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Old Saturday, January 08, 2011
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Default No UNSC reform, no problem

No UNSC reform, no problem
By: Richard Weitz | Published: January 08, 2011


One global issue that looks to become more prominent in 2011 is that of UN Security Council reform. Several world leaders - including Presidents Barack Obama, Dmitry Medvedev and Nicolas Sarkozy - have recently called for adding new members to the council, while others want to overhaul its structure and procedures. But the reformers must overcome a potential obstacle: The council just may be incorrigible by design.
Most UN reform debates focus on how to change the Security Council to make it more representative and democratic. With respect to the former issue, the primary concern has been that, since its establishment in 1945, the UNSC has gradually become less-representative of total UN membership, which has more than tripled since World War II. Although the number of non-permanent members on the council was increased from 6 to 10 in 1965, reformers want a more fundamental transformation in the body’s composition.
But membership expansion invariably raises related questions. The main issues of debate are: how many additional countries should receive representation on the council; which specific countries should be added; what categories of membership should exist; whether any additional states should receive permanent membership with veto power; the precise scope of the veto in general; and the relationship between the Security Council and the other UN organs, especially the General Assembly.
The most-popular and oldest reform theme is to increase the number of UNSC members from its present level of 15, with proposed new members coming especially from developing regions that are geographically underrepresented by the current representation rules. These calls have become newly prominent in recent years, including during the UN’s own reform debates.
But no consensus has yet emerged regarding the size of expansion. Members also differ in their emphasis regarding the criteria by which UNSC seats should be distributed. Consideration could be given to states’ contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security; the principle of equitable geographic distribution; the relative population of the proposed members; the size of their economies; and their troop and financial contributions to UN peacekeeping operations. Disagreement also exists as to whether the appropriate metric should be states’ future, rather than current, potential, and how far that time horizon should extend.
Moreover, any specific proposed new addition to the council, especially to the roster of permanent members, galvanises resistance among the country’s regional rivals. For example, Chinese officials have privately told their US counterparts they are reluctant to expand the council further, which implicitly means opposing the aspirations of Japan and India. This kind of rivalry exists even among EU members, with Italy earlier seeking to deny Germany from becoming a permanent UNSC member.



Adding new members might address some representational and other problems with the UNSC, but it would not be a cost-free reform. The addition of new members would increase the number of negotiating parties, which, though more democratic, can limit the kind of rapid decision-making necessary in responding to international security emergencies. New permanent members with veto powers would even further increase the risk of deadlock.
One proposal to avert this last problem, and a constant reform item in its own right, is to curtail the use and extent of the veto, or even eliminate it altogether. Abrogating the veto has been defended on the grounds of efficiency, since it could accelerate decision-making by removing a common bottleneck on rapid decisions. Eliminating the veto is also seen as reducing an inequitable status distinction among members.
The veto power enjoyed by the UNSC permanent members operates in several dimensions. Used preventatively, it precludes any legal enforcement action against one of the permanent members.
Used protectively, it enables a permanent member to shield its allies and friends against adverse council action. And wielded pre-emptively, it can discourage other UNSC members from even attempting to secure some action because they anticipate that one of the permanent members will veto their proposal.
The veto was originally introduced to address a fundamental problem that undermined the UN’s precursor, the League of Nations, namely that great powers will pursue their vital interests no matter how the other UN members vote. So a mechanism was needed to prevent situations from arising that, by forcing a great power to defy the UN, would ultimately undermine the institution’s credibility. In this sense, the veto functions as a “safety valve” to prevent the UN’s self-destruction.
The five existing permanent UNSC members defend their veto powers as an integral component of the UN Charter, one that gives them a vested interest in engaging with the Security Council and the UN instead of operating outside its constraints. Of course, the veto power they already enjoy leaves them well-positioned to resist any proposal that might weaken it. Articles 108 and 109 of the UN Charter require the consent of all permanent members to amend the charter, which would be necessary to deprive one or more of them of their permanent seats and veto rights.
To avoid having to amend the UN Charter, proposals have arisen to modify the use of the veto, rather than abolishing it or phasing it out over time. One such suggestion is to forbid individual permanent members from exercising a veto when the relevant measure is backed by all other UNSC members.
A related idea is to change the veto weight by requiring two or three permanent members to vote negatively to override a draft resolution.
Another proposal calls for limiting the total number of vetoes that a permanent member may cast within a specified time period. Yet another would restrict veto rights to decisions regarding wars and crises in which a member’s vital interests are involved, although such criteria are subjective and therefore hard to enforce.
Another approach to UNSC reform is to change the body’s methods of work. For example, the council has been criticised for its opaque deliberations and negotiating process. Most council activities take place in “consultations”, which are closed-door meetings among UNSC members that non-member states are not permitted to attend. Reformers want greater information about these deliberations. Advocates of greater transparency claim it would increase the clarity of discussions, broaden the range of views considered, and promote the values of accountability and efficiency. Supporters of maintaining secret consultations argue that they facilitate decision-making.
The defenders of the consultations also correctly note that, were the consultations themselves made more open, the discussion of sensitive matters would simply occur in more informal and secretive venues.
Some observers worry about the UNSC’s future effectiveness should it fail to transform fundamentally to reflect the radically different global power dynamics that have emerged since its foundation.
But in the absence of a competing multinational security institution that wields as much legitimacy as well as other assets, the Security Council is likely to remain the world’s most influential security institution even without radical reform. –World Politics Review
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