Global Policy Forum

Prospects for Reform of the Security Council (January 16, 1996)


Prof. Diogo Freitas do Amaral
President of the General Assembly

Presented at a Meeting of the NGO Working Group on the Security Council
New York, 16 January 1996

Thank you very much for your kind invitation to this meeting. And thank you for your warm welcome.

I assume that you know more about UN reform than I do and especially about the reform of the Security Council which is your concern in this Working Group. But I would like to share with you my views of where we are now and how we can proceed.

First of all, let me recall that the Working Group on the Reform of the Security Council was created three years ago by the General Assembly and has been working for three consecutive General Assembly sessions. It is still far from reaching a conclusion, which does not mean that the working group has not worked. It means that the subject is very difficult. Not difficult in theoretical terms, but very difficult in political terms, because countries do not agree on a common approach to the problem. They have very national, tough approaches to the solutions that are envisioned.

Let me give you an example. If someone were to say that Germany should become a new permanent member of the Security Council, then Italy or perhaps Spain would say: "Why not us? We also want that seat." If some countries say that Brazil should become a permanent member, then immediately Mexico, Argentina and perhaps, Venezuela will say: "Why not us? We want that seat, too." To mention a final example, some say that India should become a permanent member, while others immediately argue: "Why not Pakistan, Indonesia or Malaysia, instead?"

It is really a very difficult question. If we could have a Security Council of 185 seats, like the General Assembly, everything would be okay. But, then, of course, it would not be an executive, efficient body, as it must be.

We have a certain amount of work done and I would like to point out that the latest published progress report is document A/49/965 dated September 18, 1995 (but distributed a little later). It is a report signed by the two Vice-Chairmen of the Working Group on the Reform of the Security Council, Ambassadors Breitenstein of Finland and Pibulssongram of Thailand. If we try to make a synthesis of their conclusions as of mid-September 1995, I would say that there are a certain number of points of agreement among countries, and a certain number of points of disagreement.

The first point of agreement is that the Security Council should be enlarged. Everybody agrees on that. At least, nobody dares to disagree.

The second point of agreement is that enlargement should be made according to the criterion of a more equitable geographic representation, bearing in mind that the Security Council was conceived 50 years ago for a United Nations with 51 members and now we have a United Nations with 185 members.

Thirdly, we should at least have an increase in the number of the non-permanent members and they should be chosen with more uniform criteria by different regional groups, because at present there are some regional groups which take very seriously the task of selecting their candidates and there are others which do not proceed in the same way.

Finally, there is agreement that we should ameliorate methods of work, procedures and transparency.

These are the matters of general agreement on reform of the Security Council.

The main points of disagreement are these:

First of all, the size of the Security Council, if it is enlarged. Should it go from 15 to 20, 22, 25, or even 30, as some countries propose? Here, of course, we have a conflict between representation and efficiency. If you want to stress representation, you can go higher and higher and 30 perhaps would not be enough. If you want to stress efficiency, you can not go very high and perhaps 23 or 25 would be the maximum acceptable.

Secondly, should we have new permanent members or not. And if so, how many. And according to what criteria should they be selected?

A third point: if one should drop the idea of new permanent members, should we just enlarge the number of non-permanent members or should we create, as some countries have proposed, a kind of third category of states, quasi- or semi-permanent members, or rotational members, etcetera.

These are the main difficult problems that have yet to be solved and we do not know whether they will be solved. Personally, committed as I am to the reform of the United Nations and to the momentum and positive climate for reform provided by the 50th session, I would very much like to see the reform of the Security Council included in the global reform package. But at this stage, we can not know and I can not tell you whether or not we will have a reform of the Security Council.

Before I proceed, let me read you what the entire membership of the United Nations unanimously approved on the occasion of the 50th anniversary celebration, last October. In the declaration on the 50th anniversary of the United Nations which was approved on the 24th of October 1995, this paragraph was included and unanimously approved:

The Security Council should inter alia be expanded and its working methods continue to be reviewed in a way that will further strengthen its capacity and effectiveness, enhance its representative character, and improve its working efficiency and transparency. As important differences on key issues continue to exist, further in-depth consideration of these issues is required.

So, this confirms what I said before: that there is consensus -- and in this case consensus means unanimity -- about expanding the Security Council to make it more representative and ameliorating its methods of work to make it more efficient, effective, and transparent.

Let us assume that there is now consensus about the ideas of enlargement, better representation (namely geographically), improvement of the efficiency, transparency and methods of work, and finally the idea that if there is enlargement, it should at least include an increase in the number of non-permanent members.

Let us then concentrate on the biggest and most difficult question -- should we or should we not increase the number of permanent members? This question is a very difficult one and it includes in itself a lot of sub-questions.

First of all, is it necessary, convenient, or advisable to increase the number of permanent members, irrespective of which countries could or should be selected for the seats? Is it a good idea to increase the number of permanent members? There is no consensus so far about this question. Although, I think there is a majority that says: "Yes, we should augment the number of permanent members."

Personally, I have some doubts. I am not sure whether it is a good idea because of efficiency, etcetera, etcetera. But it is an open question and we must during the coming months see how the different countries react to this question.

A second point: is it possible to make a small increase in the number of permanent members? Say, the proposal of some delegations that the increase should be Germany and Japan. The reason being that they are both big, rich countries which can be relied upon as countries which conform to United Nations Charter principles and can provide support politically, financially, and militarily for the activities of the UN.

I do not think this idea will be accepted by the majority of the General Assembly members. What I have heard during the plenary session debates from September to December -- and especially during the three-day special commemorative meeting of the 50th anniversary -- was that the majority of countries of the South consider that it would be completely unacceptable to include in the enlargement only two industrialized countries without representation of the non-industrialized Southern developing countries. It is my personal conviction (I am speaking on a purely personal basis, I am not engaging the United Nations or the General Assembly), it is my assessment, my feeling, that such a proposal would not command the support of the two-thirds majority in the General Assembly that would be necessary for it to allow a revision of the Charter.

On the contrary, the proposition coming from the Non Aligned Movement, the G-77, and other countries is that if we are to have an increase in the number of permanent members of the Security Council, then we should add to those two countries -- or any other couple of countries from the North or from the industrialized world -- about three from the South. This is the second question that we have to face.

The third question is this: provided there would be agreement on the idea of increasing the number of permanent members and agreement on the criteria (say, to simplify, two from the North and three from the South), how do we select those countries? I would again like to give you my personal opinion. So far, we have witnessed some countries letting it be known that they would like to be considered as candidates for the new seats or we have heard third countries presenting the case for this or that country to be a permanent member.

Much talk has been circulating in the corridors of power, discussing the possibilities, the advantages, and the objections to each name. I want to tell you that, personally, I do not believe that with this method we will ever reach agreement on a single country, because the national competition in favor one's own candidacy or against other candidacies will be so strong that even if we discussed this issue for ten years, no consensus would be reached.

But there is a way in which this problem could be solved. The Working Group on the Reform of the Security Council should put out of its mind the question of which countries would be the new permanent members and should only address the question of how many new permanent seats there should be and according to which criteria, in the abstract, without referring to any names, without negotiating with any country.

This proposal would be approved by the Security Council and the General Assembly with a two-thirds majority and afterwards ratified by at least two-thirds of the parliaments of various members nations. Then, in two or three years time, we would reach a stage in which the choice of the new permanent members would be made. At that time, and only at that time, one would open an election within the General Assembly in which all countries conforming to the defined criteria could present their candidacy. There would be a secret ballot and those who won would be the new permanent members.

My idea is that if we want to proceed in the direction of new permanent members, we must separate the question of how many new permanent members, and according to which abstract criteria, from the question of which specific countries. Because if you mix both things, you spoil everything.

If you discuss whether there will be two, three, five or six new permanent members, and whether there will be two or three from the North or three or four from the South, and you don't say anything else, and you allow two or three years for this decision to be approved by the United Nations and national parliaments, and then you hold an election in which all countries who want to be considered can present themselves and can feel that they have a fair chance of being chosen, perhaps it will work. But if you discuss it in the corridors, in closed, restricted, more-or-less non-transparent ways, all the others will feel that they are going to be excluded and that they do not have a fair chance and they will block the reform. This is my personal conviction.

The third and last question is this: If we come to the conclusion that for the time being it is not possible to include new permanent members in the Security Council, should we stay with only the category of non-permanent members or should we create a third category -- quasi- or semi-permanent members? I think this is an important question, which has perhaps not been thoroughly enough discussed. There is a proposal by Italy that goes in the direction of a third category. There is a proposal by Mexico that goes in that direction also. I am informed that there will be one or two other proposals that will be presented this month or in the beginning of February from other countries which go in the same direction.

Perhaps this could be a compromise solution. After all, the United Nations works very much on the basis of compromise. If you have one clear-cut position on one side and another clear-cut position on the other, you must make a rapprochement between the two and find a compromise solution.

That compromise solution, for the time being, would not create seats for new permanent members, but would envisage possibilities of having some countries with a more stable presence in the Security Council if they meet the criteria: absolute compliance with the principles and duties of the Charter, cooperation in the activities of the United Nations, troop contributing to the peacekeeping operations, payment of the assessments in full and on time, etcetera, etcetera. To be frank with you, I am not sure whether this is an acceptable solution, or whether it is the best solution for the problem we face. But, I think it deserves consideration, because the other is so difficult that it will lead us nowhere.

This is how I see the problem today. A substantive discussion of the reform of the Security Council will begin on the first of February. I do not yet know what new propositions are going to be presented. I do not know whether from last July to February, the members countries have changed their minds. But this is how I see the situation on the eve of the beginning of a new round of discussions and consultations. I very much hope that the discussion that will follow will not only provide the opportunity for giving you more information, but also provide me with the opportunity to hear good suggestions from your side.


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