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UN Security Council Reform May Shadow Annan's Legacy

Kofi Annan steps down as United Nations secretary-general at the end of the year. During his tenure, he has pushed for U.N. reforms, including enlarging the Security Council. 

The United Nations Security Council's primary role, as defined be the U.N. charter, is to maintain international peace and security. The Council has five permanent members - France, Russia, China, Britain and the United States - as well as 10 non-permanent members elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms.

Outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is a strong advocate of enlarging the Security Council - a view shared by former U.N. Under-Secretary General Brian Urquhart.

"It is important that the [Security] Council represent the world as it is in 2006, not the world as it was in 1945, which is what it represents. But the difficulty is to get the different continents to agree who is their regional superpower - and none of them can do that," commented Urquhart. "And then to agree on various other matters, such as whether the new permanent members will have the veto or not and so on, and how many will there be?"

For his part, Carne Ross, a former British diplomat stationed at the United Nations (1998-2002), says many nations perceive the Security Council as being, more often than not, favorable to Western interests.

"And as a result, the authority of the Security Council is, I think, undermined. When it passes resolutions, there is less willingness among the broader membership to implement those decisions or support them," said Ross. "That is not a good thing for anybody, including the West. So I think there is a widespread feeling that the Security Council needs to be reformed and expanded."

But Ross and others say, when discussing Security Council enlargement, the question is, who should become a member?

"Because for every country that people think yes, this is a power that should get it, there's Japan, Brazil, India and so forth, there are those around it who think no, it shouldn't get in, because of jealousy and so on and so forth," noted former U.S. National Security Adviser General Brent Scowcroft.

Other experts question whether increasing Security Council membership is a good thing. One of those is Michael Doyle, former adviser to Kofi Annan (2001-03).

"The case against is that the more members you've got of a committee, often the harder it is to get a decision," he said. "And we need an effective Security Council, not just a larger one, not even just a more representative one. And people are worried that a larger, even if a more representative one, won't be able to take decisions."

"And there are places in the world where we needed them, in places like Rwanda and Bosnia, more responsible decisions," continued Doyle. "And they weren't taken. It's not clear that a larger body will be more responsible."

At a U.N. summit in September in New York, member nations discussed a plan put forth by Kofi Annan to enlarge the Security Council from 15 to 24 members. But that effort was unsuccessful.

Nancy Soderberg, former alternate U.S. representative to the United Nations (1997-2001), says the reason for the failure was clear.

"The problem was that the Africans couldn't decide who among them should be represented. They also got their backs up about not getting the veto, so in effect, they scuttled [destroyed] the deal and said no expansion is better than an expansion that does not give us a veto," she explained. "The competition was between Egypt, which is part of the Africa group, and Nigeria and South Africa. They only had two seats among them and they couldn't decide which two of those three would be on there."

Soderberg and others believe as of now, the question of reforming and enlarging the Security Council will not be resolved anytime soon.

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