A perspective on the Security Council reform
The reform of the Security Council is potentially the most important and politically charged issue facing the United Nations.1 There hasn’t been any reform since the funding of the United Nation in 1945 except for one expansion of non-permanent membership in 1963. The five permanent members of the United Nations are China, France, the Russia Federation, United Kingdom and United States and they represent the global power. Since 1945 the economic and political changes that have taken place have questioned the legitimacy of permanent member seats. In December 1993, the General Assembly established an Open-ended Working Group to consider an increase in the membership of Security Council and reforming the working methods.
The demands placed on the reform were the increase in both permanent and non-permanent categories of membership, the veto as an anachronistic and undemocratic instrument, the improvement of working methods and the enhancement of transparency. They requested the conclusion of the reform be as quick as realistically possible. Different opinions could be found in the size of increase by category of membership, the total size of enlarged Council, the composition of an expanded Council and in the approval of a reform. This was the outcome after initial consultation of the member states about this topic in 1997. Over this period many resolutions were proposed but a consensus could not be found.
At a press conference in May this year Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN and Chair of Intergovernmental Negotiations on Security Council reform released the current overview on the debate and concluded that “there is light at the end of the tunnel”. By having a closer look at the overview a likely conclusion on the reform is doubtful. Many major issues for example the veto power and Council size have not been solved but have shown how crucial they are in the past. In this paper I am going to examine the current status in the realm of the past to see what it could mean for the future perspective of the reform.
Current reform status in the realm of the past
The overview shows two to three models in the categories composition, functions and powers, voting and procedure of the Security Council reform.
In the composition the opinions are divided on the size, the categories of membership and the regional representation. Model A argues that the size should be around the low-twenties so that the efficiency of decision-making is safeguarded. The United States had proposed adding Germany and Japan and three developing countries to bring the number of permanent members to 10 and the total number of members to 20. Significant efforts towards a consensus in this issue were made in April 2000 when the United States stated its willingness to consider proposals involving slightly more than 21 members 2. In Model B a group of states including Germany and Japan supported an increase to a total of 24 seats, by adding six permanent and 3 non – permanent members. The six new permanent members should be elected according to the following pattern: two from African States, two
from Asian States, one from Latin American States and Caribbean States and one from Western European and Other States3.
Further opposition to a consensus came from the Movement of Aligned Countries. They stated in a joint declaration from September 1997 “that the membership of the Council should be increased by not less than 11 members” 4. A resolution by the African Union with a total claim of 26 members wasn’t taken into account in either Model A or B.
There has been progress towards a consensus but the different models are still being considered and negotiations still taking place.
Taking the enlargement of both categories into account, the question of criteria for election, selection, nomination or appointment of new membership of the Security Council arises in Model A as well as in Model B and C. In the nineties, Germany and Japan were making a major push for permanent seats, insisting that as second- and third dues-payers they were entitled to special treatment5. From countries like Canada, New Zealand, Italy and Spain it was argued that this would aggravate an elitist, antidemocratic and anachronistic system. As the debate went on, Japan and Germany had to realise that their reasons would not legitimate a membership. Also the possibility of an over representation of Western European countries in the Security Council was seen as a danger for the balance of global power. During the first 1997 session of the Open-ended Working Group, held in March, the Ambassador and Chairman Razali Ismail proposed a draft framework resolution6. In this resolution he suggested that the General Assembly would designate permanent members from the pool of countries interested. The Assembly decision would be by a vote of two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly present and voting in accordance with Article 18 of the Charter 7. The Razali Plan which was considered to be a good starting point for negotiations elides criteria for selection of new membership. The plan failed in the following discussions. Germany suggested as a compromise that the new members have to be re – elected after a specific term of holding a seat. But that suggestion also failed because internal election campaigning was seen as a danger for effective work in the General Assembly and Security Council. The enlargement in the category of non – permanent two – year seats (as it is suggested in Model C) would be a compromise, which found support among the non-aligned countries, notably Italy, Pakistan and Mexico. A number of delegations that supported an increase in both categories recognised the problems involved. They expressed their readiness to support an increase in the non – permanent category as a first step, provided that the Working Group would continue to address the increase in permanent membership8.
So the past shows that there was progress in the negotiations on the categories of membership, but in the main criteria of selection no move had taken place towards a final consensus.
Looking at the regional representation, all supporters for new permanent seats agreed upon the distribution of membership among developing countries. Through the resolution of the African Union in mid 1997, the demand was introduced for two permanent rotating seats even with veto power. There for doesn`t matter which resolution is taken into account, the right of seats in the Security Council for developing countries was recognised. But over the years questions of membership for international organisations as the European Union (a hybrid system of supranationalism and intergovernmentalism) arose and will probably become more important in the future.
Italy introduced the idea of the establishment of a common European seat for the first time at the General Assembly in 1998. It argued that the Italian claim to a permanent seat was as
valid as that of Germany and noting that Italy’s contribution to the regular budget of the United Nation exceed the United Kingdom’s9. At the General Assembly in 1999, Germany noted that it would favour a permanent seat held by the European Union as well, acting as a legal entity that could speak with one voice. This idea provides a solution of the over representation of seats from Western European countries in the Security Council. But as long as the Charter is not amended concerning criteria for membership and as long as the European Union does not have a unified foreign policy, the issue has to step back till the right time has come.
In general, the question of the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly has been at the center of an ongoing power struggle between the two major organs of the organization. More specifically, countries not on the Council have often sought more insights into the inner workings of the Council as well as influence over its decisions, and have argued that the annual report of the Council to the Assembly, which is usually a factual account, should be more analytical than it currently is. Furthermore, some countries have also complained that the Council increasingly discusses issues that they feel fall somewhat outside the Council's mandate. On the other hand, permanent members of the Council have largely insisted that the there is no hierarchy between the two bodies10.
A small group of states is “recalling the provisions relating to the powers and functions of the General Assembly in matters pertaining to the maintenance of international peace and security (…)” and further on “to make recommendations to the Members of the United Nation and to the Security Council”11. This also claims the authority of the General Assembly on peace and security questions. In this annex of the draft resolution from Switzerland, Jordan, Lichtenstein, Costa Rica and Singapore a set of suggestions is made, which point out the close relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly. In principle the suggestions are the same as mentioned in Model C of the examined overview. Model B shows a compromise of Model A and C by claiming a more “substantive and analytical annual report, including on the implementation of council decisions”.
As stated above, none of the groups which made suggestions concerning the relationship between the two United Nation organs found supporters in the existing permanent members. This current development of this issue remains an interesting topic.
In fifth meeting on Security Council reform almost 70 countries were arguing that the Security Council should refrain from considering issues that fall under the rerview of the General Assembly. The permanent members of the Council, on the other hand, appeared rather dismissive12.
But one permanent member, Mr. Jean-Pierre Lacroix on the behalf of France stated the opposite, saying: “We would also like the quality of the Security Council reports to the General Assembly to be further improved in accordance with article 24, paragraph 3 of the Charter. While we recognise the recent progress that has been made, these reports should be as substantial as possible”13. This is an essential step towards a consensus and a good example for the other permanent members to follow.
The reform of the veto is one of the key issues in the debate on Security Council reform. Previously in 1997 Razali Ismail concluded after consultation with about 30 percent of the full membership of United Nations that the veto was considered “anachronistic and undemocratic (…) although it was acknowledged that it was not realistic to expect the veto to
1 UN Chronicle online edition: http://secint24.un.org/Pubs/chronicle/1997/issue4/0497p5_2.html; Stand 18.08.2009
2 Franz Müller, Reforming the United Nations – The Quiet Revolution, The Hague 2001, Page 154
3 General Assembly, 59th session: Security Council reform, A/59/L.64, 2005
4 Dimitris Bourantonis, The History and Politics of the UN Security Council Reform, New York 2005, Page 78- 79
5 Franz Müller, Reforming the United Nations – The Quiet Revolution, The Hague 2001, Page 144
6 (Reforming the UN (12))
7 Franz Müller, Reforming the United Nations – The Quiet Revolution, The Hague 2001, Page 149
8 Franz Müller, Reforming the United Nations – The Quiet Revolution, The Hague 2001, Page 147
9 Franz Müller, Reforming the United Nations – The Quiet Revolution, The Hague 2001, Page 153
10 Center for UN Reform Education, Fifth Meeting on Security Council Reform in April 2009: http://www.centerforunreform.org/node/397, Stand 17.08.09
11 General Assembly, 66th session: Improving the working methods of the Security Council, A/60/L.49, 2006
12 Center for UN Reform Education, Fifth Meeting on Security Council Reform in April 2009: http://www.centerforunreform.org/node/397, Stand 17.08.09
13 Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations in New York, Fifth Meeting on Security Council Reform in April 2009: http://www.franceonu.org/spip.php?article3814, Stand: 17.08.09