Reform eludes UN Security Council

The framework document adopted at the General Assembly did not break the impasse on reforms, but brought some clarity as to who was on which side. It also became clear that any plan to introduce a substantial draft resolution in the next session would be futile.

September 17, 2015 01:12 am | Updated 07:39 am IST

The adoption by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) of a consensus resolution for beginning discussions at the Intergovernmental Negotiations Group (ING) on the basis of a framework document has been hailed as historic and path-breaking, but, in actual fact, the UN has not moved anywhere closer to an agreement on reform. The proposal should have been routinely adopted, coming as it did from the president of the General Assembly. Sam Kutesa, the outgoing President of the General Assembly had circulated the framework document at the end of July 2015 after extensive consultations, to serve as a sound basis for the next stage of consultations at the next session. He claimed that it was developed through an “inclusive and transparent process”, which included written submissions.

T. P. Sreenivasan

Trouble arose when some powerful states and groups made submissions, but insisted that their proposals not be included in the framework document. As a result, the president had to prepare his text in two parts, one containing collated views of a number of member states and another reproducing the letters of others.

The document revealed, not for the first time, that the positions of member states remained as wide apart as before and that there was not an iota of hope that a meeting point could be found during the 70th anniversary and beyond.

Opposition to expanison

Many countries, particularly small and middle powers, submitted detailed opinions on each of the specific points on which ideas were sought, such as categories of membership, veto, regional representation, size of the enlarged Council and its working methods and the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly. France and the U.K. made their submissions and their views were reflected in the document.

The setback to the whole exercise came from China, Russia, the U.S. and some others, including the Uniting for Consensus Group (opponents of expansion) when they expressed their opinions in vague, but negative terms and kept out of the framework document. This meant that they would prefer the negotiations to continue in the Intergovernmental Negotiations Group without a text at a snail’s pace.

The substance of the positions of China, Russia and the U.S. came as a shock to India and others, who had believed that they had the support of these countries in one form or another. China declared that the time had not come for any serious negotiations, but it would support necessary and reasonable reform, with greater representation for developing countries. Russia was equally vague and supported “any reasonable option of expanding the Council”, but without any change in the veto. The U.S. favoured a “modest expansion”, without supporting any formula under consideration and no alteration or expansion of the veto. Unlike France and the U.K., these countries made no mention of their support to India as a permanent member. Although the U.S. and Russia later said that there was no change in their position of support to India, their written submissions revealed that their support had no practical value.

Among the permanent members, France was the closest to the Indian position, favouring the inclusion of India, Brazil, Japan and Germany (G-4) and an African representative as permanent members and expansion of the non-permanent category of members. France even expressed no objection to the veto power being extended to the new permanent members. The U.K. supported G-4 as the new permanent members, but without veto.

The positions of China, Russia and the U.S. cast a gloom on the G-4, which proposed a draft resolution to remit the framework document to the ING, under its new chairman, Ambassador Courtenay Rattray of Jamaica. China spread a rumour that it would seek amendments to the draft and even press for a vote. But in the end, China decided to join the consensus to commence text-based discussions, even though it had made clear that the time was not ripe for specific formulations.

The latest decision of the 69th session of the General Assembly did not amount to any change in the impasse on reform of the Security Council, but brought some clarity as to who was on which side. It also became clear that any plan to introduce a substantial draft resolution in the 70th session would be futile. The G-4 or any other group does not have the votes to get a resolution adopted by the General Assembly even to pressurise the Security Council to consider a concrete proposal. The compiled views in the framework document did not show any convergence even within the various groups outside the P-5. A G-4 diplomat told me in New York that the framework document was not likely to add any momentum to the negotiations. It would only ensure that the debate would go on for many more years without any result. The numerous paragraphs within brackets will remain in the text for long. The apparent progress in moving to text based negotiations is illusory. It is the lack of political will that has inhibited progress, not the lack of drafting skills.

India and the G-4 have exhausted all the arguments in favour of expansion and they have to be more and more inventive in promoting their proposals. They have already made a compromise on the veto, the claim to which would be suspended for fifteen years or so. The next step will be to accept anything less than permanent membership, such as extended non-permanent terms, subject to re-election every five years or more. The only achievement that they can boast of is the support of France and U.K., but it can melt away as part of a P-5 consensus at very short notice.

G-4 has so far maintained a façade of unity, but each of them may be amenable to bilateral deals if any one of them becomes a liability for the other three. Germany has already toned down its demand for permanent membership because of over representation of Europe. This may well be the motive for France and U.K. also to support G-4.

They may feel that a limited expansion by way of some additions now may be better for Europe than confronting a proposal for a thorough reorganisation of the Security Council later. Japan is clearly a liability because of the open opposition by China. India and Brazil too have opposition from their regions, but nothing serious to block their entry in the event of a settlement.

India’s claim to membership

India has upgraded its claim to “right” and remained the leader of G-4. But there is a section of opinion that India’s position on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its border “disputes” with Pakistan and China might be impediments to its permanent membership. The India-U.S. nuclear deal was expected to give de facto recognition to India’s nuclear status, but its non-NPT status came in the way of its entering the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). No amount of extra effort by India can resolve the NPT, Pakistan and China issues in a hurry. But the expansion of the Security Council is not contingent on any action of omission or commission on the part of India and so there is no particular pressure on India to relent on these issues.

More than 34 years of struggle with the issue of “equitable representation” in the Security Council has not brought us any closer to an expansion of the Council. An Indian Foreign Secretary had once remarked that India had the choice of either acquiring real power through the manufacture of nuclear weapons or pursuing illusory power by seeking to become a permanent member of the Security Council. Having acquired real power, India could as well give up the pursuit of illusory power, he had said. But in keeping with the present Government’s “power push”, our quest for permanent membership will continue. But the best we can get, if at all, may be a semi-permanent status, requiring us to get elected every few years.

As for the UN itself, reform of the Security Council is an existential requirement for the organisation. If it resists all proposals for change in the years to come, there is a real risk of the UN being sidelined or rival organisations taking over its agenda. Therefore, it is likely that some changes would be accommodated on the basis of one of the two alternatives proposed by Kofi Annan in his report, ‘In Larger Freedom’ in March 2005. According to this plan, there would be no new permanent seats, but a new category of eight four-year renewable term seats and one new two-year non-permanent (and non-renewable) seat to be divided among the various regional groups. The plan would continue to be unacceptable to India and some others, but it might well be the lowest common denominator to be tried out. But what the UN requires is not a fix like that, but a fundamental change to reflect the realities of the present century.

(T.P. Sreenivasan, who was a counsellor (1980-83) and the Deputy Permenent Representative (1992-95) in the Indian Mission to the UN, New York, was at the UN recently for a conference.)

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