Photo credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton - Photo: 2018

UN Security Council Reform Back On The Table Again

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) – Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of Germany, which takes up its seat as a non-permanent member of the 15-nation United Nations Security Council on January 1, says the current composition of the Council is “outdated” and that it needs be reformed.

He told the German news agency DPA that “the balance of power in the world needs to be reflected much more adequately than is currently the case,” and insisted that Germany should hold a permanent seat.

The Council currently has five permanent members, the U.S., the UK, France, China and Russia. Germany, along with Brazil, Japan and India has been pushing for an expansion of the UN body for years.

The reform of the Security Council, which is tasked with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, has been on the world body’s agenda since 1993 because there is a broad agreement that the Council’s membership and working methods reflect a bygone era.

Though geopolitics have changed drastically, the Council has changed relatively little since 1945, when wartime victors crafted a Charter in their interest and awarded “permanent” veto-wielding Council seats for themselves.

The Council reform is part of the broader issue of UN Reform, to build a more effective and democratic global institution. This includes the reform of other bodies like the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, as well as improvement in the organization’s management and finance.

When the issue came up for discussion yet again on November 20, 2018, the UN General Assembly heard that to meet emerging challenges of today’s increasingly complex international security and peace architecture, the Security Council must adapt, reform and expand its membership to include underrepresented regions, particularly Africa.

Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, opening a day‑long debate, stressed that the Council must adapt to new political realities, with increased representation boosting its legitimacy and the implementation of its decisions.

However, no consensus has been reached on how to reform the vital and crucial organ of the United Nations. She expressed gratitude to the co-facilitators of negotiations and said Member States are united in their conviction to reform the Council.

“At least 80 world leaders emphasized this need,” she said, referring to discussions during the general debate of the 73d session of the General Assembly. The Council must adapt to new political realities, with increased representation boosting its legitimacy and the implementation of its decisions while strengthening the concept of multilateralism.

She said that as Assembly President, she commits her full support to Council reform, a process that must be driven by Member States. “We must seriously stick to a framework for dialogue,” she noted, encouraging Member States to explore pragmatic approaches to advance progress.

The issue is complex and closely intertwined with efforts to ensure international peace and security. As such, Member States must do everything possible to answer calls for greater transparency, she said, reiterating her support for the shared aspiration to increase the Council’s accountability.

Delegates discussed a range of ideal solutions. Many called for broadening the number of permanent members beyond the current five (China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States) and abolishing the permanent membership’s use of veto power to overrule the adoption of draft resolutions.

Sierra Leone’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Francis Mustapha Kai-Kai, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the continent remains convinced that comprehensive reform of the Organization will significantly contribute to upholding the principles and ideals of the United Nations Charter.

He argued that most of the issues discussed in the Security Council are related to Africa. The continent must therefore be in a position to effectively participate in decision‑making processes. Africa demands no less than two permanent seats, including veto power, and five non‑permanent seats, he said. Although Africa is opposed in principle to the veto, as long as it exists, it should be made available to all permanent Council members, he added.

The common African position has garnered substantial support from Member States, he continued, reiterating a need to “redress the historical injustice of not being represented in the permanent category”. However, divergence in the positions of Member States and interest groups on reform models continue to challenge progress on building consensus on all five clusters of the intergovernmental negotiations.

“We have a unique opportunity to keep the international system on the track of dynamic and effective democratic multilateralism,” he said. Africa will continue to advocate for meaningful reform that will make the Security Council more responsive to present and emerging challenges.

Algeria’s Assia Jazairy, associating herself with the African and the Arab Groups, reiterated the continent’s common position that it should be represented in both categories of the Security Council. The veto should be extended to all new permanent members unless it is abolished.

Despite having the largest number of Member States in the United Nations and being in three quarters of the agenda of the Security Council, Africa continues to be undermined. Africa has no representation in the permanent category, the core decision‑making unit of the Council, Algeria’s representative stressed.

Africa demands its rightful place in the maintenance of peace in security. “We cannot afford to remain indifferent to the realities of our rapidly changing global circumstances,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Guyana’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Rudolph Michael Ten‑Pow said continuing Security Council imbalances include the exclusion of entire regions, specifically Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, from permanent membership.

This means that almost 50 per cent of the United Nations current membership is barred from permanency on one of its principal organs. The Council has failed to keep up with the membership evolution, he said, adding that its work continues to miss the benefit of important perspectives and experiences.

The Council must adapt to new political realities, he said, noting that the United Nations continues to affirm the value of multilateralism and equitable involvement in decision‑making. The Council must be restructured to provide opportunity for equitable involvement in peace and security questions, respecting the views of every Member State. Adding that every nation can contribute meaningfully to the dialogue on Council reform, he said maximum participation should be encouraged to enhance the legitimacy of the process.

Member States also highlighted the role of the Assembly in helping to achieve progress in the intergovernmental negotiations on Council reform.

Speaking on behalf of the Group of Four (Brazil, Germany, Japan and his India), Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, called for the expansion of both the permanent and non‑permanent categories of membership to enhance the Council’s legitimacy and effectiveness.

“We also desire the improvement of its working methods,” he said, emphasizing that this sentiment is shared by a broad majority of Member States. After a decade of discussions, it is time to normalize the intergovernmental negotiations process. “We need not to reinvent the wheel this session,” he continued, underlining a need to build on progress already made.

The paper on elements of commonalities and issues for further consideration can be the starting point of an open and transparent way to achieve progress this session, he added.

Akbaruddin welcomed more opportunity for dialogue and discussions, which should begin at an earlier time and should not be constrained by any artificial deadlines.  Intergovernmental negotiations should operate under normal rules of procedure, as do all other General Assembly processes.

“Nay‑sayers” cannot be allowed to cast a dark shadow over the entire membership and hold the overwhelming majority back. The Group of Four, while having a common position, are also respectful of different perspectives in this process, he said. For negotiations to be meaningful, it is crucial to list the various aspects of different positions, which will be especially critical when working on a text for negotiations.

Cuba’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo said the five clusters on Council reform must be analysed in a comprehensive manner and not separately. Expressing concern over the Council’s growing tendency to consider issues and assume functions outside its purview while increasingly usurping the role assigned by the Charter to other organs, she said “this trend must cease immediately.”

The Council has been frequently and prematurely addressing issues that do not necessarily pose an immediate threat to international peace and security, she said. Closed Council meetings and informal consultations should be the exception and not the rule. To increase transparency and the level of accountability, a final text should be adopted to regulate the work of the Council.

“It is unbelievable that the Security Council rules remain provisional for 70 years,” she added. The main objective of expanding the Council must be to rectify the underrepresentation of developing countries, namely from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, associating herself with the Uniting for Consensus Group, said the Assembly’s high‑level segment was characterized by calls for collective action. The United Nations must not only act on behalf of Member States, but it must also act for them, she said, adding that for the Organization to be credible it must represent and reflect the interests of all Member States. 

That must be the point of departure for Council reform efforts, she said, referring to the reform process as “a true expression of our commitment to the fundamentals of multilateralism”. She said consensus exists on the expansion of non‑permanent seats, while questions remain concerning the expansion of permanent ones.

“If the Council cannot reconcile the interests of its five permanent members, how will it cope with the interests of a bigger membership?” she asked, noting that non‑permanent members have traditionally championed inclusiveness and transparency. She said membership expansion must focus on the non‑permanent category to ensure equitable geographic representation, especially for African States.

Some of the Council’s five permanent members also joined the debate.

China’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ma Zhaoxu, recalling the candid negotiations in 2017 on Council reform, said a mutual understanding on priorities has been achieved. Council reform involves the vital interests of all Member States and the long‑term success of the United Nations.

Beijing supports necessary reforms and prioritizes an increase in the representation of developing countries, namely African States. The only way to achieve reform is to implement relevant General Assembly resolutions and to pursue consensus‑based solutions.

“Attempts to set artificial timelines and arbitrarily launch text‑based negotiations will undermine unity and have a negative impact on the contributions of small States,” he warned. Member States must pursue frank and in‑depth negotiations to better understand each other’s positions, he said, calling for intergovernmental negotiations to remain a State‑driven endeavour.

U.S. representative Rodney M. Hunter said Washington supports a “modest expansion” of the Council in the permanent and non‑permanent categories. “Consideration of new permanent membership must consider candidates’ ability and willingness to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security,” he said, noting that the United States opposes any change to the veto.

He affirmed his Government’s openness to any form of intergovernmental negotiations — whether text‑based or otherwise — as long as the format allows for broad consensus. The United States seeks an effective and efficient Council and only supports reforms that work towards that end. Reform efforts must advance the Council’s core mandate of addressing challenges to international peace and security. 

“A modernized Council must not only be representative of the twenty‑first century, it must also be capable of responding to new challenges,” he said, concluding that thoughtful expansion of the organ can help maintain its long‑term effectiveness.

Russian representative Alexey R. Boguslavskiy said that while discussions have been ongoing, a universal decision is still not in sight. Approaches of major players in the reform field continue to be different or even diametrically opposed. The Russian Federation, as a permanent representative of the Council, agrees with the calls to make the Council more representative.

However, efforts in this area should not have an impact on the Council’s ability to effectively and efficiently react to challenges. In this regard, the Russian Federation is in favour of maintaining the Council’s compact nature, he said, adding that the maximum membership should not exceed the low twenties.

Turning to its working methods, he said that the use of the veto more than once has spared the United Nations from getting involved in dubious enterprises. The reform process should be owned by all Member States. Its outcome should enjoy maximum and broad support.

Reforms in the Council cannot occur only through an arithmetical manner alone. Progress cannot be achieved by imposing negotiating texts. Progress will depend on the political will of Member States and their willingness to reach consensus. Such painstaking work can be carried out in a transparent and calm manner without arbitrary guidelines or artificial deadlines, the Russian representative said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 December 2018]

Photo credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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