United Nations Security Council Reform Michael Teng
While in recent years the permanent members have shown restraint in using the veto, this guarantees nothing of the future. Moreover, the simple threat to use the veto has been shown to strongly effect the final outcome of Security Council debates. The position of Belgium’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Erik Derycke is that “the right to veto is incompatible with the general interest.”17 Many countries feel the same.
Security Council Reform Idea: More Transparency
The Security Council is an exclusive club and acts the part. Oftentimes their discussions are back-door closed talks. This problem is already being addressed by measures that would enhance the communication between the Council and the General Assembly. There is really no argument against maintaining, improving, and formalizing these measures. Some of these measures include: regular meetings between the Security Council and the General Assembly, briefings on the work of the Security Council, more open meetings of the Council, and transparency of the work of sanctions committees. These efforts will go a long way to bringing the Security Council and the General Assembly closer together.
Security Council Reform: Dissolution
One bold proposal would forget about expansion of the Security Council and just eliminate all permanent membership and create a council of elected representatives from different regional areas. Those advocating this approach point out that permanent members are like presidents for life. The problem with this drastic proposal is its unfeasibility. Any proposal that does pass would have to have the support of the powerful veto-bearing countries. A more pragmatic suggestion would be to add five permanent Security Council members but without veto powers. This idea is based on basic 21st century political reality and not on any ideal concept of equality or fairness. The result of adding more countries would increase global representation and thereby bolster its credibility.
Perspective of the Players
I have already given an overview of the United Nations and Security Council. I have also discussed why reform is needed and what some possible reforms are. This section will now discuss the various positions that different major countries have taken in the reform debates. The countries discussed will include the current Permanent Members and commonly discussed candidates for expansion.
Keep in mind that changes in the United Nations Charter requires the vote of two-thirds of the General Assembly. Obviously, the support of the veto-bearing members is particularly important since they carry a lot of weight and influence.
The Permanent Five: China
It is in China’s interest not to make any drastic changes probably because it is already a veto-bearing Security Council member. In an official statement to the United Nations Working Group on Security Council of Reform in 1998, Ambassador Shen Goufang crystallized the position of China. First, on the topic of the veto Goufang said that the veto “was formed on the basis of lessons drawn from the experience of the League of Nations. Its existence is a historical necessity as well as an objective reality. Therefore, in our view, the mechanism of veto has both historical and practical rationality.”18
Second, Goufang discussed what reforms would be acceptable and effective. He opts for more democratic and inclusive working methods rather than more drastic expansion plans. In essence, Goufang argues for more transparency by further cementing “the Council’s relationship with the General Assembly and the vast number of Member States…so that decisions and actions taken by the Council will be able to reflect the will of the overwhelming majority of Member States.” Referring again in the same statement to the veto, Goufang says that instead of losing veto power, “Permanent Members of the Security Council should exercise caution” when thinking of using the veto.
Less than three months ago, French President Chirac made a bold statement in support of Security Council expansion. The main motivation cited was strengthening the Security Council so that it would carry more international legitimacy. Chirac also pointed out that since the inception of the Security Council “there are countries that were unknown that have become very important for political reasons, demographic reasons, [and] economic reasons.”19 Chirac called specifically for the addition of Germany and Japan – two countries often mentioned for inclusion. Chirac also mentioned that he could see Asian, African, and Latin American countries gaining seats as well. He singled out India as a possible candidate saying “it’s very hard to imagine how one could exclude India from the possibility of having a permanent seat in Security Council given its characteristics.”20
On the subject of the veto, France is unwilling to give up its right and it is unclear about whether it would be willing to give new Permanent Members the veto power.
Britain has long been consistent in its support for an expanded Security Council. Robin Cook, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, supported expansion in a statement to the General Assembly in 1997. He argued that
“the Security Council must move on if it is not to lose its legitimacy. Japan and Germany should be included in an expanded permanent membership, and there should be a new balance between developed and developing countries in a modernized Security Council. We are all agreed on the need for change; we have been discussing it for four years. It is time that we agreed that a proposal for change which has the backing of the vast majority of Members is better than a status quo which has the backing of none.” 21
The idea of reforming the Security Council is not a top priority of Russia. Russia will neither initiate nor particularly insist upon reform, especially if the power of veto is altered. At this time, Russia is generally seen as not strong enough to dictate anything that is solely in her interest. That is not to say, however, that Russia’s interests will be ignored outright. It still has a formidable collection of nuclear weapons that can not be discounted.
In a 1999 statement to the Working Group on Security Council Reform, a Russian representative said that the veto is “crucial to [the current Council’s] ability to function effectively and to arrive at balanced and sustainable decisions.”22 I think that this Representative has hit upon a pragmatic truth. The veto provision may ensure that any Council decision that does pass will have a good chance of actual implementation. Russia’s view is that the veto is a reality because with or without it countries can hijack decisions be merely refusing to participate or give up resources.
Russia has stated that it is willing to expand the permanent membership but whether they should be given veto power is another matter that “should be given substantial consideration after the composition…[has] been agreed upon.”23 Russia has, for example, backed the bid of India. Russia is also keen on the idea of improving the Council’s working methods by way of more transparency.
The Permanent Five: United States
“Whether progress will be made on the council reform issue depends on the U.S.” said a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official.24 The United States is the most powerful country in the world and carries tremendous influence.
Its inclusion in the Security Council is crucial, but that doesn’t mean that the relationship is one-sided. The United States, as evidenced by the situation in Iraq, also needs the United Nations. The Bush “go it alone” attitude is ineffective and detrimental to peace and security. In a world so dependent on global trade and ties, the United States cannot afford to be arrogant. Perhaps current president Bush will internalize the lesson of the recent WTO steel tariff decision against the United States. The lesson being: the rest of the world has plenty of leverage against the sole superpower of the world.
The United States has, however, supported reform of the Security Council. During the Clinton administration, the United States backed and fought hard for expansion and inclusion of Germany and Japan.25 The plan eventually stalled after a number of small and weaker states were afraid that their influence would diminish with expansion. With the collapse of this plan the momentum for reform in the mid 1990s was lost. The United States invested a lot in this effort and unfortunately nothing was ever passed.
On the topic of the veto, the conservative leadership in the United States is fearful that they will lose sovereignty if their veto power is ever diluted or taken away. The veto power is also, not surprisingly, used most by the United States - recently to defend its Israeli allies from any formal criticism (see veto history on pg.11). Another concern of the United States, whether under the leadership of liberal internationalists or conservative nationalists, is that the Security Council not be too large and unwieldy that it cannot come to conclusions.
Japan is first or second in line to get a permanent seat on the Security Council if it is ever expanded. Japan has worked very actively to realize reform without ever succeeding. In a 2000 Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs document, Japan’s position was outlined. Here are some of the main points.
“1. It is absolutely necessary to expand the permanent membership with the addition of both developed and developing countries which possess the ability and will to assume global responsibility for international peace and security. Japan is prepared to assume greater responsibilities as a permanent member of the reformed Security Council.
3. In order to maintain both effectiveness and representativeness, the appropriate size of the expanded Security Council should be twenty-four members, with the addition of two developed and three developing countries to the permanent membership and four non-permanent members.
5. Concerning the veto, as a matter of principle, there should be no differentiation between new and old permanent members. In Japan’s view, the resolution of this issue will require the political judgment of all nations at the final states of negotiation.
6. The Security Council’s work methods should be improved to increase transparency and accountability.”26
Japan’s bid is not without opposition. Opposition comes not only from member states but also domestically. In Japan, a large sector of the public fears that a Security Council seat might draw Japan into distant conflicts and strengthen Japanese militarism.28
Usually spoken in the same sentence as Japan, Germany is another country that will likely be added if expansion ever occurs. Germany’s situation also shares a lot in common with Japan’s situation.
Both enjoy the support of many member states. One notable exception is Italy. Italy intensely opposes a permanent seat for Germany and has often made harsh references to history in making its case.29 Italy is also probably worried of being the one major industrialized European country left out of the council. Instead, Italy has proposed that no new permanent members be added but an expansion in the number of non-permanent members. Germany also faces some domestic opposition from the conservatives in Germany. Germany also insist that as second and third largest due-payers they are entitled to special status.
Brazil is seen as a leading contender for a seat among developing countries and in its South American region. Currently, there is no permanent representation from South America and little representation from developing countries. In a statement to the United Nations Working Group on reform, the Brazilian Government states that it would like to see changes take into consideration “the emergence of countries – developed and developing alike – that are capable and willing to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security. Permanent membership would entail additional responsibilities and costs.”30 One issue that opponents of Brazil’s entry is that it fails to represent the South American region well since the official language is Portuguese and not Spanish.
Recently (2001-02), India has clamored for Security Council reform. Any expansion of the Security Council would definitely include a developing country since this representation is currently lacking. India is using this argument that the Security Council is “unrepresentative and anachronistic” to push forward its own agenda of gaining a seat on the Security Council. Along with Brazil, India is seen as one of the strongest candidates among developing countries.
A large number of powerful countries have come out in support of India’s bid. Britain, Russia, and France have all made strong statements supporting India in its quest. In the strongest example of support, Britain’s commitment was solidified in the New Delhi declaration signed by Blain and Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee in early 2002. “Britain continues to view India as a natural contender for permanent membership of the Security Council and will work with India to achieve it,” the declaration said.31
Security Council reform is unlikely to be taken seriously while George Bush is still in office. Hopefully the frustration that has gathered in connection with the unilateral action of the United States in Iraq will translate to momentum at an opportune time. At which time, Security Council reform will have a chance to succeed.
In my own opinion, I believe that moving forward the best reform would be to expand the Security Council by five permanent members who do not get the veto power. I think that this is pragmatically the best idea because it has a realistic chance to pass. Furthermore, it makes the Security Council more representative of the world without making the Council too bulky.
The challenges facing today’s international community, such as tension in the Middle East, AIDS, and the environment, can only be resolved through coordinated and multilateral efforts. The reason being is the global nature of many of these problems. As the United Nations debates possible reform let us not forget the importance of having a strong international organization. As frustrating as it might be for the largest country or the smallest country to work within the United Nations framework the alternatives are not worth considering.
1 United Nations website. http://www.un.org/aboutun/history.htm
2 “Who’s in, Who’s Out: UN Security Council Mulls Reform.” Christian Science Monitor. Oct. 16, 2002. Michael Jordan.
3 “Security Council.” Dr. Danesh D. Sarooshi. University of London.
7 “Reforming the UN Security Council: Will its Time Ever Come?” USA-UNA. March 17,2003. Jeffrey Laurenti
8 “Make the UN a World Government.” The Independent. June 11, 1999. Titus Alexander.
9 “The in-security council – dump it or grow it?” Media Monitors Network. May 12, 2003. Chithra KarunaKaran.
10 “Chirac UN speech to the General Assembly. 9/03
11 “Annan presses for UN reform.” Sept. 9, 2003. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/un/annan_article.shtml
13 “Chirac UN speech to the General Assembly. 9/03
14 “Security Council.” Dr. Danesh D. Sarooshi. University of London.
15 “As Reform Negotiations Reach Fever Pitch, Germany and Japan Push for Permanent Seats.” New York, 7 March 1997. James Paul.
17 “Selected Quotations on the Subject of UN Reform.” 52nd UN General Assembly. Sept. 22, 1997. Erik Derycke.
18 Statement on the Veto by Ambassador Shen Guofang Apr 23, 1998 to the Working Group on Reform.
19 “Annan Seeks Expanded UN Security Council.” Associated Press. September 23, 2003. Ranjan Roy.
21 “Selected Quotations on the Subject of UN Reform.” 52nd UN General Assembly. Sept. 22, 1997. Robin Cook.
22 Statement to Working Group on Reform. Russian Delegation. March 24, 1999.
24 “Japan Rethinks Strategy for Gaining Permanent UN Security Council Seat.” Japan Times, May 20,2002. Hisane Masaki.
25 “Reforming the UN Security Council: Will its Time Ever Come?” USA-UNA. March 17,2003. Jeffrey Laurenti
26 “Japan’s Position on Security Council Reform.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
27 “Japan Rethinks Strategy for Gaining Permanent UN Security Council Seat.” Japan Times, May 20,2002. Hisane Masaki.
28 “As Reform Negotiations Reach Fever Pitch, Germany and Japan Push for Permanent Seats.” New York, 7 March 1997. James Paul.
30 Reform of the UN Security Council Brazilian Gov’t statement. http://www/undp.org/missions/brazil/reformun.htm
31 “Britain to Support India’s Claim.” Deutshe Presse-Agentur. Jan 7, 2002.
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