UN security council reform could take another two decades - ISS

2015-09-28 19:58


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Johannesburg - Despite numerous calls for reform of the United Nations security council, under current conditions its most likely going to take another 10 to 20 years, according to the Institute for Security Studies' Jakkie Cilliers.

"The UN security council reform is a package deal and that's the essence of the problem. Everybody agrees on principle on the need for reform, but you can't deal with it in isolation," Cilliers told News24.

"I think there is general consensus that the permanent seats, the P5, is the biggest problem."

There are five permanent members of the security council also known as the "P5" - United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia and France - all with veto power.

The 10 non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly for a two-year term.

President Jacob Zuma is currently leading a delegation to the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Zuma has made repeated calls for UN security council reform, which would include two permanent seats for Africa.

South Africa is positioning itself to obtain one of the permanent seats for Africa.

"This issue [reform] has been on the table for 30 years and the excruciating, painful negotiations on this issue for many years has left many diplomats literally exhausted and in tears," Cilliers said.

Country positions on reform were blatantly in their own interests, and was a power struggle.

But reform did not only have to do with having Africa as a permanent member, but also countries such as India, Japan and countries from Latin America.

'It's a mess'

According to the Ezulwini Consensus, which is the current African position on the security council, Africa would have two permanent members with veto power. The two countries to occupy those seats would be decided by the African Union.

Cilliers said the lack of consensus on how the council should be reformed worked in the P5's favour.

"The reason there is no agreement is because the P5 are extremely happy with their current position, [they] work very hard to undermine anything that would undermine their God-given veto, because it is completely unprecedented that these five countries have the absolute right to veto, so therefore they just sit quiet and instigate a position."

"It's a mess. In my view, there will not be reform in the security council under the current conditions," he said.

But if there was reform, what would that mean for South Africa?

Cilliers said in all probability South Africa and Nigeria would be the AU's nomination for the permanent seats.

However, South Africa's relative position in Africa was declining.

"Maybe for the next 20 years South Africa is one of the most powerful countries in Africa, but you never know 20 to 30 years from now.

Cilliers said there were also a number of African countries opposed to permanent seats, as well as being "hesitant" about giving South Africa and Nigeria "that power".

The United States and some of the West also had increasing problems with South Africa being a permanent member.

This was because South Africa had been perceived as being anti-Western and closer to the Brics countries.

"The problem is that, while power is shifting, at the moment a lot of the power still lies in the West."

Proposal for more inclusive security council

The ISS had a proposal on how the UN security council could be reformed in a more inclusive way.

There are five electoral regions according to which the non-permanent members are elected onto the council.

Cilliers proposed that the same regions be used, except in two categories.

The first category, member states would be elected for five year terms and could be re-elected.

"These would be your larger regional powers. Therefore the US could be elected and re-elected indefinitely," he said.

In the second category a member state would be elected for a three-year term and could not be re-elected.

"They would therefore be other countries that can make a contribution onto the security council."

There would also be minimal criteria for countries which wanted to sit on the council.

The nominations would then happen in the regions, but elections would still happen in the General Assembly as was the current case, said Cilliers.

Read more on:    un  |  iss

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