U.N. Security Council, the Land Where Time Stands Still

  • by Aprille Muscara (united nations)
  • Tuesday, September 28, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

'The process of [Security Council] reform could almost be called a 'never ending story',' said Ivan Gasparovic, Slovakia's president.

On the surface, this year's calls for a shakeup of the council's membership and methods seem loud and urgent. In the first four days of the session, over 70 world leaders — a little more than half of the speakers in this time period — mentioned the issue in their addresses.

'It is no longer acceptable… that permanent membership of the Security Council — the main organ charged with the maintenance of international peace and security — remains subject to obsolete rules of an era that is long gone,' said Ahmed Abdoul Gheit, the foreign minister of Egypt. 'It is similarly unacceptable that the work of this council or its mechanisms remain characterised by the lack of transparency or balance.'

The council's structure has changed only once from its original five permanent, veto-wielding powers — WWII winners China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States, known as the P5 — and six rotating seats with staggered two-year terms.

In 1965, to account for the growth in the U.N.'s membership — which, by then, had ballooned from its 51 founding members to 117 states — four non-permanent positions were added, increasing the council's girth to 15 countries. Today, the U.N. has 192 members.

As the Security Council's mandate empowers it to authorise military action, impose sanctions and establish peacekeeping operations, a two-year place at its famed round table is highly coveted, with countries announcing their intent to run for a seat sometimes a decade in advance. It's no wonder, then, that bids for permanent nameplates have been heard for some 17 years.

This summer, an intergovernmental group put together a document — the first of its kind — that compiled the differing positions of member states and regional groupings in the reform process.

'After years of these open-ended talks, for the first time, we have a text to discuss,' announced Zahir Tanin, Afghanistan's ambassador and chair of the group, in June.

Parties cautiously praised the draft text as a significant step in the right direction, while lamenting the thorny process that led to its formulation, which they said merely documented entrenched positions.

'More than 15 years of negotiations have proven that the membership is profoundly divided,' said Italy's Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini.

While it is largely agreed that the council's composition is outdated and un-inclusive, how it should be reconfigured is a hotly debated question, fought largely along regional lines and deep historical rivalries.

What needs to happen for Security Council reform to take place? 'China to learn to love Japan; Pakistan to love India; Argentina to love Brazil; Egypt to become part of Africa spiritually and Nigeria to become stable; U.K. and France to become humble and [lose] any national profile,' Thomas Weiss told IPS.

Weiss is the Presidential Professor of Political Science and director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the City University of New York's graduate school.

'And then all we have to do is have the world's parliaments approve a [U.N.] Charter change,' he added. 'Seems easy enough.'

One of the main camps in the reform process is the Group of Four, or G4: Brazil, Germany, India and Japan — high-profile countries with considerable economic and political sway. Two of the P5, Britain and France, are among their supporters who insist on the G4's permanent membership on the council.

'The U.N. Security Council must be reformed to reflect the new geography of power,' said the U.K.'s deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg. 'The U.K. is clear and unambiguous in our support for permanent seats for Brazil, India, Germany and Japan, and for African representation. Put simply, the U.N. cannot speak for the many if it only hears the voices of the few.'

But the G4 face staunch opposition from their regional competitors, who together form a rival alliance known as United for Consensus, also known as the Coffee Club, led by Argentina, Italy, South Korea, Mexico and Pakistan, who also enjoy substantial support.

'We should look for an outcome that unites rather than divides the membership,' said Pakistan's foreign minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi. 'Our collective search should culminate in a consensus solution that corresponds to the interest of the entire membership.'

Almost across the board, however, African representation on the council is seen as deficient.

'It is no longer acceptable that [Africa,] а continent that represents almost 30 percent of the whole U.N. membership, and whose concerns constitute more than 60 percent of the council's agenda, is not represented in the category of permanent member,' said Oldemiro Marques Balói, Mozambique's foreign minister.

The African Union seeks two permanent seats, with veto power, and five non-permanent seats for African countries on the council.

Meanwhile, over the last several days, Kuwait called for permanent Arab or Muslim representation, Grenada advocated for a seat for small island developing states and Luxembourg sought a position for small countries, which make up a majority of the U.N.'s membership.

So, after all these years, will the U.N.'s (arguably) most important body finally be reformed?

'Not in my lifetime,' Weiss, 64, told IPS.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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