10/22/2011 12:35 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2011

UN Security Council Elections -- It's down to the Azeris and the Slovenes

Round and round they went. After a day of marathon voting for Security Council seats, the 193-member U.N. General Assembly still could not decide between Azerbaijan and Slovenia, putting off the 11th ballot until Monday.

Does it matter? Yes. The 15-member U.N. Security Council, whose decisions are mandatory, can be critical in getting world support for sanctions, initiating peacekeeping missions or threatening states to cool it -- or else. For countries initiating action, a positive vote in the Council shows international backing.

On Friday the General Assembly elected Morocco, Togo, Pakistan and Guatemala to serve two-year terms in the Security Council, starting in January 2012. But the Eastern European seat failed to get the two-thirds vote needed.

Azerbaijan, a country of nine million, is an oil-rich former Soviet republic with an authoritarian leader of the world's only secular Muslim country. Slovenia, a former Yugoslav Republic of two million, is a member of the European Union, probably the key reason it was lagging in votes behind Azerbaijan.

If Slovenia is elected, the 27-nation EU would have five members on the Council. (Of course it is asking too much to change the Cold War structure of U.N. regional groupings, since quite a few countries in Eastern Europe are in or trying to be in the EU.)

How It Works

Among the Council's 15 nations, five are permanent members with veto power: Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States.

The other 10 elected members have two year terms with five rotating each year. At the end of this year, Brazil, Nigeria, Lebanon, Gabon and Bosnia leave the council. The new members will join Germany, Portugal, Colombia, South Africa and India, who remain on the Council for another year.

Pakistan holds hands with India

The election of Pakistan means it sits on the Security Council for a year with its arch-rival India and at a time when the United States accuses it of aiding insurgents in Afghanistan. But on most issues Pakistan and India are expected to join Russia and China in blocking American and European efforts to sanction such nations as Syria and Iran or take a tough line in Sudan.

Pakistan's ambassador, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, told reporters he was on good terms with his Indian counterpart, Hardeep Singh Puri, who transmitted his congratulations by cell phone as Haroon was speaking to the media.

"Ambassador Puri and I have had a good working relationship for some time now," Haroon said. "You have seen that the usual tendencies have not erupted between us and that is a good factor."

They last served on the Council at the same time in 1977, before they had nuclear weapons. Their joint presence next year raises the number of nuclear-armed states in the Council to seven.

Still the elections were the most competitive in many years and only Guatemala ran unopposed from its region. Pakistan had competition from Kyrgyzstan for an Asian seat, receiving the minimum required vote.

The Africa Union had nominated Mauritania and Togo for its vacant seats but Morocco won easily. On the third round Togo beat Mauritania, thereby preventing two Arab North African nations from representing the continent.

What's it mean for Palestine?

The Palestinians want a vote for full membership in the United Nations which has to be approved by the Security Council. They are willing to accept a U.S. veto, if they can get the required minimum nine votes as a sign of support for another attempt in the future.

At the moment they are expected to have eight votes. In 2012, if Azerbaijan wins, they are still expected to have eight votes. Should Slovenia be elected, they would only have seven votes. Of course all this could change depending on provocative actions in the region.

The Security Council will report on November 11 on its research on Palestinian statehood. It is likely any report will reflect disagreements and add to the smoke and mirror procedures. But Lebanon, at the request of the Palestinians, could call a vote at any time this year.

Palestine also intends to go to the General Assembly where it is assured of an upgrade in status as a non-voting observer state. This allows it to sign treaties and join other U.N. bodies, which Israel views as further harassment.

However, since this is a given, it is hard to understand Israel's lengthy campaign against an Assembly vote along with threats from the U.S. Congress to punish more than 120 U.N. members. Negotiations on that Assembly action would have been easier.