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UNITED NATIONS: Security Council Reform Not Just a Question of Numbers

Mario Osava*

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 5 2005 (IPS) - Rather than granting veto power to a greater number of countries, the United Nations Security Council needs ”qualitative” reforms that would strip its five permanent members of that authority, if true multilateralism is to be achieved, say analysts in Latin America.

Rather than granting veto power to a greater number of countries, the United Nations Security Council needs "qualitative" reforms that would strip its five permanent members of that authority, if true multilateralism is to be achieved, say analysts in Latin America.

A mere quantitative change in the Security Council that "maintains the same design" would not be in line with the current global situation and would merely ensure the continuation of the crisis in the multilateral system, argued Cándido Grzybowski, one of the organisers of the World Social Forum (WSF) and the director of the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE).

"Changes in the decision-making process are needed, in order to come up with better quality resolutions," agreed Juan Tokatlián, director of political science and international relations at the University of San Andrés, in Buenos Aires.

The U.N. Security Council "has always been an oligarchical, undemocratic mechanism lacking in transparency," he told IPS.

But what is now being negotiated in the debate on U.N. reforms is only the make-up of the global system’s highest body, which is composed of 15 countries, including 10 rotating members and five permanent veto-wielding members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.


A committee of experts named by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan set forth several proposals for Security Council reform, including initiatives for enlargement, but without altering the veto power of the five permanent members.

Germany, Brazil, Japan and India are also demanding permanent seats for themselves and for two African nations, as part of a proposed expansion of the body to 25 members.

The debate, which began in the early 1990s after the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, has degenerated into a dispute over the eventual new spots on the Council, with many countries opposing the aspirations of the four regional powers and demanding a system of rotating seats.

In Latin America, Brazil’s candidacy is rejected by Argentina and Mexico. But "if the Council is expanded, the inclusion of Brazil is a given," because "it is the only country in the region with the vocation of being a global actor," Rosendo Fraga, director of the New Majority Studies Centre in Argentina, told IPS.

Argentina, which a century ago was "South America’s biggest economy," today has a gross domestic product equivalent to one-fourth or one-third of the GDP of Brazil or Mexico, which means it has lost the "critical mass" needed to defend its aspirations to a rotating presence in a permanent Latin American seat, said Fraga.

It is only natural for Brazil to play a regional leadership role due to the size of its economy, territory and population, "while Mexico does not have that vocation, and Argentina and Chile lack critical mass," said the Argentine analyst.

Brazil, which has aspired to a seat on the Security Council for years, has built up its case by actively participating in U.N. peacekeeping missions, such as the one it currently heads in Haiti, said former Mexican diplomat Andrés Rozental.

Brazil "has never refused – as has Mexico – to assume its responsibilities as the geographically, economically, demographically and politically dominant country in the region," wrote Rozental in an article for the non-governmental Mexican Council of International Affairs, which he presides over.

Mexico remains caught up in "a sterile debate on whether or not it is a good idea to occupy the place to which we could also be entitled due to our size, economic strength and population. Up to now this national schizophrenia was nothing more than a theoretical discussion, without practical effects, because an actual reform of the U.N. charter seemed remote," he added.

The former diplomat lamented that officials in Mexico had not "clearly stated that Mexico also aspires to the additional seat on the Security Council, and that we would not accept a decision reached without a consultation process and without even a discussion on the merits of each of the candidates."

But it is unlikely that Brazil and other contenders for a seat on an expanded Security Council will achieve the same status as the five permanent members with power of veto, as part of the modernisation and democratisation of the global body, because they face the opposition of strong neighbours, like China in the case of Japan and Argentina in the case of Brazil, in addition to other obstacles.

The Council, which was created to maintain international peace and security, is involved in both military and diplomatic questions, observed Tokatlián, who wondered how it could accept as permanent members countries like Germany and Japan, which "do not control their own security, because they have U.S. bases in their territories."

But Brazil lacks one credential that is decisive: a military that is capable of rapid intervention abroad "to impose peace" rather than merely maintain it, said Geraldo Cavagnari, a researcher at the Strategic Studies Centre at the University of Campinas and a former Brazilian army officer.

That is "one characteristic that Brazil does not yet have," which requires sophisticated resources and implies risks and high costs, including human costs, because it can involve jumping into the middle of armed conflicts, he said.

The Brazilian armed forces are getting a taste of that in Haiti, where they are heading up a U.N. peacekeeping mission that is not enjoying a great deal of success, Cavagnari added.

Brazil’s ambition is "madness", a product of "the old nationalistic militarism and dream of becoming a great power," which is possibly generating negative effects like the tension with Argentina and other neighbours, besides commercial and political concessions to China, said Grzybowski.

Brazil’s pretensions have also influenced its nuclear policy, with pressure to revive the plan for building new nuclear energy plants, "despite the opposition of the country’s energy authorities," he said.

The Security Council should be maintained in a U.N. reform process, but alongside a "redefinition of national sovereignty, in whose name genocide has been committed," and the enforcement of respect for human rights, so that they are not ignored when "crimes against humanity are committed," like in the case of Rwanda in 1994, said the analyst.

It would be more democratic to adopt a system of rotating membership and a collective veto that would kick in with a minimum number of votes, "like one-third, for example," suggested Grzybowski.

Tokatlián, meanwhile, pointed out that a large Security Council, such as the proposed 25-member body, would make it difficult to adopt decisions quickly.

Both analysts expressed their concern about society’s scarce participation in the debate on Security Council reform.

In the WSF, which has drawn tens of thousands of activists and representatives of civil society to its annual gathering since 2001, U.N. reforms are being discussed as part of the "new democratic international order," noted Grzyboswki, a member of the WSF International Council.

Grzyboswki and many WSF activists are not impressed by the official proposals for U.N. reform that are presently being debated.

They argue that much deeper changes are needed, such as putting the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank under U.N. control, affirming the supremacy of human rights, and promoting human security, by strengthening several U.N. commissions and councils that now have only consultative status.

* With additional reporting by Marcela Valente in Argentina and Diego Cevallos in Mexico.

 
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UNITED NATIONS: Security Council Reform Not Just a Question of Numbers

Mario Osava*

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 5 2005 (IPS) - Rather than granting veto power to a greater number of countries, the United Nations Security Council needs "qualitative" reforms that would strip its five permanent members of that authority, if true multilateralism is to be achieved, say analysts in Latin America.
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