Third Round of Intergovernmental Negotiations on UN Security Council Reform Conclude
By Jakob S. Lund and Daniel Safran-Hon
At the 63rd session, Member States started intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform, chaired by Afghan Ambassador Zahir Tanin. The following summarizes three days of negotiations, which took place in early September. Immediately following the final round in this session, the General Assembly opted for the possibility of continued negotiations in the 64th session.
An informal Plenary of the General Assembly (GA) met for a third round of intergovernmental negotiations on the issue of Security Council (SC) reform on the first three days of September. The meeting was convoked by the Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiations, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan, Ambassador Zahir Tanin, pursuant to two rounds of negotiations that took place in March and in June. The decision to have these negotiations follows General Assembly decision 62/557, which stipulates that the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) shall convene and report to the GA.
Following the request of the Chair, each day of the third round of negotiations was dedicated to a different aspect of SC reform. The first day focused on the five key issues related to reform as a whole; the second on the option of expansion in both categories (permanent and non-permanent); and the third day focused on the consideration of a so-called “Intermediary option.” This was the last round of negotiations in the 63rd session of the General Assembly.
The First Day and the five key issues
The first day was dedicated to the five key issues mentioned in decision 62/557 (ii): categories of membership; the question of the veto; regional representation; size of an enlarged Security Council; and finally the working methods of the Council and the relationship between the Council and the GA. Several Member States expressed criticism concerning the choice made by the Chair to dedicate the second and third day to what some delegates termed “specific reform proposals,” noting that not only did this limit the array of the debate, it promoted certain models rather than leaving all options on the table. This point was first made by the Sierra Leonean representative, speaking on behalf of the African group, and later by the Representatives of Turkey and Spain. Malta underlined the interconnection between all five issues and the need to work on all of them in parallel.
Categories of Membership
A variety of positions were presented on the first of the five issues: categories of membership. The Sierra Leonean Representative, still speaking on behalf of the African group, reiterated the well-known African position first elaborated in the Ezulwini Consensus. This position proposes an expansion of the Council in both categories, permanent and non-permanent, and clearly expresses disinterest in the so-called intermediate category. The support for expansion in both categories was also expressed by Brazil, India, Germany, Japan and others. Some of these Member States suggested that a formal review may be a good way to overcome the difficulties in the negotiations. The both categories model was explicitly supported by the two P-5 countries France and the UK and was not openly opposed by any other P-5 country. Other Member States, chiefly Italy and Pakistan, continued to clearly express their opposition to expansion in both categories. (Discussions of the both categories and the intermediary models follow in the discussions of the second day below).
The veto -- keep it, moderate it, or abolish it altogether?
On the second issue, the African group, labeling the veto “anachronistic and self-serving,” expressed its longstanding position that it should be abolished. Yet, if it continues to exist, the Sierra Leonean Representative added, it is a matter of fairness that the new permanent members of the council also hold it. This position was supported by, among others, Guatemala and Iran. This notwithstanding, Nigeria said that there is still much room to negotiate the issue of the veto and South Africa implied it would be ready for flexibility on the issue, declaring that such suppleness has to be shown by everyone involved in the negotiations.
While the US and the UK clearly opposed the expansion of the veto, France accentuated the heavy responsibility of holding the veto especially in cases of crimes against humanity, genocide, and harsh violations of human rights. Other Member States, among them Kazakhstan, supported a limited use of the veto for issues of Peace and Security only. Kazakhstan went as far as suggesting amending the UN charter by adding a clear definition of the veto, its application, and a process to repeal it. Kazakhstan, however, supported the granting of the veto to new permanent members after a review period of 10-15 years in which their contribution to international peace and security would be evaluated. Japan suggested that new permanent members would receive the veto but in parallel give a commitment not to use it pending future review.
Regional representation, which was the third key issue, warranted agreement as most Member States supported the opinion expressed by the African group: there needs to be equitable geographical representation between Member States in the Council. While some, such as Malta, did express the position that new members of the council should represent their regions, a majority of Member States argued that Members of the Council cannot represent anyone but themselves and should always act in the larger interest of International Peace and Security. Some commented that this is a provision made clear in the Charter.
Size matters to Member States
As for the future size of a reformed council, the African group expressed its interest in a Council of 26 members -- including two new African permanent members with all the prerogatives and privileges of permanent membership -- as well as five non-permanent members. The African position on this issue also requires the AU to be the body that will select the Member States from Africa to be presented for election in the GA. Malta argued that only a significant expansion of the council would render the council sufficiently representative. Malta thus endorsed the proposal tabled by Columbia and Italy that includes a seat for small states. Kazakhstan supported a larger expansion of the council and suggested a model of 25 members.
Other Member States, such as Japan, the US and the UK, noted the need not to expand the council in a way that would reduce its effectiveness. Guatemala also supported a limited growth, suggesting expanding the Council by five to nine new members only. This opinion was shared by Estonia that argued for an expansion of the Council by seven new members, one of them being from Eastern Europe.
Working Methods and Relations with the GA
A large majority of the speakers supported the reform of the working methods and the strengthening of the Council’s relations with the GA – the fifth key issue. Many Member States, among them Japan, called for more open meetings in the Council and for making these the norm. While France commended the progress already undertaken in this regard – especially the upsurge in open debates and the joint GA/SC creation of the peacebuilding commission-- the UK stated that the Council should be the body in charge of reforming its own working methods.
Malta strongly endorsed the proposals made by the S5 (Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland) concerning the reform of working methods, namely the reduction of closed meetings and the representation of the membership of the UN in SC debates. Most remarks on the relationship between the Council and the GA reiterated the relation between the two bodies as they are stipulated in the UN charter, but also that they should be expanded within this framework. This could be done, for example, by regular consultations between the Presidents of the two bodies, suggested Kazakhstan, and by an annual report from the SC to the GA, suggested Guatemala. Guatemala also supported the strengthening of relations between the SC and ECOSOC as well as the Peacebuilding Commission.
The African group called for the enhancing of the Council’s effectiveness and more interface between it and the GA, adding that the African group will be ready to consider the proposals that are already on the table concerning the relation between the GA and the SC and concerning working methods when negotiations advance into specifics.
Remarks on the first day
Knowing how difficult it can be to have the Member States agree on any one issue, it could seem like a death sentence for the reform process to try to tackle no less than five key issues. The question of regional representation, however, is fairly uncontroversial as everyone agrees, in principle, that there should be a more balanced representation of all regions in the world in the Council. A vast majority also agrees that the relationship between the SC and the GA could be improved. It furthermore seems that almost everyone can agree that the working methods of the Council should be more transparent and clear, but the P5 have strongly opined that this is an issue for the Council itself. The question of size takes the level of disagreement up one notch with some countries arguing that the low-twenties is as high as the Council can go while preserving its efficiency, while other talk of at least 25 members in the reformed Council. The veto adds another layer of discrepancy of opinions. At the moment it seems to be the African group, insisting on new permanent members being granted the veto, on the one side, and the rest of the Member States either arguing against it or arguing for moderation of it, on the other. Recent statements by Nigeria and South Africa, however, may allude to this difference not being as carved in stone as one has come to expect. The categories of membership, then, present the highest level of disagreement This disagreement was on full display on the second and third day of negotiations, both discussed below.
The big question: Additional permanent members?
The second day of negotiations was dedicated to the option of expanding the Council in both categories, i.e. adding both permanent and non-permanent members. The positions of most countries and the delineation between the different blocs were apparent from the outset and seemed to further crystallize during the discussions. It was no surprise that those countries affiliated with United for Consensus voiced opposition to adding permanent members to the council while many others, in particular those backing the G4 proposal and the African group, were in favor.
One consistent model?
Some Member States expressed discontent that the meeting was focused on whether additional permanent members should be added to the Council. Criticism in this regard generally fell into one of three categories: a general notion that including new permanent members would be unfair and undemocratic; a sense that the both categories model is essentially not coherent; and finally that the understanding that a majority exists in favor of this model is false. In addition, some representatives speculated that the Chairman, Ambassador Zahir Tanin, had made the decision to dedicate this second day to the both categories model in an effort to promote this particular option. Italy, for instance, found it an “arbitrary choice.”
Turkey opined that more permanent seats would render the Council less democratic. Malta, while emphasizing that all suggestions should be considered, asked whether expanding the Council with more permanent members would really enhance the democracy, transparency, and accountability of the Council. Those opposed to the both categories model generally pointed to issues related to democratization and transparency in their criticism of the model. The Italian Ambassador Terzi di Sant'Agata stated that the both categories model did not in and of itself constitute a coherent option as disagreement remains even among those who favor including additional permanent members. Are we, the Italian representative asked rhetorically, dedicating this meeting to “the African Model? The G4’s? The Philippines? Or others?” Italy was not alone in this critique.
The question of majority
As mentioned, some of those opposing the inclusion of permanent members felt that there was a false assumption of a majority existing in favor of this model. Mexico and Pakistan, among others, denied that a majority of Member States supports the model and Colombia added that it is impossible to even talk about majorities when many Member States still have not spoken publicly about their position.
While opponents of the both categories model seem certain that a majority position is not evident, Brazil - itself vying for a permanent seat in a reformed Council - stated that “around 2/3 of the delegations that took the floor [in the first round of negotiations] supported such proposal.” The issue of whether a majority exists in favor of one model or another is crucial in that a potential expansion of the council, constituting a change of the UN Charter, will require a 2/3 majority in the General Assembly. India brought this very question up when asking why the “small minority” of countries opposing expansion in both categories did “not want us to schedule a straw poll to ask who really objects.” The Indian representative did not, however, go as far as to outright ask for such a poll. The Center for UN Reform Education will take a closer look at the question of majority in a future report.
Changing the tune or the entire song?
If the opposition to the both categories model was to be expected, so was its support. Sierra Leone was the Member State to vehemently state that the current composition of the Council is undemocratic, emphasizing particularly the lack of African states among the permanent members as well as their under-representation in the non-permanent category. Ambassador Davies said that there would be no real reform without adding permanent members, pointing to a lack of what he termed “experience and institutional memory” in the missions that enter the council for a two-year period. Sierra Leone reiterated its support for the Ezulwini proposal, which would add six permanent seats with veto power to the Council – at least two of these from Africa—and five non-permanent members. This view was supported by all African countries speaking after Sierra Leone, including, among others, Nigeria, Ghana, Mauritius, and Ethiopia. As mentioned above, it is not yet clear just how flexible the African group will be regarding its insistence on permanent membership and particularly the veto. Micronesia, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS), mentioned structural defects and power imbalances as reasons for why the Council must be expanded with permanent members. Germany opined that while adding additional non-permanent members would add more voices to the choir, the choir would still “sing the same song.”
Remarks on the second day
Given the commotion over the question of the amount of support for the different proposals, it is noteworthy and perhaps somewhat surprising that no one seems to know whether a majority – even a simple one—exists in favor of any of the proposals. India came closest to settle the question when bringing up the idea of a straw poll but it is not clear that any one involved in the negotiations actually knows which, if any, proposal would survive a vote in the General Assembly. This is probably also why no Member State has yet formally proposed a vote or even a poll, although threats of calling for a vote or straw poll have occurred earlier on the process. The very real chance of obtaining less than a 2/3 majority makes a poll much less attractive for those in favor of the both categories model, while the possibility of only a small minority voting with the United for Consensus group would equally curb their hopes of putting the model to rest.
The criticism that the both categories model is not a coherent model alludes to the remaining disagreements within the group of countries actually supporting the model. Germany stated that it “completely agrees” with the African group, for example. Alas for Germany, it is not that simple. The main disagreement within the group supporting expansion in both categories follows the G4/ Ezulwini divide related to the discussion of the veto (the implications of the discussion of the veto will be discussed in a future analysis by the Center for UN Reform Education). However, disagreement goes beyond that. One example of this is that although China supports the inclusion of new permanent members, they specifically make reference to Africa while being unsupportive of the
Intermediary model -- What does it mean?
The third day of negotiations was dedicated to discussing the intermediary model, a model no less complicated than any of the other models on the table. While it is not at this point entirely clear what the intermediary model really entails, it seems that everyone can agree it would be a compromise between expansion with just non-permanent or both categories of members. Furthermore, the following seems to be universally accepted as part of the definition: A new category of members would be created. The duration of such new seats would be anywhere from 3-15 years with a possibility of re-election after a review conference. Along with these new seats, a small number of non-permanent members with two-year terms would also be added to the council. The veto would not be extended to the new category of members, but it has been suggested that this question could be included in the review. (Analysis discussing the review process )
As described above, on the second day of discussions, several member states complained about the specific topic of the day. This also happened on the third day with especially some African states complaining that dedicating a whole day to the intermediary model in effect promotes a model that is undemocratic. Some of the Members States supporting expansion of the Council with permanent members see the intermediary model as a toothless compromise, which would not constitute “real change.” India said the model does not address the “core demands” of the Member States. Zambia’s representative stated that the African Member States agreed to discuss this model only out of magnanimity.
As in the previous day, some Member States openly wondered what exactly was being discussed. Slovakia stated that the term “intermediary model” means “different things to different people.” This is perhaps also illustrated by the fact that several terms are used interchangeably, among them “intermediate,” “progressive,” and “interim.” One country even used the term “immediate model,” which may simply have been a mispronunciation but nonetheless illustrates a general uncertainty about what the model really covers. To ensure coherence, we will only use the term intermediary.
Remarks on the third day
The intermediary model is seen by proponents as the one opportunity to untie the Gordian knot that the negotiations have so clearly illustrated to be over the last decade. Spain named it the “model of no one” that could turn into the “model of everyone.” The Ambassador of Liechtenstein, Christian Wenaweser, served as Adviser to the President of the GA on Security Council reform in 2007. During that time, he stated, he realized that none of the existing models would garner enough support to pass, hence the need for the intermediary model. Papua New Guinea, speaking on behalf of PSIDS, preferred what they term a “permanent model” but accepted that the intermediary model may be the “last resort”, which could indicate that they too see it as the only model that may be able to garner the necessary 2/3 majority.
One of the most interesting things about the intermediary model – which according to some experts makes it the model perhaps most likely to be approved by a 2/3 majority – is that it has tentative support from Member States among the G4 and the UFC as well as the P5. The UK stated that, along with France, it was “ready for a compromise” and alluded to the intermediary model being the embodiment of that compromise. Germany used much the same language, while emphasizing that they wish to see the intermediary model turning into a permanent one with time. Turkey took the optimism as far as to stating that the intermediary model is not “too far apart” from the Ezulwini proposal.
While the intermediary model may seem to be the closest there is to a possible compromise right now, it should be noted that it would by no means be a quick-fix solution. When Turkey stated that the model is close to the Ezulwini model, for example, it seemed somewhat overly optimistic. The veto remains a key issue for African states and given the apparent impossibility of it being included in the intermediary model, there is at least one major hurdle to overcome in bringing together the two proposals.
Beyond the veto, the number of years the new category of members would sit in the council will be at the heart of future talks on this model. Proposals on this issue range from 3 years (Korea, Canada and others) to fifteen years (Slovakia). As the Netherlands observed, a compromise tends to lie just in the middle of the extremes proposed and this may also well be the case if the intermediary model is pursued. However, it will take meticulous negotiations to even get the process to that point.
Having said that, the last day of discussions revealed an interesting phenomenon: while many countries – particularly the G4 and the UFC-- do not see the intermediary model as their favorite model, they may accept it because it is much more in line with their interest than the alternative. That may end up being the saving grace of this model.
There seems to be a road ahead
Immediately after the three days of negotiations (September 3rd), a unanimous Open-ended Working Group agreed to a statement recommending the negotiations continue during the 64th General Assembly if the Member States so decide. The term “so decide” is more than just semantics: it means that the group is not obliged to meet at all during the next GA. Whereas the President of the 63rd GA could decide at any time that the working group should meet, this decision will now have to be agreed to by a simple majority in the 64th GA. Furthermore, the requirement for annual reports to the GA was abolished. This will almost certainly mean that the OEWG will be used less as a forum for discussion on SC reforms in years ahead. At the very last day of the 63rd GA Member States unanimously agreed to “immediately continue intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform in informal plenary of the General Assembly at its 64th session as mandated by General Assembly decision 62/557”, which indicates that the intergovernmental negotiations will be the future forum of discussion on this issue.
Upon leaving office, President of the 63rd GA D'Escoto Brockmann told the closing ceremony of the 63rd session: "we have succeeded in moving the reform process from a study (...) to the level of intergovernmental negotiations in informal plenary meetings." And added that he was convinced that: “there is light at the end of the tunnel.” On his first day in office, the new GA President, Ali Treki of Libya, called for reform of the United Nations with an expanded Security Council representing “full geographic diversity.” Some observers close to the process opine that now is a historic opportunity to adjust the differences that still exist and carry through a genuine reform of the SC, while others maintain that we have only seen “more of the same” during the last GA and expect to see just that when the 64th GA starts to discuss the issue in the coming months.