United Nations Reforms: The Face-Off Continues

Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva (left) shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi

Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva (left) shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi May 26. (Photo: Shizuo Kambayashi / AFP-Getty Images)

Germany, Japan, India and Brazil (referred to as the Group of 4 nations) have offered another formula in their bid to become permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, proposing that they are willing to forgo the veto power bestowed on the current permanent members for at least 15 years.

The new draft on Security Council expansion, circulated by the four countries earlier this week, is aimed at democratization of the world body. The draft re-asserts the earlier Group of 4 position, calling for the inclusion of six permanent and four non-permanent members to the Council’s existing strength of five permanent members, with the added provision that veto powers will not be exercised for 15 years.

The resolution will have to be passed by the General Assembly, with the Group of 4 nations pushing for a vote this month. While emphasizing that the new permanent members should have the same tasks as the current permanent members, the new proposal adds the important rider that they “shall not exercise the right of veto” until a review 15 years after the measure is approved. Thus, the Group of 4 nations have proposed a freeze on new veto empowered permanent entrants to the Council until 2020. Whether or not they should ultimately be vested with the veto power would be the Assembly’s prerogative after reviewing the performance of an expanded Security Council.

India, which has been in the forefront of the demand for non-discriminatory veto power, says it has not moved away from the principle. Nirupam Sen, India’s ambassador to the United Nations, said that the veto issue may have been deferred for now, but the principle remains intact. During the 15-year interregnum, member nations would have the time to judge the contributions made by the new permanent members and decide whether the veto power should be extended to them, Sen said.

Some may view the new formula on veto power as a major compromise by the Group of4 nations. On the other hand, the current formulations are also a reflection of a more pragmatic approach given the deliberations and delays that have marked the discussions on United Nations reforms so far. As matters stand and emphasized by Secretary General Kofi Annan during his recent visit to India, the question of conceding veto powers by the permanent members of the Council remains a long shot. Annan was categorical on veto rights. He said many wanted removal of the exclusive rights of the five permanent members of the Council, but that it was not possible to do so; therefore, the status quo had to be kept.

It may be recalled that Annan has recommended restructuring the Council to better reflect new “political realities” and address fresh security threats in a world that has evolved since the organization’s formation 60 years ago. He expressed a preference for consensus, but if arguments threatened to delay action, he said, the matter should be put to a vote so that world leaders can decide in September.

Two-thirds of the 191-member General Assembly must first vote to amend the charter to expand the council, a public ballot tentatively scheduled for the end of June. Then they must select the six new permanent members, ideally in July, before ambassadors leave for the August holiday.

The revised Group of 4 draft follows weeks of hectic consultations after the original draft hit a wall. India has been zealously pursuing its place on the Council forming part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s priority agenda. Last year Singh addressed the General Assembly and lobbied for a Security Council seat for India. New Delhi now has reciprocal arrangements with the three other nations seeking a permanent seat. Brazil, Germany and Japan are also pressing to join the current five veto-wielding members of the Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. India and Japan have agreed to back each other rather than contest against each other, thus increasing each other’s chances. India claims a seat on the basis of its huge population, growing economy and contribution to the various activities of the United Nations.

A comment in The Pioneer reads: “Several U.N. member states are of the view that vesting permanent members of the U.N.S.C. with veto power is not necessarily a good idea — today’s geo-political realities are vastly different from those that existed when the U.N. came into being. A self-imposed 15-year moratorium by the new permanent members could ultimately lead to the abolition of veto power and the establishment of a truly democratic process of decision-making based on near-unanimity of views. After all, U.N.S.C. decisions should ideally be independent of the narrow interests of individual permanent members; tragically, that has not been the case till now.”

However, there is still a long way to go, given the geo-strategic politics at play. The United States supports Japan’s bid for a seat, while China will have nothing of it given its history of strained relations with Japan. The United States has endorsed only Japan emphasizing that the country gives more money to the world body than Britain, France, Russia and China put together. China has gone on record to support India, while the United States has never supported India’s candidature, which is opposed by Pakistan. Italy opposes Germany.

In a conference call earlier this month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told foreign ministers from current permanent members that the United States wanted to postpone this month’s vote, possibly until after the United Nations summit scheduled for September. Rice also said the United States needed more time to sort out the consequences of a larger Security Council for the global balance of power.

Beijing has dismissed the new plan as “immature” stressing that “a big divergence still exists on U.N.S.C. reforms.” The rival formation called “Uniting for Consensus” that is led by Italy, Pakistan and Mexico will not give in easily.

To further complicate matters, Russia has sided with China and wants to maintain status quo fearing a reduction of its power. France broke with the rest of the permanent members this Tuesday, putting its weight behind Germany by cosponsoring the Group of 4 resolution. Britain supports the resolution but has not decided whether to sponsor it. That puts the Americans in the tight position of siding with the Chinese and Russians.

German diplomats have said that they believe the Group of 4’s compromise could receive the required two-thirds majority needed for passage in the Assembly. Observers say that China, Italy and their allies do not have the 64 votes that are needed to block a proposed resolution in the Assembly. However, the United States or China can simply kill the amendment by refusing to approve it, even if the Assembly approves the change.