28 May 2005

Security Council reform: A bridge too far?

Date:28/05/2005 http://www.thehindu.com/2005/05/28/stories/2005052801191200.htm

Opinion - Leader Page Articles

Security Council reform: a bridge too far?

Siddharth Varadarajan

India, Japan, Germany, and Brazil will have a tough time pushing their draft resolution on U.N. Security Council reform through.

IN CIRCULATING both the draft of a framework resolution on Security Council reform and an ambitious timetable for the United Nations General Assembly to vote on it, India, Japan, Germany, and Brazil have taken their quest for permanent membership of the world body's highest organ to a point of no return. So long as the discussion on reform remained confined to the theoretical front, the countries concerned could afford to be expansive in their ambitions. Not any more. The G-4's ship has set sail and cannot now be recalled. On the choppy seas ahead lie two, and only two, outcomes. The four Governments must either meet success — collectively or singly — or face the bitterness, loss of international prestige and ignominy on the home front that defeat will inevitably bring with it.

The draft framework resolution commits the G-4, as the four aspirants call themselves, to seeking six new permanent seats on the Security Council. The Council's size is to be increased from 15 to 25. The new permanent members are to be chosen on the basis of two each from Asia and Africa, one from Latin America/Caribbean, and one from among `West European and Other' states. In addition, the draft calls for increasing the number of non-permanent members by four, up from the present 10, on the basis of one each from Africa, Asia, Latin America/Caribbean, and East Europe. The inclusion of an additional seat for East Europe was proposed by Germany, which felt this was the only way to win the backing of the 20-odd states in that region.

The reform envisaged differs in two respects from `Model A' and `Model B' put forward recently by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his report, In Larger Freedom. Both models had envisaged an increase in membership of the Security Council to 24, one less than the G-4 draft's 25. More significantly, the G-4 resolution calls for the right to block resolutions. Under the sub-head `Veto', it states: "the new permanent members should have the same responsibilities and obligations as the current permanent members."

According to well-placed Japanese sources, the veto issue led to "heated discussions" among the G-4 nations, primarily India and Japan, with the former insisting there be no discrimination between permanent members and the latter counselling flexibility. The Japanese side managed to get the Indians to use the words "should have" instead of "shall have" in the paragraph on veto power, though one leading Japanese international law expert admitted to me that `should' and `shall' have an identical legal meaning quite distinct from the non-mandatory implications of a word like "may."

However, it is evident that the G-4 is prepared to be flexible on the veto front. The `Talking Points' distributed by Germany to U.N. members along with the draft resolution say the question of veto "should not be a hindrance to Security Council reform." And in an attempt to convince the U.S. that the Security Council expansion will not reduce the body's capacity to take decisions that Washington might want, the G-4 draft also proposes to reduce the percentage of affirmative votes required to pass a resolution from the present 9 out of 15 (60 per cent) to 14 out of 25 (56 per cent). Incidentally, had this voting percentage been in place in February 2003, the U.S. would have managed the required eight affirmative votes to win backing for its intended invasion of Iraq.

Clever voting method

With Tuesday's `compromise' meeting in New York between the G-4 and the `Uniting for Consensus' group led by Italy, Pakistan, Mexico, and South Korea ending in a deadlock, it does seem as if the General Assembly will be asked to vote on the resolution sometime in June.

The draft envisages a two-stage election procedure. First, the framework resolution must be passed by two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly — that is, 127 countries. Within a yet-to-be-specified number of days following the adoption of the resolution, "interested states" must "submit their candidatures to the President of the UNGA."

In mid-July, all 191 countries will choose six states by secret ballot to become permanent members of the Security Council in conformity with the geographical pattern already indicated. The G-4 draft also stipulates that "if the number of states having obtained the required majority falls short of the number of seats allocated for permanent membership, new rounds of balloting will be conducted for the remaining seats, provided all ballots shall be restricted to candidates [already registered], until six states obtain the required majority to occupy the six seats."

The procedure envisaged is ingenious on two counts. Multiple rounds mean the G-4 nations do not compete against one another; and by restricting candidates to those registered within a fixed time-frame, the G-4 protects itself against a regional dark horse emerging in the event of, say, one or more of the group's nations failing to win a two-thirds majority despite several rounds of balloting.

It is only after this procedure is completed that a comprehensive Charter-amending resolution, incorporating the changes already voted on, will be submitted for another vote in accordance with Article 108 of the U.N. Charter. This requires that the changes be adopted by a two-thirds majority and subsequently ratified by two-thirds of U.N. members, including all the existing permanent members of the Security Council. The Charter Articles proposed to be amended are 27 (2) and (3) and 109 (1) (on voting procedures), though the G-4 draft, curiously, forgets to mention Article 23, where the names of the five permanent members are listed.

By staggering the reforms process in this manner, the G-4 hopes to present the five permanent members (the P-5) with a fait accompli that they must either accept or reject in toto. If China wants to veto Japanese permanent membership, for example, it will have to reject the entire package and run the risk of alienating not just Japan but the other five newly elected permanent members as well.

Similarly, the U.S., which favours only the inclusion of Japan, will not be able to cherry-pick; it will have to accept all six as permanent members. Japanese officials take heart from what happened in 1963, when membership of the Security Council was expanded from 11 to 15. Only China (whose seat was held by Taiwan) among the P-5 voted in favour of the UNGA resolution calling for expansion. France and the Soviet Union voted against (the Soviet position was that there should be no change in the Charter until the Chinese seat went to the Peoples' Republic), while Britain and the U.S. abstained. However, all five eventually went on to ratify the Charter amendment.

The hunt for 127

But while ratification by the P-5 is the final hurdle, the G-4 will not find the earlier stages smooth sailing. Even on procedural grounds, there are likely to be objections with some arguing that the framework resolution be ratified by the P-5 first. The Italians are already asking how they can choose countries to fill seats that do not legally exist.

Assuming the UNGA President allows the G-4's procedure, winning the required 127 votes is going to be a tall order indeed. Even if one includes all 53 African countries as supporters — in March, the African Union adopted the `Ezulwini Consensus' demanding that an enlarged Security Council include two veto-wielding permanent members from Africa — the number of countries with a strong preference for the G-4 resolution does not exceed 60. Germany wields influence among the East Europeans, but so does Washington.

Latin American and Caribbean states do not find the G-4 proposal attractive and there is strong opposition in parts of West Europe as well. Japan's influence in Asia is negative, and in many world capitals the joke is that a Japanese berth on the UNSC will only increase Washington's vote from two (U.S. and U.K.) to three.

Between now and mid-June, Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil will push their case worldwide. And since the vote on the framework resolution will be an open one, the G-4 will get to see which of its friends (or recipients of largesse) kept their promises and which did not. However, there is very little time left and the Indian campaign, in particular, is far from getting into high gear. External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh's inexplicable eleventh hour cancellation of an important meeting with West African countries in Senegal earlier this month is a case in point.

What is also perplexing is the G-4's insistence on the veto rather than a demand for its abolition. Since both outcomes are equally unacceptable to the P-5, it would be better for the G-4 to incorporate, at least initially, a demand that has widespread international support — so that the proposed expansion contributes to the democratisation of the world body. Strengthening the role of the General Assembly should also be part of the reform plan. Even now, it is not a toothless body. Last year, for example, the UNGA overrode the U.S. veto in the Security Council by referring Israel's illegal wall in the Occupied Territories to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion.

For Japan and Germany, the urgency of the current campaign is understandable. Both countries have an ageing population and economies whose relative strength in the world — though impressive — is nevertheless on the decline. If Tokyo and Berlin miss the bus, they can forget about permanent membership of the UNSC for all time to come. For India and Brazil, however, the future is not so bleak. Failure now will bring a certain loss of face, but there will come a time when the world comes knocking on their doors.

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