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Vietnam is ready to assume the position of a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the 2020-2021 tenure
13/6/2019 9:31' Send Print
A meeting of the UNSC in New York on September 26, 2016. Photo: Reuters

In January 2010, immediately after fulfilling its position as a non-permanent member of the UNSC (E10) for the 2008-2009 tenure, Vietnam ran for the E10 position for the 2020-2021 tenure. This decision shows continuity in thinking, both inheritance and continuous innovation of the Party's foreign relation vision, including thinking and strategic vision on multilateral foreign relations and building Vietnam's multilateral foreign identity. It can also been seen as an illustration of the correct approach which considers multilateral diplomacy as an effective tool for small and medium countries to pursue and protect their national interests.

In order for Vietnam to be elected and to take on this position well, there are many issues that need to be studied and resolved, such as analysis, evaluation, forecast of international and regional situation that impact Vietnam; new features in the UNSC’s operation compared to 10 years ago; lessons learned from the 2008-2009 tenure of Vietnam.

New features in the international situation and the operation of the UNSC

In recent years, competition and interest friction between big countries have become more intense (especially the competition between the US and China in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean and the Pacific). The fact that big countries have taken bilateral and unilateral measures in international relations has strongly impacted and affected the role and position of some major multilateral institutions. Small and medium countries are becoming more and more vulnerable to the adjustment of policies by big countries.

Besides, competition and friction between development models, trends, tendencies and institutions have become clearer and fiercer. New and more complicated developments have taken place in some “hot spots”; non-traditional security issues, such as terrorism, cyber security, climate change tend to spread with many unpredictable developments.

Globalization has revealed its downsides, and unfavorable effects on all countries. The world is witnessing increasing anti-globalization, anti-international integration activities; the emergence of extreme nationalism, populism leading to conflicts over multilateral trends; the fiercer friction between international law and power politics.

Prompted by the reality, it can be predicted that this trend of competition and combat is likely to continue for 3-5 years with the ruling cycles of some parties and politicians in populist and anti-international integration countries. Although world people always yearn for peace and have made efforts to preserve peace, and globalization, peace and cooperation are still mainstream, multilateralism and international law continue to be promoted and maintain their important irreplaceable position in international relations, peace and international security over the past years and in the coming time are likely to witness complicated developments, and impacts from policy adjustments of big countries, as well as of other countries.

The above-mentioned movements in regions of the world and in international relations make the UNSC confront new and more complex issues than 10 years ago. The workload of the UNSC has increased significantly. According to Ms. Shamala Thomson, Deputy Executive Director of the Security Council Report, if in 2009, the number of official meetings of the UNSC was less than 200, by 2017, it increased to 350; the number of documents of the UNSC (including resolutions, presidential statements, press releases) also increased from 150 documents in 2011 to more than 200 documents in 2017. The UNSC’s agenda has become increasingly intensive, focusing on issues, "hot spots", tensions, conflicts, such as the issue of denuclearization on the Korean peninsula, Middle East-Africa regional situation, Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate (IS), territorial, maritime and island disputes in the Asia-Pacific region, ethnic and religious conflicts and many other non-traditional security challenges. In addition, the agenda is also related to other areas, such as collisions, strategic competition among big countries, especially among the permanent members of the UNSC ( P5) and between P5 and UN member countries. P5 countries have continue to cooperate and combat each other, and combating is more prominent and intense. There are more disagreements about some international issues in the UN Security Council. The division among P5 members, especially between Russia and the US and the UK, is growing, affecting the Security Council's activities. The rally of force in the Security Council in the next two years is expected to continue because of the complex relationship between P5 countries. The chart above shows that, from 2008 to 2018, especially in 2017 and 2018, P5 countries used increasingly more veto.

Opportunities and challenges for Vietnam in its second running for a non-permanent seat at the UNSC

The international, regional and national situation and UNSC’s activities in recent years have brought about opportunities and advantages, as well as challenges for Vietnam during its second running for a non-permanent seat at the UNSC for the 2020-2021 tenure and work in this position if elected.

First, the country’s posture and strength have been raised. After more than 30 years of renovation, Vietnam has made many great and significant historical achievements in consolidating national aggregated strength, maintaining security and enhancing international status. The country’s socio-economic development has been stable, economic growth relative high (GDP increased by 7%/year on average in the last 5 years). Business environment and competitiveness of the economy have been improved. Vietnam has become a middle-income developing country since 2010 with elevated international reputation and position.

Second, foreign relations are considered one of the "bright spots" in the country's development with many achievements, such as strengthening strategic partnerships and comprehensive partnerships, intermingled benefits, trust and cooperation mechanisms with other countries; maintaining a peaceful, stable and favorable environment for development; harmonizing the tasks of maintaining independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity (especially sea and island security and sovereignty) and protecting socialism. Progress has been made in making and implementing guidelines and policies on international integration and diplomacy for development.

In particular, in the process of renovation, industrialization and modernization and international integration, Vietnam has expanded and deepened multilateral diplomacy. Multilateral foreign relations helps Vietnam assert its role as an active member, a reliable and responsible partner of the international community, striving to play a core, leading and reconciliatory role at multilateral forums and organizations of strategic importance to the country, in accordance with specific capabilities and conditions. The 12th Party Congress, for the first time, identified that multilateral foreign policy is a strategic orientation and set the task of "improving the quality and effectiveness of multilateral foreign affairs, proactively and actively contributing to building and shaping multilateral mechanisms, ” and a focus of " proactively participating and promoting Vietnam’s role in multilateral mechanisms, especially the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations."(2) In August 2018, the Party Central Committee's Secretariat issued Directive No. 25/CT-TW on "Promoting and raising the level of multilateral external relations by 2030." This was the first time that the Secretariat issued a separate Directive on promoting and advancing multilateral foreign relations by 2030, which set out the goals, points of view and key tasks and solutions for the next 10 years in all areas. (3)

Third, lessons learned from assuming the E10 position for the 2008-2009 tenure. Fulfilling the post of the E10 for the 2008- 2009 tenure, Vietnam has promoted the thinking of "improving efficiency and quality of multilateral foreign relations"; providing an important practical basis for the 12th Party Congress to identify multilateral foreign relations as a strategic direction of Vietnam’s foreign affairs; actively participating and promoting the role in multilateral mechanisms, especially the ASEAN and the United Nations. Many lessons are really valuable to improve the effectiveness of Vietnam's participation in multilateral institutions in general, and especially for Vietnam during its second running for the E10 post for the 2020-2021 tenure. The lessons learned are:

1. Cross-cutting and ahead thinking and vision in foreign relations. Vietnam's decision to stand for and successfully assume the role of E10 post for the 2008-2009 tenure, first of all, comes from the renewal of Party’s thinking, correct foreign policy and grasping the trends of international situation. The policy of deepening and more actively participating in the work of the United Nations is the result of the Party’s development and innovation of the foreign relation thinking, including multilateral foreign relation thinking. Since 1997, Vietnam’s decision on the time of candidacy and fulfillment of the ± 1-2 year E10 post demonstrated its sharp vision and ability to accurately forecast the development in the country, the region, the world and at the United Nations.

The decision to stand for the E10 position for the 2008-2009 tenure was the concretization of multilateral foreign point of views to step up "bilateral and multilateral cooperation with countries and international organizations," especially "to contribute to make the United Nations better serve the goals of peace, friendship, cooperation and development of humankind.” Vietnam’s running for the E10 post for the 2020-2021 tenure after its 2008-2009 tenure once again proves its persistency, inheritance and continuous innovation and development in line with the situation in terms of thinking and foreign relation vision, including thinking, strategic vision on the multilateral foreign affairs of the Communist Party of Vietnam.

2- Vietnam made good preparations of contents, early set out goals and developed plans; build a contingent of multilateral diplomats. Well preparations of forces, implementation and systematic and suitable operation are the keys to success. In fact, the Permanent Mission to the United Nations delegated, assigned diplomats to be in charge of different sectors which effectively supported and coordinated with each other. In addition, by maintaining communication and exchange with the inter-agency Working Group in Hanoi, Vietnam also greatly supported the Mission’s diplomats working in multilateral entities. During her visit to Vietnam on December 12, 2008, Ms. Norman Chan, Chief of the Secretariat of the Security Council spoke highly of Vietnam’s multilateral diplomats for being dynamic, active and well-organized. A lesson learned in the placement, training and organization of human resources is to develop a long-term plan for training, retraining and encouragement; build a team of professional multilateral diplomats. This will help Vietnam have a team of mature multilateral diplomats in terms of political stuff, professional capacity, experience, foreign language proficiency, effective and professional performance, with good skills of drafting documents, chairing negotiations on resolutions, consultations and international conferences.

3- Vietnam fully grasps, upholds, flexibly and successfully applies lessons learned, principles of negotiation and diplomatic arts. Precious experiences in Vietnam's multilateral diplomacy through previous historical negotiations, such as the negotiation for the 1954 Geneva Agreement on peace in Indochina, the 1973 Paris Agreement to end the war and restore peace in Vietnam, the negotiations on Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) were shared to multilateral diplomats to facilitate their participation in negotiations, contributing to Vietnam’s fulfillment of the role of E10. Vietnam's multilateral officials have proved to mature through international political, diplomatic and economic negotiations.

Experience from assuming the E10 post for the 2008-2009 tenure helps Vietnam better prepare for developing guidelines and policies as well as communication contents to inform the international community about Vietnam's foreign policies and guidelines amid Vietnam's extensive international integration; develop appropriate implementation measures, aiming to realize the motto of proactive and active international integration, thereby further enhancing the nation’s role and position to benefit its national interests, sustaining a peaceful international environment for fast and sustainable national development.

4. If elected, Vietnam has more opportunities to continue research, make proposals and push for some concrete initiatives, contributing to the United Nations in general and to ensure national interest in particular. At the same time, it can make practical and direct contributions to lead member countries towards cooperation, enhance the important role of multilateral foreign relations in maintaining international peace and security.

Besides advantages and opportunities mentioned above, Vietnam’s fulfillment of the E10 in the 2008-2009 tenure also causes pressure and challenges to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam in general and the Permanent Mission to the United Nations in particular if it is elected. Besides complicated and unpredictable developments in the international context, the workload of the UNSC has increased significantly; consultations and open meetings have been longer than before. It is a challenge for Vietnam to prepare ahead tentative issues in the 2020-2021 tenure, make appropriate arrangements in time and invite delegates as well as following up of these issues.

The split among member countries of the UNSC is also a challenge for E10 countries in general and Vietnam in particular when joining the UNSC and taking the Chairmanship to preside over or expressing stance on divided issues among P5 countries, including countries that are strategic partners, comprehensive partners of Vietnam.

The next challenge is to get familiarized with the "mechanism" of penholder, directly drafting the UNSC’s documents on a number of specific issues. This mechanism was not in force in the 2008-2009 tenure. Recently, E10 countries have been very active in advancing initiatives or taking the role of drafting the UNSC’s documents, such as Sweden and Kuwait drafted Resolution on Humanitarian Situation in Syria, Sweden drafted the Resolution on Children in armed conflicts, the Netherlands drafted the Resolution on Afghanistan; Bolivia prepared the Resolution on peace building, among others.

In summary, Vietnam's candidacy for a non-permanent seat in the UNSC for the 2020-2021 tenure poses great requirements for Vietnam, namely: 1. Meeting higher expectations than the 2008-2009 tenure; 2. Determining the position and extent of Vietnam's participation in the UNSC to actively, positively and effectively contribute to the work of this Council; 3. Defending and promoting views and stance on security issues which Vietnam has legitimate interests at the UNSC; 4. Enhancing position, image and support through promoting a number of initiatives, and proposals to coordinate some forums before and during its term in the UNSC.

Ho Chi Minh-style diplomacy of “using the constant to deal with the variable” is Vietnam’s diplomatic art of sustainable value through historical periods. The constant is the persistency on the principle of national independence and national interests, thoroughly grasping the foreign policy of the Party and the State, considering it as a foundation for implementing foreign affairs. Firmly following the principles and being flexible in tactics are the motto of the Vietnamese diplomacy and a factor to ensure the successful adaptation to fast and complex changes, and well handling of problems in all areas, including foreign relation fronts in general and multilateral diplomacy in particular.


(1) See: Voting on draft resolutions: 2008-2018, 2018 / index.html # decisions, access day 20- 1-2019
(2) Documents of the 12th National Party Congress, Office of the Party Central Committee, Hanoi, 2016, pp 153-155
(3) See:, January 18, 2019

This article was published in the Communist Review No 918 (April 2019)

Nguyen Viet Lam, PhDMinistry of Foreign Affairs