The five new members of the council are Germany, Spain, Pakistan, Chile and Angola. They replace Colombia, Ireland, Mauritania, Singapore and Norway, which have completed their five-year terms in the council. The five other non-permanent members are Bulgaria, Cameroon, Guinea, Mexico and Syria.

Perhaps the most significant new arrival in the Security Council is Germany, which last year repeatedly stated its opposition to a war in Iraq. Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, as part of a hard-fought re-election campaign, pledged that German troops would not participate in military action against Iraq. However, in a New Year’s day address, Schroder appeared to soften his position, saying: ‘We Germans know from experience that sometimes only violence can stop dictators.’

The importance of Germany’s position in the Security Council is underscored by the rotation of the council’s chair. Gunter Pleuger, the German ambassador, will be chairman during February, which could be a crucial month in the formation of UN policy with regard to Iraq. Hans Blix, the chief inspector of New York-based UN Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic), is expected to go to Baghdad between 18-20 January and is scheduled to present his first evaluation of the inspection process to the Security Council on 27 January.

If Blix reports that Baghdad is in breach of Resolution 1441, the presence of Germany, Spain, Syria, Angola and Pakistan in the council could potentially hinder attempts to pass a resolution authorising military action against Iraq. Spain subscribes to the European Union’s common foreign policy – which has little enthusiasm for conflict in Iraq. Syria, which borders Iraq, has a vested strategic interest in regional stability. Angola may seek to horsetrade its African concerns – particularly on the subject of UN involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And Pakistan, an ally in the US’ ‘War on Terrorism’, has a complex nexus of interests, ranging from the Kashmir question, nuclear proliferation on the sub-continent and potential domestic opposition to action in Iraq. ‘We are an Islamic country; you can’t get away from the fact,’ Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN has said. ‘There is no sympathy for Saddam but [there is] empathy for Iraq.’