Photo: Security Council Chamber at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. - Photo: 2016

UN Security Council Reform Continues to Hang Fire

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) – In a setback for the Group of Four (G4) countries – India, Japan, Germany and Brazil – a decision on the long-pending issue of UN Security Council reform has been postponed to the forthcoming 71st session of the UN General Assembly which begins on September 13.

Speaking on behalf of the G4, Brazil’s Permanent Representative (PR) to the UN in New York, Antonio de Aguiar Patriota described Security Council reform as one of the most pressing issues still pending on the General Assembly’s agenda – since 1992.

“The longer we postpone a decision on the reform of the Security Council, the greater discredit brought upon the United Nations in its core function of promoting peace and security,” he warned, stressing: “We can no longer go around in circles.”

The 15-nation powerful Security Council comprises five veto wielding permanent members (P5) – the U.S., Russia, China, UK and France – and ten additional members each elected for two years by rotation. The G4 countries wish to join the current P5 as permanent members of the Security Council.

Taking consensus action on July 27, 2016 the General Assembly adopted “an oral decision paving the way for Member States to continue discussions on reforming the Security Council during its seventy-first session”.

The decision contrasted with the one on September 14, 2015, when the General Assembly recorded in the meetings coverage: “To a burst of applause, the General Assembly . . . adopted, without a vote, a text that sets the stage for negotiations on the long-pending issue of Security Council reform during the world body’s seventieth session, with some hailing it as a ‘landmark’ decision, and others calling it technical rather than substantive progress on an issue that most agreed must urgently be resolved.”

The coverage of July 27 meeting said: “In giving effect to that ‘technical rollover’, the Assembly reaffirmed its central role on the issue of Security Council reform, known formally as ‘the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Security Council’.”

The Assembly decided, among other things, that its upcoming discussions would build on the positions and proposals made by Member States and reflected in the decision and its annex — circulated on July 31, 2015 — and use the elements of convergence circulated on July 12, 2016 to help inform its future work.

By other terms of the decision, the Assembly further decided to convene the Open-Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council during its seventy-first session.

Speaking after the action, Sierra Leone’s PR to the UN, Vandi Chidi Minah, delivered a statement on behalf of the Group of African States, saying that the technical rollover “is in the spirit of preserving the unity and mutual trust among the membership” in moving the process of Security Council reform forward.

He recalled that, in a letter dated July 21, 2016, the Group had conveyed to the President of the General Assembly that the “Elements of Convergence” paper presented by the Chair of the intergovernmental negotiations must include all five key issues relating to Security Council reform – categories of membership, the veto question, regional representation, the size of an enlarged Council and its working methods, and the relationship between the Assembly and the Council – in order to ensure a comprehensive record of the discussions among Member States.

However, the paper only addressed two of those five issues, and could not, therefore, be a true basis to inform future intergovernmental negotiations, he pointed out.

“Only by equitable geographical representation and an increase in the Council membership, with the expansion of both the permanent and non-permanent categories, could the organ be made more representative, democratic, accountable, transparent, effective and efficient,” he emphasized.

Brazil’s Patriota emphasized, it was crucial that Member States engage in real, text-based negotiations if the process was to have any meaning. Agreeing with Sierra Leone, he said: “While the elements of convergence on two of the five key issues pertaining to the reform process could be considered useful to the extent that they identified some already-known trends on the positions and proposals of Member States, other important patterns on the remaining three clusters were regrettably not reflected as leading towards convergence.”

It was obvious that a growing majority of Member States supported the Council’s expansion in both membership categories, but that had not been registered in writing, Patriota noted. Member States had also argued that the under-representation of developing countries should be addressed, yet that suggestion had also not been captured. 

Italy’s PR to the UN, Inigo Lambertini, speaking for the Uniting for Consensus Group, said that the July 27 decision affirmed that the intergovernmental negotiations constituted a membership-driven process based on the positions and proposals of all Member States.

Their collective goal was comprehensive reform of the Security Council that could gain the widest possible political acceptance by Member States. While the “Elements of Convergence” paper could be useful going forward, since no delegation had rejected its substantive elements, identifying broad convergences among Member States – on the principles and criteria of reform in particular – exemplified the consensual path needed to achieve concrete results, he said.

Jaime Hermida Castillo, Nicaragua’s Permanent Representative, speaking for the “L.69” Group of diverse developing countries, expressed satisfaction that the framework document and its annex, circulated during the Assembly’s sixty-ninth session, would remain the basis for future negotiations on Security Council reform. It was imperative to engage in real, text-based negotiations based on those documents in order to achieve early Council reform, he said.

Kuwait’s PR Mansour Alotaibi, speaking for the Group of Arab States, emphasized that any measure taken in connection with Security Council reform should be supported as widely as possible by Member States. Expressing satisfaction that the debate would continue in the framework of intergovernmental negotiations during the Assembly’s seventy-first session, he said the Group would continue to engage positively in the discussions, with a view to achieving true and comprehensive reform of the Council.

Guyana’s PR George Talbot, speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), welcomed the consensus adoption of the decision, saying it was obvious that much more must be done to make the Security Council “equal to the times in which we live” and “adequate to address the challenges of the future”.

Reform was integral and critical to an effective multilateral system with the United Nations at its core, he emphasized, noting that the progress made during the current session, while limited, was nonetheless important. It was to be hoped that the text circulated on July 31, 2015 and its annex would continue to serve as a firm foundation upon which discussions could continue during the seventy-first session.

Belgium’s PR Benedicte Frankinet, speaking also on behalf of the Netherlands noted that “gradual but real progress” had been made on the issue of Security Council reform, but cautioned that “we still have a long road to travel”. She called upon Member States to redouble their efforts and demonstrate sufficient flexibility in that regard.

Liu Jieyi of China, a permanent Security Council member, said the intergovernmental negotiations should uphold the leadership and ownership of Member States and be based on the ideas of the entire membership.

Recalling past “missteps” in that regard, he said the present session’s “candid and in-depth” discussions had helped to put the negotiations back on the right track, and expressed hope that Member States would meet each other halfway in order to reach the broadest possible consensus on Security Council reform.

Vladimir Safronkov of Russia, also a permanent Security Council member, said the consensus adoption of the decision had helped Member States to avoid drawing a “dividing line” on the issue of Security Council reform.

While they were still far from finding a universal formula to address the issue, its great significance demanded that States seek a solution that would enjoy a greater majority than the formal two thirds required. The discussions should be conducted in a transparent and inclusive manner, without creating artificial timelines, he emphasized.

Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg, who chairs the intergovernmental negotiations, said the 2016 discussions had provided an opportunity to discuss all five key reform issues. On the basis of those meetings, elements of convergence had emerged on two of the five issues – the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly, and the size of an enlarged Council and its working methods.

Those elements of convergence, circulated on July 12, 2016 by the Assembly President, would be useful in the negotiations going forward, bearing in mind that Security Council reform would have to be comprehensive, addressing all five key issues. “Much is at stake, but if Member States engage and negotiate in good faith, reform is not impossible,” she said in conclusion. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 July 2016]

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

Photo: Security Council Chamber at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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