The key to Security Council reform

2012-09-15 12:09

South Africa has focused on enhancing its regional and international profile.

Key among these efforts has been its position on the need for UN Security Council reform.

International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s lecture at the University of Pretoria this week on South Africa’s foreign policy prioritised this issue.

This is in line with similar views from the department historically, but particularly since South ­Africa assumed its second term as a non-permanent member on the UN Security Council in January 2011.

On the basis of the 2005 Ezulwini Consensus, South Africa has strongly espoused the African position that argues reform should redress historical injustices to represent the current ­global order better.

It lobbied for two permanent seats with the ­veto for Africa and five ­non-permanent seats.

Africa now constitutes 1 billion of the earth’s 7 billion inhabitants and is the subject of the council’s agenda 75% of the time. It is showing bullish economic growth rooted in its immense ­resource wealth.

These reasons support greater representation of Africa and its issues on the world’s pre-eminent multilateral platform.

There is very little clarity on South Africa’s strategy of engagement on this particular foreign policy imperative during its current term at the council, nor how it will be pursued afterwards. The minister has focused on ­increased representation, but does not suggest how the council might achieve such reform, or achieve a more equitable representation of the global order.

This is crucial in a dynamic and shifting political milieu.

South Africa’s current term on the council closes in December, and seeking Security Council reform is akin to fighting a losing battle because the very nature of the permanent seats and veto power stymie any action that would seek to remove the veto.

The broad consensus is an approach that supports the removal of the veto is bound to be stillborn. Incremental reform is likely the most practical approach – to sell the P5 and reform-minded countries first on some smaller reforms, such as expanding the number of non-permanent seats, and then gradually building on these gains.

South Africa will again bid for a non-permanent seat once the mandatory one-year wait ends. But beyond this, if Pretoria is serious about realistic action, it will need to formulate a concrete strategic approach to Security Council reform that Africa and the rest of the world can rally behind.

» Otto is a researcher on the SA Foreign Policy and African Drivers Programme at the SA Institute of International Affairs

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