Global Policy Forum

UN Launches Talks to Expand Security Council


By Patrick Worsnip

February 19, 2009

After a decade and a half of backroom argument, the world's nations launched full negotiations on Thursday to expand the powerful 15-nation U.N. Security Council to reflect present-day realities. Diplomats said the negotiations among the 192 U.N. member states were likely to stretch at least into next year and might not come up with a definitive solution even then. The council, authorized by the U.N. charter to impose sanctions and dispatch peacekeeping forces, currently has five permanent veto-holding members -- the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China. It also has 10 members with no veto power who are elected on a regional basis for two-year terms before being replaced by others. The number was set in 1965, after standing at six since the United Nations was founded after World War Two. Developing countries have long resented the clout of the veto-holders on the council, whose composition stems from the post-war balance of power. Most nations agree the body needs to be enlarged, but there is no consensus on how. The negotiations, chaired by Afghan Ambassador Zahir Tanin, got off to a low-key start with a closed meeting at which member state ambassadors discussed procedural issues. Substantive negotiations will begin in March, officials said. A world summit in 2005 said reform of the Security Council would make it "more broadly representative, efficient and transparent and thus ... further enhance its effectiveness and the legitimacy and implementation of its decisions." But regional rivalries and a concern by the big powers that their preeminence should not be diluted are likely to drag out the talks on key details of how to achieve that goal. Numerous plans have been put forward in the past, differing over how many new seats should be added, who should have them, whether they should be permanent, semipermanent or time-limited and which, if any, new states should get the veto.


But Ambassador Thomas Matussek of Germany, one of several countries bidding for a permanent seat, said he believed there was now more chance of a result because of demands for "global governance" as a result of the world financial crisis. "The question is, do you want this world run by G13, G15, G20, or do you want it run by the only legitimate global institution we have? And that is the U.N.," he told reporters. One proposal that has long been discussed would give Germany, Japan, India, Brazil and two African states permanent seats but without an immediate right of veto. There would also be four new nonpermanent seats from around the world. A rival plan would add 10 nonpermanent seats and is backed by, among others, Italy and Pakistan, reluctant to see Germany and India respectively get permanent seats. Addressing the meeting, Italian Ambassador Giulio Terzi stressed the principle of "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed." Many other variants have been suggested. The former U.S. Bush administration said it supported permanent membership for Japan and possibly unnamed others, but Tokyo's cause has run into opposition from China and South Korea. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice suggested the Obama administration had yet to firm up its view, telling the meeting it favored expansion "in a way that will not diminish (the council's) effectiveness or its efficiency." The ambassadors of France and Britain pushed their governments' suggestion of seeking a quicker result through a temporary fix that would be revisited after a few years. A U.N. working group on the issue said last year: "We are convinced that a 'big bang,' an all-encompassing solution, is not possible, and that only a realistic approach that allows agreement on what is achievable in the near term ... is the way to move forward." Committees began in 1994 to discuss setting up talks on expanding the council but were long bogged down in disputes on how they would work.

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