The necessity of reforming the UN Security Council

The necessity of reforming the UN Security Council

The United Nations Security Council requires holistic reform in order to confront the plethora of global challenges, including addressing violence, terrorism, refugees crises and nuclear proliferation.

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By Phillip Nyasha Fungurai

The United Nations Security Council requires holistic reform in order to confront the plethora of global challenges, including addressing violence, terrorism, refugees crises and nuclear proliferation. Such reform will buttress the UN by making it more representative, transparent, efficient; enhancing its legitimacy in taking decisions to maintain international peace and security. This analysis will explore various aspects of the Council’s actions, inaction, vetoes and the legitimacy of decisions. Such cases shall bear concrete testimony to the preeminent fact that the UN Security Council needs reform. Left un-reformed it will present a huge threat to the prospects of future global cooperation.

In the words of Nadin (2011), reform refers to improving performance and altering something for the better; reorganization, transformation and amendment. It is concerned with repairing defects and overcoming limitations in order to realize some higher state of performance or effectiveness. Working from the premise that the Council is defective, reforms should repair defects and thereby improve the Council’s effectiveness.

The UN Security Council’s current membership needs reforming as it is not representative, nor equitable. Such reform would reflect more democratic, representative voice in vetoes, decisions and resolutions towards maintaining international peace and security. Currently the Security Council is just a league of despots in which the voices of non-member states and developing countries are suffocated. Countries who make huge contributions to the UN have not also been adequately allocated power equating to their contributions. This is affirmed by Tharoor (2011), who contends that in terms of simple considerations of equity, this situation is unjust to those whose financial contributions outweigh those of four of the five permanent members. Specifically, Japan and Germany have for decades been the second- and third-largest contributors to the UN budget, at roughly 19% and 12%, respectively, while still being referred to as “enemy states” in the United Nations Charter (since the UN was set up by the victorious Allies of World War II). Further, the current Council membership denies opportunities to other states that have contributed in kind (through participation in peacekeeping operations, for example) or by size, or both, to the evolution of world affairs in the more than six decades since the organization was born. India and Brazil are notable examples of this latter case.

Furthermore, the Security Council (SC) reflects the geopolitical realities of 1945 and not of today. When the UN was founded in 1945, the Council consisted of 11 members out of a total UN membership of 51 countries; in other words, some 22% of the member states were on the Security Council. Today, there are 192 members of the UN, and only 15 members of the Council—fewer than 8%. So many more countries, both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the membership, do not feel adequately represented. Reform of the Council will set in motion progress towards elimination of the controversial veto power, especially the hidden veto. In the same light, Nahory and Paul (2005) concur that the five permanent members, with their vetoes and many special privileges, now arouse widespread criticism as a self-appointed oligarchy. Hence it is beyond any shadow of doubt that the Council is ripe for reform; reform that would stir positive global change.

As evidenced by Chapter V of the UN Charter, the Security Council’s rules of procedure remain “provisional” after nearly sixty years of operation. The Council’s influential presidency changes constantly in a monthly rotation, producing an organized confusion (Chapter V). To add to this, most of the Council’s business takes place behind closed doors, in “consultations of the whole,” away from scrutiny and accountability and lacking any record (such as minutes) that could be referenced by future members. The Council passes many resolutions but only haphazardly enforces them, fueling resistance to perceived “double standards” in its actions. It therefore makes intuitive sense to contend that only by reforming the Council can such “double standards” be averted. This is best typified by the ouster of Gadhafi and killing of civilians in the process, which goes against UN principles. Commenting on this, Chipaike (2012) opined that the Libya war was the same as the Iraqi and Afghan wars, whose other objective was the creation of conflict in the hope of making huge profits in post-conflict reconstruction, a phenomenon called “for profit war”. He further postulated that the Libya crisis was arguably initiated, covertly or otherwise, for profit making purposes. With the sixth largest oil reserves in the world, Libya became an automatic target for destabilization, especially when there is so much competition for access to African resources between the US led western block and China.

Wealth and power are determinants of membership in the Security Council. This implies that without fiscal might a nation-state can never be endorsed as a Great Power in the international system. Similarly governance of the Bretton Woods Institutions further shows the invisible hands of the great powers in international relations. According to Chigora (2011), financial institutions are used as avenues of power to exert hegemony through economic warfare (economic sanctions) on weaker states. The sanctions are a clear reflection of the wealth of big brother states who are the major funders of the institutions. They thus use this fiscal background to exercise power over weaker states and impose sanctions on them. Typical examples include sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe and Cuba by the EU. The aforementioned cases and issues with the Bretton Woods institutions are a mere reflection of the UN Security Council predicament.

The Council’s growing activities in the post-cold war era further demonstrate that the Council’s composition is not suited in dealing with pressing international realities. However, to only argue that reforming the UN is essential in addressing pressing international realities might be missing the point. Reform critiques have questioned how a reformed Security Council can address international realities in a world where powerful governments that claim to champion “freedom,” “democracy,” and “good governance,” have been known to behave despotically in the international arena, bending small states to their will and acting in violation of international law. Such powers sit in the Council and cannot be expected to solve problems that they themselves have created. This is affirmed by Nahory (2005) who postulates that, “self-interest, not democracy, motivates these membership claims and a Council loaded with more permanent members would suffer from gridlock and political sclerosis”. This is supported by Tehnis (2014) who maintains that, “Member states often argue that added members will make the Council more representative, but this is only marginally the case because adding members adds more states, with their own state interests. Such members only weakly “represent” their region or state-type (poor, island, small, etc.), since there is no system of accountability. Instead, they act primarily on the basis of their own national interest. If they are large regional hegemons, they may seek to increase their hegemony at the expense of other regional states. If they are states involved in civil conflict, they may seek to block Council remedial action (Rwanda notoriously sat on the Council during the genocide) with negative effects on many neighbors. And if they are small and weak states, they may be exposed to great power pressure, bowing often to threats or blandishments and voting according to the interests of the mighty, not the interests of regional neighbors and friends”.

Other arguments by critics of the UN Security Council are that it isn’t effective and needs to be fundamentally reformed. The loudest calls 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 reform.

Phillip Nyasha Fungurai is an independent Peace and Governance Consultant and seasoned researcher. He has substantial experience in field research, peace education, civic education and peace building training. He is also passionate about peace, governance, democracy coupled with human rights issues at national, regional and global level. He works with various civil society organizations, research institutes and development think tanks in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and across the globe. Arguments and opinions herein are the author’s personal views and thus no institution or organization should be held accountable.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


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