxembourg’s negotiation and mediation skills will be put to the test.
The accession of the regional WEOG’s Australia and Luxembourg to the Security Council, however, does not bring only advantages. The replacement of Portugal and Germany by Luxembourg and Australia means that the EU balance within the Security Council will shift, not only in numerical/voting terms (from four to three EU Member States at least until the end of 2013, when Latvia hopes to obtain a seat for the Eastern European Group) but also in terms of EU clout. For example, the end of the membership combination of France, the United Kingdom and Germany means that the E3 segment in the E3+3 (or P5+1) negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme will no longer be fully represented at the Security Council. Luxembourg will undoubtedly continue to promote the E3 line, but the absence of Germany on the Security Council will be felt. Also, the fact that two of the three EU member states on the Security Council will be Permanent Members (and “official” nuclear-weapon states) will put pressure on Luxembourg to represent the rest of the EU in informal resolution negotiations and act as a counter-weight to the strong influence of France and the UK; the Grand-Duchy will also play an important role, reporting on Security Council matters to the other EU Member States during the weekly coordination meetings. Luxembourg will undoubtedly be buttressed by other EU Member States; Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has already indicated that his country will benefit from the administrative support of historical partners Belgium and the Netherlands.
The recent attribution of the Nobel Prize for Peace to the European Union highlights the important link between the EU and peace and security, and underlines the importance of negotiation and compromise, the foundation of the European Union. At the heart of Europe and the European Union since the earliest moments, Luxembourg has always been a dedicated and resolute actor on the European stage, and the recent history of the Grand-Duchy is intricately linked to that of the construction of Europe. Because of its size, its history, its commitment to consensus, cooperation and promotion of the EU ideals, Luxembourg’s temporary seat could very well be an indication of what an EU seat at the UN Security Council would be like.
UN Security Council Members (2013)
Republic of Korea
 « Es ist zu früh, um von Prioritäten zu reden », p. 12, Luxemburger Wort, 20 October 2012.