UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (left) met Kukan in Bratislava in July.
"It [the Slovak candidacy] was very well invested capital, because Slovakia's next candidacy will be considered very seriously," Kukan said at a press conference on October 18. Slovakia had lost its fight for the Security Council seat, he explained, mainly due to poor support among Latin American and western European countries.
The Security Council, the UN's highest decision-making body on international crises, is made up of five permanent members - Russia, China, France, Britain and the United States - and 10 non-permanent members. Each non-permanent member serves a two-year term on the Council, and each year, five sitting non-permament members are replaced by new candidates.
Slovakia had been in competition for a non-permanent seat with Ukraine, something quite unusual for the UN since countries within each of the world's regions usually agree on a single candidate who is then presented to the UN General Assembly for the required two-thirds majority approval. But the eastern Europe regional group of UN countries were unable to come to such an agreement, meaning that Slovakia and Ukraine competed head-to-head for the seat.
At the beginning of 1999, the Slovak UN delegation was still expecting Ukraine to give up its candidacy, since Slovakia had abandoned its own bid in 1997 for the chair of the General Assembly in favour of Ukraine. But Kukan revealed in the spring of 1999 that Ukraine had refused to capitulate in the hunt for the Security Council seat, and vowed to wage "a noble fight" with Slovakia's Slavic neighbour.
The competition forced diplomats to make some hard choices between the two countries, and Kukan explained that Slovakia's weak bilateral agreements with Latin American countries, as well as western Europe's desire to see the deeply-indebted Ukraine prosper, had eventually tipped the UN balance in favour of the former Soviet republic.
Vladimír Bilčík, a research fellow at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, said that it had become clear in August that Ukraine would win the seat after German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder publicly declared support for Ukraine's bid. At that point, Bilčík said, Slovakia should have abandoned its own bid, and devoted its diplomats' time and energy to more fruitful activities.
"It was rather unfortunate that Slovakia continued in its candidacy," Bilčík said.
During voting on October 14, the UN General Assembly had no trouble choosing the first four new non-permament UN Security Council members, all of whom were elected in the first round. Bangladesh secured the support of all 172 countries voting, as did Tunisia, while Mali and Jamaica took 171 votes each. But Ukraine received only 92 votes and Slovakia 79 in the first round, sending the battle to a second ballot in which Ukraine increased its lead to 98 votes against Slovakia's 72. The gap widened in the third round to 113 votes for Ukraine compared to 57 for Slovakia - still below the necessary two-thirds majority, but enough to convince the Slovak delegation to abandon its quest.
Peter Tomka, Slovakia's Ambassador to the UN, thanked all the countries which had supported Slovakia, and then formally withdrew Slovakia's candidacy. According to Kukan, Tomka's gesture was met by other ambassadors with a round of applause.
Ukraine, together with the four countries elected in the first round on October 14, will replace Argentina, Canada, Malaysia, Namibia and Slovenia on the UN Security Council as of January 1, 2000.