Wednesday, July 13, 2005


The UN Security Council reform debate has resurfaced this week with Brazil, Germany, Japan and India introducing a draft resolution before the General Assembly proposing an expansion of the Security Council from 15 to 25 members. 6 of the 10 new seats would go to permanent members, although with no veto power.

The US announced on Tuesday that it believed any vote on reform just now would be too divisive. More worrying perhaps is the prospect of the resolution being passed. Since Security Council reform has been mooted for so long, the danger is that such expansion would be seen to end the debate. Turning reform into a numbers game not only risks making consensus near-impossible. It also ignores fundamental problems, and misses an opportunity for more meaningful reform.

Why not do away with the veto altogether? The most debilitating problem for the Security Council has been use of the veto. Not the non-existent 'unreasonable veto' of France in the Iraq fracas, but more the vetoes used to paralyse the Council during the Cold War, and preventing effective action to tackle violence in the Middle East (to name two obvious examples). Or if the veto stays, why not make it a collective veto as suggested by some? Or a system of negative consensus? The draft resolution contemplates delaying 15 years before any decision on whether to even grant the proposed new permanent members a veto.

Or what about doing away with permanent members altogether? The other main criticism levelled at the Security Council has been that it is not representative. Japan and Germany have at least as much (if not more) of a claim as France to permanent membership on the basis of political and economic clout. And the inclusion of Brazil and an African country would introduce more global representation. But why not take the subjectivity out of the equation altogether and remove permanent member status? In an organisation, and within a legal system, based on sovereign equality, doesn't such an approach make sense?

Obviously reform will be very difficult to effect, ultimately requiring amendment of the UN Charter (and so giving the current P-5 veto power). But surely they could have done better than this?

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