Ri Insights

Kuwait’s 2018 Seat at the UN Security Council

Dr. Shareefa Abdullah Al-Adwani

Rai Insights Contributor

Kuwait: The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has five permanent seats – the US, the UK, China, Russia, and France – and ten non-permanent seats.  Every year, half of the non-permanent seats are replaced with new countries, resulting in a two-year term for those country representatives.  On June 2017, Kuwait, endorsed by the GCC, the Arab League, and the OIC, was elected by the United Nations General Assembly to one of the five non-permanent member seats for 2018 and 2019.  The fifteen members of the UNSC are responsible for maintaining international peace and security, and are empowered through Chapter VII of the UN Charter to support multilateral action to ensure global stability.

This is not Kuwait’s first time at the UNSC table.  Kuwait’s tenure on the Security Council from 1978 to 1979 oversaw the negotiation of many issues, concentrating on two specific regions.  More than 35 percent of the UNSC’s total resolutions those two years were on disputes and issues in the African region, including conflicts in Rhodesia, instability in Namibia, and South African apartheid, among others.  More than 43 percent of the UNSC’s total resolutions those two years were on disputes and issues in the Middle East region, including illegal Israeli settlements, sending UN peacekeeping forces to the civil war in Lebanon, and the US hostages in Iran.

These Middle East regional stability issues of 1978 are still on the table forty years later, albeit taking more complicated forms.  Despite a 1 December 2017 condemnation by the UN General Assembly, the United States proceeded to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city on 6 December 2017.  Less than two weeks later, fourteen members of the UNSC supported a resolution for condemnation of the US recognition, but the resolution was vetoed by the fifteenth member, the US.  Lebanon, now a location (along with Qatar and Yemen) of a Saudi – Iranian proxy dispute, is still reconciling its refugee issue (one-third of its population).  Iran, with the nuclear deal framework now in precarious balance, is beginning deliberations with Turkey and Russia over Syria, edging out other potential regional peace brokers.

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Despite these older issues taking new form, there are newer issues that already are on the UNSC agenda regarding global peace and security in the Middle East: terrorism, cyber security and information privacy and protection, the immediacy of the need for stability and security in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, and climate change.  Kuwait and the other fourteen members certainly have many issues to consider, and very little time with which to deliberate, negotiate, and act on these issues.

How can Kuwait address these Middle East issues?  In short, Kuwait can follow a two-pronged strategy of reigniting partnerships and building capacity, paving the way for solutions to these issues that will certainly take more time than Kuwait’s duration at the UNSC.


Terrorism. In the last two decades, great strides have been made at the international level regarding counter-terrorism.  UNSC Resolution 1373 of 2001 established the UN Counter Terrorism Committee (CTC), which compiled reports by UN member states.  According to these reports, most UN member states require greater counter-terrorism capacity and expertise (Ward 2003).  In response to this need for capacity, the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre (CTC) was established.  Capacity provision includes expertise and training in prevention of violent extremism, strengthening of borders and information networks, and countering terrorist financing.  Kuwait’s role as the broker between regional states that require capacity and capacity providers may start close to home, as this is of great interest to Saudi Arabia, who proposed both the UN CTC and a regional Joint Gulf Counterterrorism Center in 2005 (Cordesman 2009).  The GCC, with the 2017 establishment of an anti-terrorism center to combat terrorist funding was established this year in Saudi Arabia, are in the midst of aligning their policies to combat this funding.  Certainly, Kuwait’s ability to provide further development on this issue will be beneficial to its neighbors and to the region.


Cybersecurity.  Within Kuwait, there should be greater investment in top computer and information systems security education.  There should be greater domestic development of early computer education, including offering summer school programs for middle and high school students on computer programming and computer security.  At the university level, general scholarships should be expanded, with merit scholarships expanded to all top universities in the world.  By building internal capacity over time, Kuwait may offer international support in less than a generation.


Regional Security.  The challenges of Palestine-Israel, the various proxy conflicts of Saudi Arabia and Iran (in Lebanon, Yemen, and Qatar) and each states’ recent unilateral acts of regime consolidation and alliance-seeking, the instability of the domestic governments of Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and the regional refugee crisis comprised of refugees from Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, among others, are perhaps the most difficult issues faced by the UNSC, requiring careful planning and balancing.  For Kuwait, encouragement of the use of strategic partnerships on a per-country, per-issue basis offers long-term solution to some of these difficulties.  For some issues such as refugees and weak or failing states, this planning may require linking countries and their denizens to educational programs, infrastructure building, development assistance, and job opportunities.  For countries and other security-related issues, this may require greater negotiation, international diplomacy, and credible security assurances.


Climate Change.  Kuwait may take the lead on regional information-sharing with GCC, as many face the same issues regarding water management, coastal degradation, and desertification.   Partnerships with local, regional, and international universities may be the key to building capacity and mitigating these environmental issues.  Greater sustainable investment, using bodies such as the Kuwait Fund for Economic Development, will align National Development plan goals, regional goals, and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.


These are only a few Middle East/ Arab issues with which Kuwait will contend.  Yet the UNSC deliberates and passes resolutions on issues in Africa, Europe, and the Americas.  Kuwait’s role as the Arab representative on the UNSC is to find pragmatic mitigations of challenges and plans for longer-term solutions to issues around the globe.

**Dr. Shareefa Al-Adwani is an Assistant Professor of Political Science in the Department of International Relations at the American University of Kuwait.  She completed her PhD in Political Science at the University of California, Davis, focusing on the two fields of International Relations and Quantitative Methods.  She teaches courses related to Kuwaiti foreign policy, international law, international organizations, politics and women in the Middle East, and quantitative methods.  Her current research projects involve (1) the investigation of GCC socio-political phenomenon and changes over time using recently available government data and (2) using various new and existing cross-sectional time-series data to investigate the domestic factors for international cooperation, treaties, and agreements.

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