- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

NEW YORK — If there is one thing on which almost every member nation can agree, it’s that the composition of the U.N. Security Council is about 40 years out of date.

If there is another thing on which they can agree, Edward Luck hasn’t heard it.

“I just don’t see the political will to make these collective decisions,” said Mr. Luck, director of the Center on International Organizations at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He has been studying council expansion since 1996. “I’m just not optimistic that the time is here.”

His shortage of optimism about this is echoed by diplomats at the United Nations, where endless meetings and private discussions underscore the divergence of opinions, rather than agreement, on how to enlarge the current Security Council makeup of five permanent members and 10 temporary ones.

Reflecting reality now

How many new seats are necessary to reflect 21st-century geopolitics? Should new Security Council members have the veto? What criteria should be used to select U.N. members eager to sit at the big horseshoe table?

Also, how can an even larger body be made responsible for maintaining international peace and security, authorizing peacekeeping missions and imposing sanctions in ways more transparent, accountable and efficient?

Many diplomats voice disappointment that the discussions have centered on membership, rather than process.

“Singapore would like to see the reform be more comprehensive than just this expansion,” said Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon. “We want to see the working methods examined. We would like members to be accountable” to the entire U.N. membership.

U.S. may offer plan

Proposals circulated by governments, U.N. staff and nongovernmental organizations praise transparency and accountability, but few offer suggestions on how to achieve it.

The United States, as early as tomorrow, could circulate a proposal for council expansion by two permanent seats and no more than three elected positions. None of the new members would have a veto and, in a break from iron tradition, they would be selected on criteria other than geography.

The U.S. plan, discussed by State Department officials on Thursday, would tap Japan and an unidentified developing nation for permanent seats. All new members would be elected based on their commitment to democracy and human rights as well as financial and military contributions to peacekeeping and other U.N. efforts.

“The debate, until this date, has largely been predicated on the geographic factors, and we think there should be a wider debate that would include a discussion of all these criteria,” R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said Thursday.

‘Not just geography’

If Washington’s plan gains acceptance and the lobbying has not begun, it would compete with a draft General Assembly resolution first circulated in November by the “Group of Four,” as Japan, Germany, Brazil and India call themselves.

The G-4 would effectively install themselves and two unidentified African nations in permanent Security Council seats, and create positions for another four elected members. That would bring to 25 the number of nations around the table, which could be unwieldy even if no extra vetoes are awarded.

Another formula under discussion would create a “super-elected” class of council members. These countries would be elected for longer, renewable terms, meaning in theory that a nation could become a de facto permanent member, but without the veto.

Enthusiasm wanes

The drive to modernize and expand the 15-member council, so strong only three months ago, appears to have stalled as governments grapple with the reality of picking candidates for the most coveted seats in diplomacy.

Under the U.N. Charter, the Security Council has primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. It authorizes peacekeeping missions, imposes sanctions and issues warnings to governments and militias in conflict. The council has also created an international counterterrorism committee.

With such high stakes, some nations are campaigning actively, while others are hanging back before deciding which way to throw their support.

With less than three months to go before the September summit, it appears that council expansion, the centerpiece of U.N. reform, will remain unresolved.

The appearance of the U.S. plan after six months of discussion is unlikely to clarify the process, some diplomats said Friday. Few members were ready to weigh in on it.

G-4 proposal opposed

More than 100 nations, mostly the midsize regional powers, are said to oppose the G-4 plan, though not all for the same reasons. For example, Canada, Chile and Australia are uncomfortable with language that gives new permanent members a veto, but not the right to use it for at least 15 years.

Italy, Argentina and Pakistan, which aspire to permanent council seats, oppose the G-4 draft because it favors rivals.

No front-runners are from Africa, even though more than three-quarters of the Security Council’s time is spent on conflicts on that continent.

Africa is the only regional group trying to find consensus on which of its countries to put forward to represent the continent. Announced aspirants include Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa and Senegal. All are active in U.N. and regional affairs, and are among the most significant contributors from Africa.

History of expansion

U.N. members have been talking about modernizing the Security Council for nearly 60 years.

When the United Nations was founded in 1945, three victors of World War II — the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union — decided they would be permanent council members. They added France and China as victors by alliance.

Six more seats were filled by nations on two-year terms and distributed around the globe. That U.N. makeup stood for 20 years.

Expanding the council means changing the U.N. Charter, an international treaty whose every amendment requires a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly and ratification by all states including the permanent Security Council members.

In 1963, the United Nations, which had grown since 1945 by more than a third, decided to expand the Security Council by four nonpermanent seats. That took two years.

A replay of 1963?

U.N. specialists say the new seats were the result of a confluence of events: Decolonization in Africa created new nations eager for a voice; a hardening of Cold War positions meant a scramble to curry favor with nonaligned countries; and a change of heart by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who initially ordered the U.S. Mission to the United Nations to vote against expansion in the General Assembly, but eventually sent the bill to the Senate for ratification.

In addition, a parallel expansion of the Economic and Social Council absorbed some of the overflow of ambition.

“People say, if you could do it then, why can’t you do it now?” asked Mr. Luck, who points to the Bush administration’s distaste for compromise and Washington’s “deep isolation” as impediments.

Many diplomats say privately that the United States will be a “driver” of the coming discussion, though one that rides the brakes rather than the accelerator.

It’s a ‘unipolar world’

“Today we live in a unipolar world, and Washington certainly recognizes that,” said an Asian diplomat. Referring to the controversy over the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which was not authorized by the Security Council, he added: “I am sure the Bush administration views council reform as a U.N. plot to curb its power. And it may not be wrong.”

For most developing countries, the best argument for expanding the Security Council is the need to make it more inclusive and more representative, to raise its credibility.

Under that argument, the U.S. suggestion to include only “good global citizens” might add gravitas to the council’s word, or it might marginalize the body among the more autocratic states so frequently subject to its gaze.

The surprise spoiler to emerge so far has been China — usually the mellowest of the five permanent council members. Beijing decided months ago to oppose Tokyo’s bid for a permanent seat, and has effectively slowed consideration of the whole expansion process.

“This is a very important decision, and we must not let it divide member states,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya told The Washington Times. “I believe the secretary-general is also backing off a bit.”

“There is a lot of pressure,” said one diplomat whose country is publicly undeclared. “Lots of aid and investment in the air, some promises of support on sensitive issues. We’re being lobbied every day. … It’s very intense.”

U.N. officials, including Sweden’s former ambassador to Washington, Jan Eliasson, the incoming president of the General Assembly, refuse to discuss the matter publicly, saying diplomacy is best practiced in a soft voice.

The world body again will take up the question of U.N. reform and Security Council expansion tomorrow with two weeks of mostly closed-door discussions.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide