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Published: Thursday, 12/1/2011

Shift at the U.N.

The lineup of 15 nations on the U.N. Security Council is set for 2012. It is hard to say whether the United States has gained or lost influence.

In addition to the five veto-holding permanent members -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States -- 10 members will serve temporary terms next year. They are: Azerbaijan, Colombia, Germany, Guatemala, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Portugal South Africa, and Togo.

Most nations want to be elected to the Security Council. Given the unwieldy size and relative lack of power of the General Assembly, the council tends to be where big U.N. decisions are made.

The Security Council set the terms for international intervention in the war in Libya. It has blocked action, at least for the moment, on Palestine's application to join the United Nations.

Reasons that have less to do with making policy also abound for countries to be on the Security Council. Part of it is the prestige and visibility of membership.

Another is money: Members whose votes are courted on an issue may be offered inducements -- trades of votes, aid, or cash to delegates. A country with a bad human-rights record may want to serve on the council to fend off attention from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The criteria for council membership are fairly clear. Normally, the General Assembly prefers to see representation of regions not covered by the permanent members, including Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and South Asia.

This year, seven of the nine countries known to have nuclear weapons are on the council, absent only Israel and North Korea. Next year should prove interesting as well.

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