Security Council Hopefuls Stymied by Myriad Squabbles

  • by Haider Rizvi (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

Diplomats and observers who have watched several rounds of discussions on the need for Council reforms, including the most recent one held about two weeks ago, say both sides are equally responsible for the process of change not moving forward.

'This is not going to happen in my lifetime,' said an Asian diplomat about the long-awaited reforms. Standing next to him at an art exhibition, a European envoy told IPS, 'The ambassador is right. This process will take a long time.'

The two ambassadors told IPS they wanted to see speedy action towards reforms, even though their countries had no interest in gaining a permanent seat on the Council when and if its membership is extended to others.

Like the vast majority of delegates who took part in recent U.N. discussions on reforms, they seem to think that the Council has lost its credibility as the guardian of world peace and security because it is not functioning as a representative and democratic institution.

Since the world body's 192-member General Assembly initiated a debate on the future shape and size of the Council more than a decade ago, some powerful nations from both the global South and the North have repeatedly argued that it was their right to be permanent members.

Currently, the 15-member Council is composed of five permanent and 10 rotating members who are elected every two years. The five permanent members (P5) are the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China. Not only do they hold veto power, but also possess thousands of nuclear weapons.

The major contenders for permanent seats from the industrialised world, such as Germany and Japan, say they deserve to be part of the world body's most powerful organ because they are leading donors.

The emerging powers from the developing world like India, Brazil and South Africa, among others, present their case on different grounds. Their arguments for permanent seats are largely based on population, share of the global economy, and regional representation.

Critics say the Council, established in 1945, does not reflect the realities of today's world, which demand democracy, transparency and equality among U.N. member states. For example, there is not a single permanent member representing Africa or Latin America. From Asia, the only developing country that represents that continent is China, not India.

Considering India's population, which is estimated to be more than one billion, and its growing economic power, U.S. President Barack Obama recently said he would support that nation's candidacy for the permanent membership. His statement proved to be a catalyst in intensifying the call for reforms, but added nothing to finding an effective way to achieve this goal.

Despite their unanimous view that restructuring the Council is a must, developing nations remain divided in their views on how large the Council should be and who deserves to be part of the permanent membership when and if it is actually expanded.

For example, Pakistan objects to India's candidacy, China does not want Japan to be a permanent member, Italy opposes Germany, and Mexico and Colombia have no sympathy for Brazil. Some smaller nations, such as Cuba, denounce the veto power on principle, and call for either the new permanent members from the developing world to be endowed with it or for no member to have it at all.

Like the Asian ambassador who did not want to be named, James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, who has been keeping a keen eye on U.N.-related issues for years, thinks that possible expansion of permanent membership of the Council would complicate issues of peace and security rather than solving them in an effective manner.

'More permanent membership will not be effective, because more states [in the Council] will block action to serve their own interests,' he told IPS, citing India's example as being a country that has half a million troops stationed in Kashmir, a Himalayan territory that has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan and sparked three wars in the past half century.

Paul seems to agree with those who think that perhaps adding more permanent members from the developing world could make the Council more effective - but only if the P5 are stripped of their status as veto-holding powers. At the same time, he believes that developing countries will only get permanent membership with the support of the P5 if they abandon their claim on veto power.

'It's an exclusive club,' said Paul about the P5. 'They don't want any more members in the club. There can be an agreement [with major developing countries], but I don't see that happening anytime soon.'

The reform process requires not only the approval of the P5, but also the support of two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly. In the case of the United States, two-thirds of the Congress also must vote for such a measure to endorse the U.S. position on reforms.

So how then is the Security Council going to evolve?

'This is a sensitive issue,' Afghan ambassador Zahir Tanin, who has been re-elected as chair of the U.N. talks on Security Council reform, told IPS. 'We are trying to bring all the stakeholders together. This process might look slow from the outside, but I clearly see some progress.'

In his view, despite all the complications, the discussion on reforms is moving ahead, albeit very slowly. 'Now we have a draft text for negotiations. It's not everything, but for the first time it's there,' he said. 'It's easy to be pessimistic.'

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