A new voice at the Security Council? Portugal hopes to speak for nations outside traditional 'circles of power' [AFP]

The UN Security Council has long been criticised as an outdated institution which does not reflect the realities of the modern world. But the five countries that have won non-permanent seats on the council give it a complexion far more in keeping with the global order of the 21st century. 

Critics have argued the Security Council's structure of five permanant veto-wielding members - the US, UK, France, China and Russia - together with 10 non-permanent members, has concentrated influence in the hands of a small number of countries who were powerful when the body was created in the aftermath of the second world war.

But with some of the world's most important emerging economies winning seats on a council that already includes Brazil, a South American powerhouse, and Nigeria, a key African power, the UN's most powerful body looks more representative than ever before. So how will the latest members seek to use their new international influence?  

India

India returns to the Security Council for the first time since 1992. During this time, the country's economic star has risen, and it is seen as important regional power broker. After winning the seat on the council, India has said it would make a priority of the conflict-stricken countries to its west, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Our immediate priorities in the council will include peace and stability in our near and extended neighbourhood, including Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa, counterterrorism, including the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to nonstate actors, and the strengthening UN peacekeeping," SM Krishna, India's external affairs minister, said.

South Africa

South Africa is taking up its second term on the Security Council. Its first term, from 2007-2008, was marked by controversy, including a decision to vote against a resolution calling on Myanmar's military junta to stop human-rights abuses against its own citizens, which was widely criticised both at home and abroad.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa's foreign minister, has said that this term will be more sucessful, although the country is likely to court controversy again by attempting to overturn the UN-backed International Criminal Court indictment of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, for crimes against humanity.

South Africa opposes the indictment because it says it jeopardises Sudan's fragile peace process. Nkoana-Mashabane has promised to work with countries inside and outside the council, calling the country's election a "stamp of approval for us to come back and serve the international community in peacemaking, peacebuilding, peace maintenance and making sure that we keep the world free of conflicts".

Germany

Germany won the Western Europe seat, and has welcomed the opportunity to serve on the council. As Europe's main economic power, and the world's fourth largest economy, Germany played an important role in dealing with the international financial crisis. Berlin has said it will use its tenure to work to reform the UN.

Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, who was in the General Assembly for the vote, said that his country's election to the council was "a sign of trust in Germany" and pledged to work for "peace and security, for development and climate protection, for disarmament and non-proliferation", during Germany's term.

Colombia

Colombia returns to the Security Council for the sixth time in the country's history, despite facing opposition from other South American countries who say that Colombia's presence on the council will increase US power.

Colombia won the Latin America and Caribbean nomination, and will succeed Mexico on the council. Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's president, has said that the country will work for international peace and security, and called the election result "a great recognition for our country".

Portugal

Portugal campaigned for a seat on the council by highlighting its contribution to peacekeeping efforts around the world. The European country has said it wants to be a "voice" for countries outside the traditional "circles of power". Portugal beat Canada to the nomination, after the Canadian government failed to garner enough international support to secure itself a seat.  

"We speak for those that are not a part of the most powerful circles of world governance. We're not a part of G-8, we're not a part of G-20, we're in G-172", or the rest of UN's 192 nations, Joao Gomes Cravinho, Portugal's foreign minister, said during the country's campaign for election to the council.

Source: Al Jazeera