Useless UNSC Reforms

9 May

Sarah Khan

Since adoption of the text for negotiation of reforming the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)—a powerful executive branch of the United Nations (UN) in charge of undertaking efforts required for maintaining international security— in September 2015, the debate on the reforms has come into renewed focus. On 04 May, during a closed door session India’s UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, speaking on behalf of the Group of Four, called for Security Council’s expansion in the permanent category. Other delegates at the meeting posed a barrage of questions mainly seeking the criteria for eligibility of new permanent members if they were to be elected. At the outset, Pakistani Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi exposed the poor logic of India and its allies, saying that the G4 formula of adding more permanent seats reflected the self-serving national ambition of a few at the expense of the world body’s wider membership. The real purpose of India and G4, is self-serving as it sought six permanent seats for six privileged countries and only four seats for 182 member states of the UN.
UNSC reforms encompasses five key issues: categories of membership, the question of the veto held by the five permanent members, regional representation, the size of an enlarged Council and its working methods, and the Security Council-General Assembly relationship. Member States, regional groups and other Member State interest groupings developed different positions and proposals on how to move forward on this contested issue. The argument of many critics of the UNSC is that it isn’t effective and that it needs to be fundamentally reformed. The loudest calls for reforms come from those who believe that the inclusion of a host of new permanent members is the answer to the effectiveness deficit. Others argue that it is folly to suggest that the addition of new permanent members would amount to meaningful reforms Perhaps, the most well recited argument for an expanded Council (with up to six new permanent seats) is the argument that the Council does not reflect contemporary power realities and should therefore be reformed to reflect the so-called new realities of the 21st Century.
Presently there are two different proposals for UNSC reforms. One proposed change is to admit more permanent members and other calls for more non-permanent members. In 2005, five UN member countries, Italy, Argentina, Canada, Colombia and Pakistan, representing a larger group of countries called Uniting for Consensus, proposed to the General Assembly to maintain five permanent members and raise the number of non-permanent members to 20. Proponents of more permanent members are usually referred as G4. The candidates usually mentioned are Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan. They mutually support one another’s bids for permanent seats. The United Kingdom, France and Russia support G4 membership in the UNSC. This sort of reform has traditionally been opposed by the Uniting for Consensus group, which is composed primarily of nations who are regional rivals and economic competitors of the G4. The group is led by Italy and Spain (opposing Germany), Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina (opposing Brazil), Pakistan (opposing India), and South Korea (opposing Japan).
It is clear that aspirant countries understand the value of permanent membership, each has an interest in their own election and each uses the rhetoric of representativeness in support of their claims. Adding India, Brazil, Germany, Japan, South Africa and Nigeria is not an exercise in representativeness, nor is it an act of dispersing power. The aspirants claim that they are representative of their region, but in reality all G4 states are not true representatives of their respective regions. Rather they have conflicts with many neighboring states in the region which are raising concerns over their candidature for permanent membership of UNSC.
These regional powers, the so-called ‘heavy lifters’ (the largest countries in terms of economy, population and military power) claim that their membership of Security Council will help in improving the outcomes. This was the original rationale for the institutionalized privilege afforded the five veto wielding permanent members. The expectation was that permanent members would contribute more to the maintenance of international peace and security. But the events of last two decades and invasion of many countries outside the UN mandate suggest that permanent members only sought their own national interests.
In the past many of the smaller countries have been the real innovators, because they understand their limitations, they tend to carve out a niche in the Council’s agenda, and often contribute through the power of the better argument. The Arria Formula (Diego Arria of Venezuela), the refinement of the Panel of Experts (Robert Fowler of Canada), and even the concept of peacekeeping (Lester B. Pearson of Canada) were all suggestions of smaller powers. Infact, Pakistan is the largest contributor to UN Peacekeeping missions and it is the only country which has hosted millions of Afghan refugees since decades. India, Brazil, Japan, and Germany are all global economic heavyweights, but they have not contributed anything substantial for UN missions and mandate. Even the US, the so called champion of peace and security has never contributed for UN missions in terms of men or material.
The old adage “whether elephants make love or make war, the grass gets trampled” is an expression that applies to the concern held by many smaller countries. Their fear is that if six new permanent seats are created, they will be cut out of decision-making and their creativity will be lost to the Council. The Security Council is facing a deadlock on many issues due to differences among the existing permanent members. Adding new permanent members will cause complete paralysis of Security Council. The expansion of UNSC will only aggravate regional tensions instead of resolving emrging crises. The so called heavy lifter (G4) will only be looking after their own interest at the expense of other regional states. Foregoing in view, it is suggested that the objective of the Security Council expansion should be to respond to the concerns and “aspirations of all, not just a few”. Before presenting proposals for reforms the G4 must address serious legal and logical loopholes in their position.
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