29 August 2016

Elect the Council: Global Security Needs a reformed UN Security Council

The new selection procedure for the UN Secretary-General shows that, after all, reforms of the United Nations are possible. In a series of guest articles, representatives from politics, science and civil society answer to the question: If you could change one thing about the functioning of the UN, what would it be? Today: Jakkie Cilliers and Nicole Fritz. (To the start of the series.)

“Absent reform of its composition and working, a Security Council without legitimacy faces the risk to be swept aside.”
Global citizenry has a very real, vested interest in securing effective, coordinated response to address global security threats. Left unchecked, terrorism, global health epidemics, material resource scarcity, climate change and cybercrime will immiserate lives, putting human security and rights at risk and reversing the gains of the last half century. An interconnected world facing these threats requires an effective, authoritative United Nations Security Council (UNSC). But a UNSC without legitimacy, without credibility – absent reform of its current composition and working – faces the risk that it will be swept aside, required to compete with other ostensible centres of power or, at worst, entirely disregarded.

The Elect the Council initiative (EtC), now slightly more than two years young, is a project of the Institute for Security Studies, a leading African think tank in human security matters. It proposes the establishment of a broad alliance of interested parties to push for UNSC reform: civil society, NGOs, business, academics and like-minded states all understanding that coordinated global leadership is required to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, and that that leadership is required to be fair, representative and effective and recognising that governments alone have thus far been unable to secure such reform.

Building a broad alliance of reformers

We recognise that a reformed UNSC is not itself a guarantee of a more effective institution. Practically, reform requires sensitivity for the need to balance concerns about effectiveness with the dire representation deficit in the composition in the UNSC, whilst acknowledging the realities of the distribution of power in the 21st century. Nor will reform efforts be able to ignore the lessons learnt from the history of the UNSC over the last 70 years.

But a reform process involving advocacy by a broad alliance of like-minded individuals and entities, and close monitoring thereafter by such an alliance, is likely to condition a more transparent and accountable process and states more receptive of and sensitive to what appears to the alliance to be threats to international peace and security. If successful, such a campaign would increase the political costs to individual states of being seen to ignore the alliance’s concerns.

A detailed proposal

There have been innumerable efforts at reform of the UNSC over successive decades. With the exception of the enlargement of the non-permanent category of members in 1965, no effort has borne fruit and there is little prospect for success through the ongoing intergovernmental negotiations process under the auspices of the UN General Assembly in New York. Negotiations are stuck between irreconcilable national positions. The lack of legitimacy of the Council translates into an inability to reform other UN institutions and the steady attrition in the effectiveness of the UN system in general.

EtC is detailed and specific since this is an area where ‘in principal’ support of reform is dashed on the shores of detail and where many states hide behind this disagreement, being quite comfortable with the status quo since it affords them free rider status. The principles that inform EtC are as follows:

Global powers must be represented in the Council

1. Not all states are equal in their role and potential contribution to peace and security and a future UNSC needs to reflect the emerging distribution of power. Long-term forecasts of power using a combination of alternative metrics all indicate a three-tiered global structure consisting of two (eventually three) global powers (USA, China and eventually India) with a very large gap between them and other states including Brazil, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Turkey, Russia, Germany, United Kingdom, France, etc. An integrated EU could, of course, also qualify to sit at the high table of global powers.

The majority of states are much lower down in the power stakes, constituting a third cluster. Given this huge disparity EtC takes the view that the top tier of global powers must be included on a reformed Council. A Council without these global powers could be ignored or bypassed. We therefore provide for a category where states (or coalitions of states) that have 6% of global GDP, 6% of global defence expenditure and 3% of global population automatically qualify to serve on the Council while they meet all three these criteria. These states/groups also have enhanced voting powers in that each of their votes will count for 3 votes.

Equitable representation of all world regions

2. In a complex world the UN is increasingly working with and through regional organisations and necessarily aligning its interests with regional powers who play an important role in their respective geographical space. We therefore provide for a category of regional powers, consisting of states that are elected to serve on the UNSC for an immediately renewable term of five years. Each of the five electoral regions that currently elect the non-permanent members of the UNSC would elect one regional state for every 22 of its members.

3. A third category of 16 rotational seats completes the composition of the Council. Each region would be entitled to elect two states to the UNSC for every 22 of its members. These seats are not immediately renewable and states serve for a three-year term. In this manner the Council would ensure proportional representation of all regions on an equitable basis.

4. Together with the other two categories of seats a reformed UNSC will therefore consist of 24 elected countries plus two or three global powers.

A 20-year interim period

5. EtC proposes to do away with permanent seats (and the veto) and move towards a normalization of the Council in a phased manner over a 20 year interim period. In this manner the composition and working of the UNSC would follow the larger global shifts in power distribution currently unfolding. During the 20-year interim period the current P5 would remain members of the Council with enhanced voting rights, but no veto, and the Council would additionally consist of 16 states elected for three years at a time (as set out earlier) and five five-year elected seats (instead of the eight five-year elected seats in the final, reformed Council).

This is because four of the P5 (China, the UK/France and Russia) already serve within three respective electoral regions. After the 20 year interim period the number of states elected for five years would increase to eight.

Minimum requirements for UNSC members

6. The UNSC is the only executive and legislative body entrusted with ensuring international peace and security. States that serve on the Council should therefore have the resources, experience and global representation to make a meaningful contribution to peace and security. To this end we propose four baseline or minimum requirements – although we believe that these criteria best be left to the electoral regions to enforce as they see fit.

These criteria are: (a) experience and capacity; (b) in financial good standing with the UN and its agencies; (c) willingness to shoulder additional financial contributions to UN efforts on international peace and security, as determined by the UNGA; and (d) respect for open, inclusive and accountable governance, the rule of law and international human rights standards.

Restoring the legitimacy of the Council

7. Similar to current arrangements, regions would nominate states for the 24 elected seats but actual voting would occur within the General Assembly. This arrangement would allow each region to manage its electoral processes according to its own preferences – these could be competitive/elective or rotational.

8. By adopting a system of proportional representation for an expanded Council the membership would allow for a more equitable representation of states on behalf of their regions and restore the legitimacy of the UN and the Council. In addition, the category of elected regional powers should change the dynamic between regional powers and other states within the region. Groups of states with specific representative requirements, such as the Arab group and Small Island and Development States (SIDS) would be encouraged to see cross-grouping arrangements to ensure appropriate representation in a reformed Council.

Incentives for the P5

9. It is important to create incentives within the P5 to change. In a reformed Council the vote of all elected states would count for one while the vote of global powers/groups will count for three votes. During the 20-year transition period the votes of the P5 would initially each count for five (years 1 to 5); then four (years 5 to 10); then three (years 11 to 15); and eventually two (years 16 to 20) – but with the understanding that the votes of those states who meet the global powers criteria (population, GDP and military expenditure) would never count for less than three.

10. It is important to remove obstacles that could block progress. We propose that the current UNSC define up to five specific issues which could be placed on ice. These five issues would not attract additional Chapter VII resolutions for a period of 20 years after the adoption of the enabling UNGA resolution to amend the UN Charter, beyond the maintenance or termination of existing decisions. An example could be US insistence on matters affecting Israel/Palestine or even consideration of the South China Sea impasse. In this manner contentious issues that block reform could be removed from the agenda of a reformed UNSC.

Breaking procedural deadlocks

11. The establishment of a regular review process of the UNSC would allow the opportunity for future improvements as may be appropriate and avoid a recurrence of the current impasse. A mandatory periodic review of the UNSC would therefore be included in the amendment to the UN Charter, occurring every 30 years.

12. In all of the above, the amended UN Charter would include procedures to avoid that the Council is held hostage through procedural matters by a handful of members. In this manner outstanding issues such as the finalization of the rules of procedure (which are still provisional) should be able to proceed apace. The UN General Assembly and the International Court of Justice would serve to break procedural deadlocks as appropriate.

13. These proposals would be contained in a single amendment to the UN Charter.

Elect the Council: going forward

By mid 2016 EtC had presented and discussed various versions of these proposals in meetings, with civil society, think tanks and often governments in Berlin, Brussels, London, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Oslo, Stockholm, Nairobi, Abuja, Seoul, New Delhi, Addis Ababa, Ankara, New York, Beijing, etc.

Going forward, EtC hopes to assemble a formal coalition of individuals and groups to campaign for UNSC reform, hosting preliminary meetings to refine and agree upon the specific mechanics of reform.

Dr Jakkie Cilliers is the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Institute for Security Studies and head of African Futures and Innovation at the Pretoria office of the ISS. He is an Extraordinary Professor in the Centre of Human Rights and the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria and serves on the editorial boards of the African Security Review and the South African Journal of International Affairs.

Nicole Fritz is the founding Executive Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and an honorary lecturer at the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria and at the University of Witwatersrand’s School of Law. She sits on the board of the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) and is currently working as a consultant for Elect the Council.

Pictures: By Gobierno de Chile [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons; private; private.

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