Global Policy Forum

Wikileaks Exposes US’ Double-Game on UN Security Council Expansion


The G4 (India, Brazil, Germany, Japan) and the African Union have led talks about the expansion of the Security Council from 5 to 10 or 11 seats for at least two decades. The US has publicly supported these initiatives and has recently backed India’s bid for a permanent seat. However, diplomatic cables revealed by Wikileaks show that US backdoor diplomacy has done everything to prevent a Security Council expansion. Indeed, the US fears losing its influence in the executive body of the UN and its privileges, such as the veto right. China and Russia share similar views. All three countries want to create a new class of less powerful permanent members.

By Vijay Sharma

RTN Asia
July 25, 2011

Despite the US' official stand favoring an expansion of the UN Security Council, new diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks show how it was doing everything it could to delay or mould the reform process to its ends.

According to them, the US delegation to the United Nations worked out a clear strategy to delay or prevent the entry of new aspirants such as India, Brazil,and Germany into the World's most exclusive club of veto-weilding UN nations. It, however, consistently supported Japan's entry.

The Security Council is the ‘executive body’ of the UN and currently has five permanent members, Russia, China, the UK and France, besides the US itself. Being a permanent member is a special status as no decision taken by the UN is valid without the support of each and every permanent member.

In public, the US has always maintained a stand that it was in favor of expanding the permanent membership club (P5) to more members, but the cables clearly show US diplomats plotting to ensure slow progress in the intergovernmental talks on the expansion.

The talks for expansion have been on for two decades, led by India, Germany, Japan, Brazil (the G4) and the African Union (AU), but gathered momentum in 2008 when the aim of the talks was restated from ‘building a consensus’ opinion to building a majority opinion on the expansion.

The above countries, along with one or two from the African Union, are seen as the leading contenders for the new permanent seats and want the total permanent seats expanded from 5 to 10 or 11 -- causing alarm in the US diplomatic circles.

“We believe expansion of the Council, along the lines of the models currently discussed, will dilute U.S. influence in the body.. Addition of new permanent members with veto rights would increase the risk to U.S. interests from Council expansion exponentially,” wrote the US ambassador to the UN, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, in December 2007.

Khalilzad was writing a time when the talks were still being held under the “consensus framework” of the UN’s “open ended working group” or OEWG on Security Council expansion.

Because the OEWG’s mandate was to evolve a consensus view -- which meant that every country had to agree to the proposals -- talks had been heading nowhere for several years, leaving countries like the US -- concerned about “reckless” expansion -- free to focus elsewhere.

In 2007, the US was in support of only the candidature of Japan as a new permanent member of the security council and not those of India, Brazil, Germany or South Africa. It was only during President Obama’s India visit last year that the US finally endorsed India’s candidacy.

In the 2007 cable, US ambassador Khalilzad explained the reason for not supporting the India and Brazil as permanent members.

He explained that to pass any resolution in the Security Council, which has all the crucial powers of the UN, 9 votes out of the total 15 are needed (including all five of the permanent members.)

“[The US] currently starts most discussions about important Council statements or resolutions with at least six votes (U.S., UK, France, and the three European delegations) and must secure three more to reach the required nine votes -- barring a P-5 veto -- for adoption.

“To take just the G-4 countries plus the yet-unidentified African state(s) that would join them in permanent membership, we are confident we could reliably count on Japan's support, and to a lesser degree, on Germany's.

“However, on the most important issues of the day -- sanctions, human rights, the Middle East, etc. -- Brazil, India, and most African states are currently far less sympathetic to our views than our European allies,” he pointed out.

“As it is, negotiating documents that require unanimity among fifteen members is already a long and difficult enough process,” he added.

Khalilzad warned his government that talks are becoming and more and more serious and the US may not be able to sit on the side for much longer.

“..a serious debate has begun on Council expansion. We are closer than we have been in several decades to the prospect that a formal proposal for expansion could be put to a vote... Therefore, we believe it is time to seriously consider our response,” he warned.

He then went on to give the US government its options, including doing nothing and then shooting down the reform proposals at the final stage using its Veto power.

“We have four options:

(1) avoid engagement and rely on our veto in the ratification phase to preserve our interests;
(2) delay engagement until African states begin to declare support for realistic proposals;
(3) start to engage the key players with a view to shaping where they throw their votes; and
(4) proactively articulate an American position and mobilize a coalition to support it.”

He, however, warned that actively entering the negotiations may actually serve to encourage the reforms.

“By articulating to these states the kind of expansion we could support, the United States could try to moderate their demands and mobilize their support behind our views. The risk is that such engagement could accelerate the momentum behind Council expansion in ways that we could not ultimately control,” he pointed out.

He therefore suggested that the US should enter into negotiations NOT with the aim of advancing them, but with the aim of keeping itself aware of how the talks are progressing. In fact, he warned, the US should be careful not to contribute to the advancement of the negotiations.

“[We should] enter into discussions with other member states, with an eye to monitoring how close the G-4 or other models are to reaching the two-thirds majority, and carefully and selectively testing reactions to our principles in ways that do not accelerate movement toward Council expansion,” he said.

Khalilzad then went on to point out that the veto power in the hands of the new permanent members (like India, Japan and Germany) would not be conducive to US interests.

He pointed out that the US could use the popular anger against the way the existing five members had used their veto power to prevent the new members from getting it and thereby protect the existing members’ privilege.

“We should quietly allow discontent with P-5 veto prerogatives to ensure the veto is not extended to new members while joining Russia and China in stoutly defending existing P-5 vetoes,” he said.

He also pointed out that if the US ties security council expansion to a package of other “structural reform” items such as increasing the contribution of each country to the UN budget, basing voting rights on financial contributions etc., African countries too may no longer have the appetite for it.

“..all of these would be highly controversial at the UN and that many would threaten the current base of support for the G-4 or other UNSC expansion proposals. Many of these reforms might also dissuade African states from supporting a "package" of UNSC expansion tied to structural UN reform,” he pointed out.

In addition, the US also decided to counteract efforts by others, particularly India, to move the talks out of the consensus-based working group to a voting-based intergovernmental discussion forum. As long as the discussions remained with the working group, some or the other member (such as Pakistan) always raised objections to the expansion proposals and prevented consensus.

Besides Pakistan, other members who opposed bringing in new permanent members were Italy and Spain (Germany’s neighbours,) Argentina (Brazil’s neighbour,) South Korea (Japan’s neighbour) and Mexico.

Some of the above countries seemed to be in touch with the US in their efforts to delay the reform process as much as possible. In a cable written in October 2008, the Korean ambassador to the UN, In-kook Park, thanked the US ambassador for pressurizing the chairman of the negotiations not to step on the gas-pedal.

“Ambassador Park [of Korea] thanked Ambassador Khalilzad in an October 24 bilateral meeting for his first-hand involvement in pressing the UN General Assembly President (PGA) to not accelerate the timeline for the start of security Council reform intergovernmental negotiations,” the cable pointed out.

Despite all the strategizing and efforts by the US; the G4 alliance -- India, Germany, Brazil and Japan -- would ultimately succeed in taking the talks forward and out of the consensus mode to the voting mode the next year (2008.)

They would also succeed in making it ‘text-based’ in 2010, overcoming stiff opposition from Pakistan, Italy and others.

It must also be noted that the US policy with regard to the candidacy of India, Japan and others slightly softened after the election of Obama. Immediately after taking office, Susan Rice, the new US ambassador to the UN nominated by Obama, re-articulated the US’ position on security council expansion in April 2009.

Instead of stating that the US supported only Japan’s inclusion as a permanent member, she said that the Council should “reflect the current realities of the 21st century.”

Other points, such as not giving up the veto as demanded by the overwhelming majority of the UN members, remained the same.

Besides the US, China and Russia looked upon the membership of countries like India, Brazil and others with suspicion, according to the Wikileaks cables.

However, the UK and France, the other two permanent members, were lobbying with them to bring in Germany, India, Brazil and Japan as full-fledged permanent members with veto powers.

However, the French ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert worried in a private meeting with US officials about whether the new members should be elected or selected, pointing out that India may not win the election due to the religion factor.

“Ripert suggested that he thought Japan and Brazil would easily win election for intermediate seats but was not as positive about Germany beating out Italy or India defeating Pakistan, given the strength at the UN of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC),” says a cable written in April 2009.

The intergovernmental talks are still going on. India has won endorsement from four of the five permanent members for its candidature for the permanent seat. China, however, continues to hold out.

However, except for UK and France, the other three permanent members do not want India and the other new permanent members to have all the powers of the existing permanent members. They want to create a new class of less powerful permanent members, without powers such as the veto.

Despite efforts to split the alliance, the G4 continue to be united. In the latest effort, China yesterday told Indian communist party leader Sitaram Yechury that it would support India’s candidacy if India would stop allying with Japan -- its tormentor during the second World War.


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