Global Policy Forum

1994 Conference - Statement by Olara Otunnu

Olara A. Otunnu
Former President, International Peace Academy 1990-98;
Member, Commission on Global Governance

Olara OtunnuThe reason and need for reform of the Security Council has already been laid before you. I see the reform as being in at least two stages. The first could be done immediately, short term. That is all that may be possible right now--something transitional to correspond to the transitional nature of our international relations. The other is more long term, possibly more radical, which may not be realized until several years down the road. Therefore, any package emerging after the present exercise, including what the Special Working Group is working on, should be a transitional package with a time frame put on it.

With regard to the composition of the Security Council during the transitional period, I will put a few ideas on the table. In my opinion, it is going to be very difficult to exclude Germany and Japan from the Security Council as permanent members. But I do not think there is the willingness right now to extend veto power to them as well. I would have no difficulties with the two being permanent members, without the veto.

I think it would be equally difficult to have Germany and Japan join as permanent members without seeking some way to redress the imbalance which will be accentuated--the North-South imbalance within the Council. At the very least during this transitional period, we would need to have what one might call "tenured members" of the Council. Those who would serve for a period longer than two years--maybe five, six or seven years--but who would not be permanent members. A possible formula would be three-plus-one. Three tenured members would be drawn from the three regions of the world which are now not represented on a permanent basis--Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia. The remaining one would be a global seat, tenured, elected on the basis of some rough standard of good UN citizenship. It would allow a number of countries, who would not necessarily belong to the three regions mentioned previously, but who contribute very actively to the purposes of the UN, to be invited to serve on this tenured basis.

Now I come to the use of the veto, which obviously has to be discussed in any context, whether it is transitional or long-term. In the long term, I am not sure what the fate of the veto is going to be. I have a feeling that it will be a major issue of discussion. As we move into a world that is more democratic (in spirit if not always in practice), the veto will increasingly be questioned. But in the transitional package, I see the veto being retained by those who now have it, for purely practical purposes. They will not cooperate on anything that prejudices their right of veto.

However, I think it is important for the Working Group to come out with a statement on the use of the veto, with a "sense of the house," which would not limit in legal terms the use of the veto but would provide very important peer pressure. It would list the kinds of situations where the veto might and might not be applied and shift the burden onto those who cast the veto to prove to the community that it is justified. This, of course, will not be satisfactory for the long term, but for the immediate future it would at least bring into focus the sense of the international community when the veto should or should not be used.

Now the other question to be asked is related to the issue of the gap between the spirit of the Charter and the letter of the Charter. This gap in one respect is getting wider and wider. The Charter typically has the Council acting when there is a threat to international peace and security. In fact, over the past few years, the Council has been preoccupied mainly with situations which threaten peace and security within the boundaries of countries. The Council began by weaving a fiction--trying to show that there was some international dimension, such as refugees flowing next door or potential regional problems. That went very far. And in some cases it arrived at a point where you could clearly not show this in any convincing way. Still, the Council proceeded to act anyway, in some cases by directly invoking Chapter 7.

The UN community must face this growing gap between what the Charter actually says and what the Council is doing in practice. Up to a point, one could argue for a flexible interpretation of the Charter. But that becomes problematic if most of what the Council does is the opposite of what the Charter actually says. At some stage, this needs to be addressed by policy makers as well as by leading scholars like Richard Falk.

Now, finally, one word about the role of the NGO's. It is very striking to me that in the area of human rights, the role of the NGO's has become exceedingly important. Every year, for the six or seven weeks that the UN Commission on Human Rights meets in Geneva, the NGO's are there in the same room, they have the right to speak, they lobby, they circulate papers, they initiate action. They do not vote but they are very much participants in what goes on. With the Rio Conference, the NGO's introduced themselves into the UN process in the area of environment and sustainable development. And I see now with the questions of women and population, NGO's are getting mobilized and being active. The one area within the entire UN spectrum, where there is a conspicuous absence of NGO input, of independent input, is in the peace and security area. That is, what the Security Council is doing. It is anomalous.

In order to make the Council more transparent and provide a broader base of participation for its work, one must begin with the member states who also have been largely excluded from the process -who often hear news of the Council from the radio or television. More members of the UN community must be involved in decision making. But also, I think, the independent members of international civil society should be brought in, so that their input can be taken into account. As well as their role of monitoring what the Council is actually doing. I think this is one of the more important items on the agenda, when we are discussing reform of the Security Council.


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