Forging a new horse shoe

For the first time, there is a draft resolution with the largest possible consensus on expanding the Security Council. It needs to be put to vote in the General Assembly

March 05, 2013 12:23 am | Updated October 22, 2016 12:20 pm IST

130305 lead - UNSC Reform
05edpage sketch

130305 lead - UNSC Reform 05edpage sketch

In a debate on Security Council reform last year, a Russian representative assertively stated: “We deserve to be there because we won it in our history on the battlefield.” I had then quipped that if ‘to the victor belong the spoils’ is the criteria cast in stone for a seat on the high table, the battlefield now is fundamentally different from 1945. If, on the other hand, a ‘third world war’ is required to reform the horse shoe, this time around the victors will emerge from the size of their economies. The two European permanent members appeared worried then!

I cite this only to illustrate that our quest for seeking reform of the Council must never underestimate the challenges we confront.

The P-5 club

First, the exclusive P-5 (Permanent Five) club. Theirs is an entrenched reluctance to share the high table with others and, from their perspective, understandably so. Presently, at least two of them would be hard put to justify their privileged position. Frequently, the P-5 mouth platitudes to please the aspirants, even whilst their negotiators at the United Nations do whatever it takes to hold back progress. Clearly, whenever we move, we would need to hold them to the public pronouncements of their leaders and try to get at least three of them on board. In the end, whenever the vote eventually takes place they could still be on the opposing side, as in 1963, when the first expansion took place.

Second, the UfC or the Coffee Club countries which at best total 10-11, including our neighbour on the west, along with Italy and a few others. Secure in the knowledge that they would never make it to the expanded setting, they work overtime to create fissures and stall forward movement to keep the house divided.

Before examining how critically close we are today, one needs to address the cynics in our own system, who question both our credentials and the need for permanent membership. Being on the Security Council is no longer an option or a luxury for India. It is an absolute imperative. The vast expanse of issues on the Council’s plate has transcended its traditional mandate of international peace and security to practically all matters of critical importance including climate change, access to mineral resources, illicit flow of arms/drugs, non-proliferation and even HIV/AIDS. Not joining the pool of ‘chefs’ preparing the global menu could result in ending up on the menu itself!

Need for 128 votes

For Security Council reform to take place, a minimum of 128 votes will be required in the General Assembly on a resolution calling for expansion in both the categories. In a subsequent phase, individual countries would have to demonstrate their ability to garner 128 votes for their candidatures. Ratification by legislatures of member states would then make possible the Charter amendment.

Why is the present juncture a make or break scenario?

In March 2009, we succeeded in upgrading to an Intergovernmental Negotiation (IGN) process. In December 2009, led by India, Brazil and others, we organised a letter signed by 140 countries to the Chair of IGN, resulting in text based negotiations. After eight rounds of negotiations in the IGN, we now have the basis for a text and a formal draft resolution from the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) which could be put to vote!

African Group

The biggest and ‘most difficult’ group to get on board was the 53 strong African Group, represented through the C-10 (a group of 10 African countries chaired by Sierra Leone to negotiate UNSC reform on behalf of Africa). Bonded by the ‘Ezulwini Consensus,’ a maximalist position demanding two permanent and two non-permanent seats for Africa with a veto, their claim is based in the rationale that 80 per cent of UNSC’s work is focused on Africa, and yet they do not have permanent membership.

Another critical stakeholder, a group of 40 developing countries, the L69 (known by the Resolution Number-L69 of 2008, it includes India, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria in addition to 14 African members, CARICOM and Small Island Developing States) has also been proactively pushing for early reforms of the Council.

Through a process of painstakingly long and difficult negotiations, a convergence has now been achieved between the African Group (C10) and L69 on a common draft resolution that seeks to expand the Security Council. By end December 2012, we had an agreement on a common text. This awaits formal endorsement through a ministerial meeting scheduled for April 2013.

In the interim, CARICOM heads of states/governments met in Haiti on 18-19 February 2013 and instructed their negotiators to “press forward with urgency.” To everyone's surprise and collective delight, the CARICOM chair issued a draft resolution, broadly along the lines of the L69-C-10 text, and called for consultations.

It is the best possible assimilation of a comprehensive approach, as repeatedly articulated in the IGN. It would take the UNSC membership to 27, with two permanent and two additional non-permanent seats for Africa, two additional permanent and one non-permanent seat for Asia, one permanent seat for Western Europe (WEOG), one non-permanent seat each for Eastern Europe & Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and one permanent and one non-permanent seat for Latin America and Caribbean States.

On the question of veto, it makes no distinction between existing and new permanent members. This provides an excellent basis to begin the negotiations for a final vote. Given the three double vetoes on Syria last year, the mainstream view is that a ‘veto restraint agreement’ is the need of the hour.

Therein lies the convergence with the G4 — the other big player in the UNSC reform process, which would also bring Germany and Japan to join this resolution, hopefully sooner than later.

The time to act, therefore, is now. We have before us, for the first time, a draft resolution on which the largest possible consensus could be achieved. It needs to be put to a vote on the floor of the General Assembly. Governments are risk averse at the best of times and South Block is no exception. A considered call will have to be made.

First expansion

There is only one precedent for such a vote. In 1963, when the first expansion occurred, the voting sheet read: 97- Yes, 11-No and 4-abstentions. The United States and the United Kingdom abstained, USSR and France voted against, and Taiwan voted in favour. History will most likely repeat itself, as it often does.

We need to draw inspiration from the African Asian solidarity prevailing in 1963 that brought about that decisive change, and recall what the Indian delegate, Mr. Mishra had then said in that historic debate: “At the beginning of the session, it was difficult to imagine the way in which things would move, and there were cynics among us who until even a few days ago thought that we were engaged in fruitless discussions. The negotiations have been successful because the African Asian delegations were solid on this question. Their solidarity did not come out of any desire ... to gang up against other delegations in the Assembly. It was born out the belief of the African Asian delegations that their cause was just and the time was ripe...”

(Hardeep S. Puri was the Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations in New York)

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