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Security Council reform faces multiple complexities

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Picture: Li Muzi/Xinhua/Taken September 18, 2019 – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Introducing new members of the UNSC is premature and will merely amplify and deepen the existing geo-political and geo-regional contestations and chaos, says the writer.

By Ashraf Patel

The United Nations has concluded its annual General Assembly in a fractured world with a multitude of challenges, facing numerous headwinds – multiplied conflicts – coups, inflation and debt, climate change, inequality, and gender. This year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres grouped the war on Ukraine with other conflicts (Niger, Gabon, Sudan, Myanmar). Climate crises and inequality took centre stage.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil has emerged as the champion of fighting hunger and inequality and has made innovative proposals in fighting hunger and committed Brazil to this objective. President Cyril Ramaphosa has also put in a “big push for Africa” and articulated the need for peace, gender equity, and an emphasis that Africa needs to ensure its resources are invested in national industrial development and develop its new common market, the African Free Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Several weeks ago, the G20, as well as BRICS Plus nations, also concluded their summits, with core themes from these various global platforms being the realisation of the need for cohesion and inclusive multilateralism. There have also been calls for UN Security Council (UNSC) reform, viewing it as the “holy grail of reform” in the world order.

The first problem would be the kind of mechanisms required for UNSC reform and how it would work. In a world riddled with geopolitical contestations, just the process of introducing new permanent members to the UNSC will amplify the current fissures in the global system riven by ideological-economic-technological geopolitical tensions.

As we saw in the General Assembly votes at the UN in the past two years on the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the world is divided. Will all new nations of a proposed permanent UNSC have full veto powers? Is it viable? If so, how will it work? Hence, the calls for UNSC reform in this context is misplaced.

The call for such reforms, while important for global equity, will face institutional and, above all, realpolitik challenges. However, the real challenge for the world order is in the “real development” domains, such as the need for fair trade – World Trade Organisation (WTO) reform – climate change and loss and damage funds, employment and skills development, the mega African debt crisis, and youth and mainstreaming gender.

It is here that the best multilateralism co-operation in the world is required. And resources are short due to under-development and structural poverty. Exclusion generally leads to conflict. Take a hypothetical scenario where a country such as Morocco is given a UNSC veto. If the occupation of the Western Sahara issue comes up at the UNSC and Morocco has veto power, it could simply block any discussion on this pertinent conflict in its sphere of influence.

Many other such scenarios with almost any potential new UNSC nation would face similar challenges at the UNSC. Hence, introducing new members of the UNSC is premature and will merely amplify and deepen the existing geo-political and geo-regional contestations and chaos. When the stakes are high, large powers (the P5) have been shown to spend considerable economic, political and diplomatic-developmental resources to bring to bear on the developing South and Africa to take certain a position.

So, one can infer that when the possibility of permanent new UNSC reform presents itself, there would be hyper lobbying of this or that nation state being primed for UNSC inclusion, further creating unfavourable and lopsided incentives to nations and also ignoring nations most in need.

Another more challenging issue would arise. What criteria should be used to select permanent members of the UN? This question alone will lead to very high contestations in the diplomatic arena at a time when the real challenge is for nations to prioritise the development agenda and meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This will have unintended negative consequences, as many would become engaged-focused in high-level diplomatic contests in lobbying for UNSC membership. One viable mechanism would be to invite regional bodies as well as regional security formations such as the AU, Asean, Mercusor, Arab League and Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) to have ‘permanent observer’ status at the UNSC.

Real peace and security are essentially anchored in sustainable development. The core priority for the Global South should be a big push for Global multilateralism reforms. Firstly, the IMF, World Bank and commercial banks need to come up with a “new deal” regarding the Debt Crisis. The WTO is in dire need of updated rules and a genuinely fair trade regime, especially in agriculture, trade, fisheries and Intellectual Property IP.

Second, there is a dire need for the UN COP28 to agree on actual Climate Change Loss and Damage Funds. These resources will go a long way to assisting the most vulnerable nations and regions in the Global South-North to invest in systems and projects to mitigate climate change and develop disaster management systems.

Finally, it is a sad and sobering moment for Africa. When the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were announced by the UN in 2000 with much fanfare, it was a time of hope and vision. Today, most African nations have not even met the original MDGs and, in many cases, are backsliding on core indicators.

The AU needs to invest considerable resources in the development agenda, implement the AU 2063 vision, and take seriously the AUs “Silencing the Guns” agenda. Local elites, regional formations, corporations, Development Fund Institutions, and civil society need to connect with the masses and with the UN system to resolve the multitude of conflicts and coups.

Working with various platforms, the G20 and BRICS Plus can ensure a solid, sustainable green industrialisation pathway that can ensure Africa gets back on track in meeting the basic MDGs and SDGs. Time is running out.

Ashraf Patel is a senior research associate at the Institute for Global Dialogue