Global Policy Forum

Security Council Reform: A Transitional Approach

By Ghislain Ondias Okouma

December 3, 2007

The United Nations reform, specifically the enlargement of the Security Council, has been an issue under discussion at the General Assembly for a long time. The question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council was first introduced in the Assembly's agenda in 1979, during its thirty-fourth session. At its forty-eighth session, the Assembly adopted resolution 48/26, on 3 December 1993, by which it decided to establish the Open-ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council.

The issue of reform also figured prominently in the Assembly's debate in 2007. Those discussions contributed to improving the transparency of the Council's work and also clarified its role by developing policies and doctrines for the prevention of conflicts, managing increasingly complex crises, identifying the needs of peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and dealing with new threats such as the fight against terrorism.

Most Member States agree on expanding the membership of the Council, but they are sharply divided on the category in which the increase should take place and by how many. During a plenary meeting of the General Assembly, the current president, Srgjan Kerim, reiterated the importance and complexity inherent to the reform process, which world leaders had stressed during the 2005 World Summit. During a press conference on 15 June 2007, Mr. Kerim supported the view that the Security Council should be more representative, more efficient and transparent in order to strengthen the legitimacy of its decisions.

Existing positions and reform proposals

There are several proposals for Security Council reform: The Group of Four (G-4) --Brazil, Germany, India and Japan-- call for boosting the Council's membership from 15 members to 25, with the creation of six new permanent seats without veto power for at least 15 years, and four new non-permanent seats. However, the Italy/Pakistan-led "Uniting for Consensus (UFC)" group opposes any expansion of permanent members on the Security Council; they only seek to expand the Council to 25 seats, with 10 new non-permanent members who would be elected for two-year terms, with the possibility of immediate re-election. A third group --the African Group- proposes new permanent and non-permanent seats. Especially for Africa, the Group requires two permanent and five non-permanent seats in the Security Council and an increase in membership from 15 to 26, with the same prerogatives and privileges as those of the current permanent members, including the right of veto. This position has been enshrined in the Ezulwini Consensus, the Sirte Declaration and has been reaffirmed at various African summits.

These groups have already submitted their respective draft resolutions in July 2005. But none of the three proposals has garnered the required support. To move the issue out of the impasse, in September 2006, the President of the sixty-first session of the General Assembly, Haya Rashed al-Khalifa (Bahrain), appointed, on 8 February 2007, the Permanent Representatives of Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Tunisia as facilitators of the Open-ended Working Group. The President mandated the five facilitators to conduct open, transparent and inclusive consultations, with a view to making the most accurate possible assessment on the state of play on Security Council reform. Establishing the appropriate process would enable the General Assembly to fulfill the challenging task of reforming the Council. A report of the facilitators on the discussions at the informal meetings and the succeeding informal consultations was submitted to the Assembly's President on 19 April 2007 and circulated to all Member States on 20 April 2007.

Subsequently, Ms. Haya Rashed al-Khalifa appointed Permanent Representatives of Chile and Liechtenstein to move the consultation process forward on the basis of the facilitators' report. On 14 September 2007, the Open -ended Working Group concluded its work for the sixty-first session of the General Assembly and decided to recommend that consideration of the item be continued at the sixty-second session of the Assembly.

The transitional approach to reform

The positions taken to date have revealed marked differences of opinion on several issues such as the extent of the enlargement of the Council, the veto and the issue of new permanent seats. In the most recent report of the facilitators, presented to the Assembly on 12 November 2007, they proposed to move forward with the process. Despite the reiteration of initial positions, the report stated that flexibility was displayed in the form of willingness to explore a viable compromise.

According to the facilitators' proposals, the intermediary arrangement, which should find the broadest agreement possible, covers the expansion of the membership of the Security Council, the procedure for the election of its members and the exercise of the veto, as well as working methods. They present several alternatives for each party, with a particular interest in reforms, and consider the model that best suits its goals and realizes its aspirations in the enlargement process.

According to the document, which was widely reviewed and discussed, the intermediary approach entails the creation of a category of membership not currently provided for under the Charter. Member States may wish to consider, inter alia, creating extended seats that could be allocated for the full duration of the intermediary arrangement, up to the review; extended seats for a longer period than the existing non permanent seats with the possibility of re-election; or extended seats for a longer term than the existing non permanent seats but without the possibility of re-election.

Furthermore, in the intermediary approach, States may want to examine the question of rules concerning the exercise of the veto, including forms of limitations of its use, possibly in the framework of a decision on working methods. Given that none of the options under the transitional approach entail expanding the use of the veto, this possibility would be left for consideration in the course of a review. The use of the veto is linked to the issue of working methods, as well as to categories of membership and the review. The review clause may open the way to take further reform steps in the future. Within a transitional approach, special weight must be given to a review clause. Such a review must be mandatory and take place after a specified number of years following the entry into force of Charter amendments related to Security Council reform.

Prior to the new configuration and transitional architecture presented by the facilitators, two models had already been proposed by the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change that reported its findings on threats to collective security in December 2004, and crystallized the discussion of the United Nations need to reconfigure.

The High-level Panel proposed two ideas:
1. Six new permanent seats, with no veto being created, and three new two-year term non-permanent seats, divided among the major regional areas.
2. No new permanent seats but the creation of a new category of eight four-year renewable-term seats and one new two-year non-permanent (and non-renewable) seat, divided among the major regional areas .

Concerns of Member States

Member States expressed concern that the "transitional approach" does not reach consensus. Opinions on the new proposals remain divided. One view is that it simply postpones for decades the reform of the Council. "Don't postpone till tomorrow what you can do today'' said the representative of Djibouti, followed by Mauritius and Jamaica. For them, and for the representative of Cuba, this approach contains the seeds of the perpetuation of an historical injustice to Africa, the only continent without a permanent seat on the Council. Cuba's Permanent Representative to the United Nations stressed that his country was opposed to the tendency to equate reform of the United Nations with strengthening the powers of the Security Council. He called for full respect of the functions and powers of the principal organs, particularly the General Assembly, and for the maintenance of a balance between these organs.

During the debate, Iceland, one of the supporters of this transitional approach, and a member of the G-4, reiterated his country's agreement with the proposal of the facilitators. The representative of France said ''Paris is also open to a solution which, without prejudging the final outcome would enable the international community to move forward''. The time has come to start negotiations in a spirit of openness, demand flexibility and with a strong will to succeed, he added.


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