a month ago

Need for reform within the UN Security Council

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The last few weeks have seen several participants from different countries not only being correctly critical in the manner the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is functioning but also in the manner Members of this important organisation are unable to pursue issues on a collective basis that are significantly casting shadows on evolving situations that are critical in nature.

This has particularly been a source of disappointment with regard to the activities associated with the Security Council for nearly two decades.

Recently, speaking at the General Assembly's (GA) annual debate, GA President Dennis Francis told Delegates last November that without structural reform, the Council's performance and legitimacy will inevitably continue to suffer. "Violence and war continue to spread in regions across the world, while the United Nations seems paralysed due largely to the divisions in the UNSC", he said. It was also observed that a quickly changing world has seen the UNSC "dangerously falling short" of its mandate as the primary custodian for the maintenance of international peace and security.

Meanwhile, a proposed new model for reforms, initiated by the Group of Four (G4: Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan), has been doing the rounds. Not surprisingly, all four countries have been longstanding contenders for permanent seats (P5s) which have remained the privilege of five countries since the creation of the world body 79 years ago: the US, UK, France, China and the Russian Federation (replacing the USSR of a bygone era). The G4 is calling for a total of 11 permanent members (P11): China, France, The Russian Federation, UK and the US, plus six others.

It has also been underlined that in the event of possible expansion, and upon the adoption of a comprehensive framework resolution on Security Council reform, interested Member States prepared to assume the functions and responsibilities of permanent members of the Security Council would submit their candidatures in writing to the President of the General Assembly. The General Assembly will then proceed, as soon as possible, at a date to be determined by the President, to the election of six new permanent members, by a vote of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly through a secret ballot. The rules of procedure of the General Assembly will be applied to the election of the new permanent members.

In this context it has also been underlined that the criteria of Article 23 (1) should also apply with regard to the election of the new permanent members which stresses that "due regard shall be paid, in the first instance to their contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the organisation, and also to equitable geographical distribution".

In this regard the Non-Permanent members with a two-year term, currently at 10, will be increased to a total of 14/15 seats - the election process for non-permanent members will, however, follow current practices.

Analyst Thalif Deen has pointed out that according to the G4 proposal, the six new permanent members of the Security Council shall be elected according to the following pattern: (i) two from African Member States: (ii) two from Asia-Pacific Member States, (iii) one from Latin American and Caribbean Member States; (iv) one from Western European and other Member States.

The four or five new non-permanent members of the Security Council shall be elected according to the following pattern; (i) one or two from African Member States: (ii) one from Asia-Pacific Member States: (iii) one from Eastern European Member States; (iv) one from Latin American and Caribbean Member States.

A significant move to say the least.

However, it has also been underlined that Member States should give due consideration during the nomination and election of non-permanent members to adequate and continuing representation of small and medium size Member States, including Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Andreas Bummel, Executive Director, Democracy Without Borders, has observed that any reconfiguration of the Security Council would have to be adopted in line with Article 108 of the Charter, which means it requires the support of two thirds of UN members and the P5. "Given the fact that Security Council reform has been discussed for decades," he says, "I think it is legitimate to pursue such a vote instead of consensus. Whether it is politically wise is a different question."  In essence, he also indicated that the G4 are not willing to compromise. It has also been underlined that whatever the G4 may say "I can't see how a broad agreement is possible without introducing new concepts that go beyond today's permanent and non-permanent seats." He agrees that re-electable seats rotating among the membership of certain regions is a good approach. However, he has also reiterated that "new permanent seats vested with a veto will make the Security Council even more unworkable".

On the question of the veto, the G4 says Member States should be invited to continue discussions on the use of the veto in certain circumstances. This aspect has been highlighted as the new permanent members would, as a principle, have the same responsibilities and obligations as current permanent members.

However, in this context, some geo-political analysts have observed that the new permanent members should not be able to exercise the veto-right until a decision on the matter has been taken during a review. Amendments to the UN Charter has to reflect the fact that the extension of the right of veto to the new permanent members will be decided upon in the framework of a review.

It has also been highlighted that the enlarged Security Council would be encouraged to, inter alia, (a) hold regular consultations with the President of the General Assembly; (b) submit an analytical and comprehensive evaluation of the Council's work in the annual report to the General Assembly; (c) submit more frequently special reports to the General Assembly in accordance with Articles 15 (1) and 24 (3) of the Charter, and (d) improve participation of the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission and the chairs of the country-specific configurations of the Commission in relevant debates and, in an appropriate format, in informal discussions

As expected, there has been continuing exchange of views regarding this emerging scenario. Asked for her comments, Barbara Adams, Senior Policy Analyst, Global Policy Forum indicated that: "Surely, now 11 (not 5) veto-wielding powers, will not correct the inability of P5 or P11 to put their chartered responsibility for international peace and security above their national security interests" She has also pointed out that the G4 proposal for a long pause on use of the veto acknowledges the tension between expanding the number of permanent members and the veto. She has argued that regarding the proposal for seats for developing countries, and countries from other regions, they should not need to be justified by the concept of regional representation. Adams has also declared that "the privilege of permanency in the Security Council extends beyond the use of veto. The "chill factor of this privilege reaches into many parts of the UN system in ways formal and informal such as preferential treatment for senior UN positions".

One also needs to refer to the comment made by Joseph Chamie, a former Director of the UN Population Division. He has acknowledged that the United Nations Security Council is not a new feature but has been around for decades. He has, however, pointed out that despite Committees, discussions and calls by many Member States for reform of the Council, little progress has been achieved towards equitable representation, inclusiveness and legitimacy. It has also been underlined that "increasing numbers of both governments and people consider the Council to be ineffectual and unjust and require reform, including expanding membership and restricting vetoes". He has also expressed disappointment that while enormous changes have occurred in the world over the past eight decades, the Council continues to have the same five permanent members. J. Chamie, a demographer, has also drawn attention to the fact that "when established, the five permanent members accounted for about 35 per cent of the world's population. Today, they represent 25 per cent and by mid-century they are expected to represent 20 per cent of the world's population".

One side of the coin indicates very clearly that the desire for reform of the Security Council is both understandable and justified and despite the geo-political challenges, reform should be undertaken without further delay. However, the other side of the coin as explained earlier clearly demarcates that such an effort might be required quicker than later but, it does not appear to be possible in another decade.

What has been happening in the recent past in Ukraine and in Gaza underlines the need to find a solution but that does not seem forthcoming. In the meantime, the socio-political situation might continue to deteriorate. That will cast a long shadow on our lives-- be it in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, North America or Latin America.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.
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