August 22, 2019

Trenin: Russia may support Estonia’s initiatives in UN Security Council if it serves Moscow’s interests

Ekspress Meedia/Scanpix
Dmitri Trenin believes that membership of the UNSC will help to increase Estonian diplomats’ professional skills.
Dmitri Trenin believes that membership of the UNSC will help to increase Estonian diplomats’ professional skills.

Thanks to membership of the Council, Estonian diplomats can gain additional professional skills.

In this interview with Diplomaatia Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and an expert on Russian foreign policy, says that Estonia’s activity as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council will certainly have an impact on its bilateral relationship with Russia, depending on the rhetoric Estonia deploys.


Diplomaatia: How would you describe the UN Security Council’s role in the context of the current security architecture and regulation of conflict situations? To what extent is the Council able to resolve problems and actually influence global affairs?

Trenin: The UNSC’s role is to be a place where all the world’s important security questions can be discussed. If the Big Five permanent members cannot come to a unanimous decision, the place becomes a mere theatrical stage. However, if, for some reason, they do manage to reach agreement, a resolution adopted by the Council has the strongest possible international legitimacy in the world today.


Do you think the UNSC’s role in decision-making over global affairs has increased or diminished compared to the Cold War?

You could say that the Council’s role has basically remained the same as it was during the Cold War. The difference is that, while the US’s and USSR’s positions were the only ones that carried importance in the 20th century, now the opinions of the US, Russia and China must all be considered.


Speaking of Russia, what is the Council’s role in Moscow’s current foreign policy? What kind of foreign-policy purpose does it serve for Moscow?

The general value of the UN to Russia lies above all in the latter’s right to veto Security Council resolutions. Russia cannot impose its will on the UNSC, but no Council resolutions can be adopted against Moscow’s will.


Let’s talk about the non-permanent members of the Council, which Estonia is soon to join. What role do the regularly changing ten non-permanent members have in the 15-member Council? What sort of impact can they have on its activities and resolutions?

They don’t have a big role. In short, non-permanent members can contribute to the adoption of jointly agreed resolutions in the UNSC if their [the five permanent members’—JP] positions are sufficiently similar.


If that is the case, is it even worth having non-permanent members if all the resolutions depend on the agreement (or lack of it) of the permanent members anyway? Are they not simply extras between the big countries?

Aside from fundamental questions, the work of the UNSC includes many significant details. For instance, if the positions of permanent members are similar, non-permanent members can help to achieve a consensus on a vital question. This is also important. If this [consensus] does not exist, the non-permanent members will support those [permanent members] who are politically close to them. However, in doing so, they demonstrate the differences among the international community.


There are other large countries in the world with the potential and desire to have a say in world matters as a global power. How likely is it that the number of permanent members of the UNSC will increase, for example from the current five to seven? What does this depend on? And if it happens, who do you think could be the main candidates as new members with the power of veto?

The permanent membership of the Council can only change if a new world order, a new balance of power, begins to emerge. I don’t think this will happen any time soon.


If a country—like Estonia at the moment—becomes a non-permanent member of the UNSC, what kind of opportunities does that give the country on an international scale? What can this influence be used for?

In general, the status of a non-permanent member gives the country an opportunity not only to participate in discussions on global security but also to make a real contribution to this practical work. This is fundamental.


That’s probably true in theory. Let me rephrase: does being a non-permanent member of the UNSC increase a country’s global status in any way during this period? Or does it make no difference, because the five permanent members decide everything anyway?

Of course, membership increases a country’s status a little. However, I don’t think it increases a lot, because it is only a temporary arrangement.


What do diplomats from non-permanent countries gain from working at the Security Council alongside colleagues from the most powerful countries in the world, resolving conflicts or seeking solutions? Is this an entrée to big-league diplomacy for them?

I think the main thing is that it helps to improve their professional skills and qualifications considerably.


What do you think the relationship between the permanent members of the UNSC and non-permanent members like Estonia will be like? What do permanent members expect and want from non-permanent members?

As a rule, the main thing that permanent members expect from non-permanent members is support from those they consider like-minded and their allies.


To put it more precisely, what should Estonia be ready for as a non-permanent member of the Council?

To have an opinion on matters that do not concern you in Estonia or do not fundamentally interest you at all.


What is Russia’s policy towards non-permanent members of the Security Council? Is Russia aiming to cooperate with them or seeking their support? What does Russia expect from countries like Estonia on the Council?

I wouldn’t say that Russia is actively seeking supporting votes in the UNSC. There is currently no contest with the United States in this respect—unlike during the Cold War.


How likely is Russia to support an Estonian initiative in the Council—for instance, in the field of cybersecurity? Is that completely out of the question? Is Russia fundamentally against cooperating with NATO countries in the UNSC?

Russia only supports initiatives that Moscow sees as serving its interests. It is interested in the content of these rather than who’s behind them.


Can Estonia’s status as a non-permanent member of the UNSC have any effect on the bilateral relationship between Estonia and Russia?

Yes, it can. It can be positive if Estonia’s position on one question or another is in any way similar to that of Russia, and negative if Russia considers Estonia’s rhetoric in the Council quarrelsome and anti-Russian.


This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.