Global Policy Forum

No UN Reform Likely,


By Shaun Benton

August 27, 2005

The portfolio committee on foreign affairs has heard the perspectives on reform of the United Nations from three leading South African think-tanks: the Centre for Policy Studies, the Africa Institute of South Africa and the Centre for Conflict Resolution. The heads of all three civil society organisations appeared to agree that there will not be widespread reform of the United Nations, particularly its powerful Security Council, when the UN General Assembly meets next month to discuss the issue.

This is largely because of the no-compromise position taken recently by the African Union forum of foreign affairs leaders dealing with the issue of a veto for new members with permanent seats on the Security Council. The AU delegates passed a resolution insisting on veto-wielding permanent Security Council seats. This runs contrary to the position adopted by the so-called G4 - Brazil, India, Germany and Japan - which is arguing for six permanent seats without a veto, which they see as a pragmatic position that may succeed in getting the required backing of two-thirds of the General Assembly, as well as being accepted by the current powerful five Security Council members - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

Dr Eddy Maloka of the African Institute of South Africa (AISA) said the position of the Africa Institute was that the AU's "intransigent demand" (for a veto) on the matter could cost the world progress regarding the enlargement of the UN Security Council. "We believe that the AU position was a strategic error ... the 'all or nothing' approach is not in the best interest of Africa," the AISA's executive summary read.

Dr Adekaye Adebajo of the Centre for Conflict Resolution said "my own feeling is that Security Council reform is unlikely to happen". If the AU had accepted the G4 proposal Security Council reform would have been more likely, he said, adding that "the spoilers are many". And Dr Chris Landsberg of the Centre for Policy Studies said the AU's veto demand "will retard the whole process of UN reform".

The AU position was also seen as "tragic" because its no-compromise position on Security Council reform will in all likelihood keep the continent outside of an important political forum where its presence would have helped the continent enormously to place - and keep - vital developmental issues at the top of the global agenda.

As Dr Maloka put it, more is at stake than simply UN reform: the whole developmental agenda of Africa, viz a vis debt cancellation, aid flows, trade barriers, developed world agricultural subsidies, increased investment and more will suffer as a result of the AU's no-compromise position. The irony, as the scholars noted, is that Africa is the only continent with real consensus on UN reform. This unity already makes the continent a powerful bloc within the UN, with its 191-member General Assembly. It is this strength in unity, this common front that would have helped the continent enormously had there been a decision to compromise on the veto question and hard-headedly pursue real and lasting reform at the important world body.

It is possibly this irony that led Dr Maloka of the Africa Institute to argue that there should be an opt-out clause for individual African countries. This would have allowed South Africa to at times act alone as a key player within the global community. "The AU should have made it possible for individual African countries to act alone without being seen to be breaking ranks or dissenting," Dr Maloka said.

More Information on UN Reform
More Articles and Papers on the Millennium Summit and Its Follow-Up
Millennium Summit and Its Follow-Up Main Page
More Information on Security Council Membership Expansion


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