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The UN security council reforms: myth or reality? an african analysis

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par Ndiyaye Innocent UWIMANA
UZ - MCS 2006

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After World War II [WW II] the United Nations [U.N] was set up to end all wars, enhance respect for international law and promote human rights and peoples' well-being. The U.N was established as an association of nations which accepted the values of civilized life and agreed to co-operate together for the good of all. According to Christian Tomuschart [2002:45], the U.N was founded, as it is enshrined in the Charter, «To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war». This is the most important function of the U.N and, to a considerable extent, the criterion by which it is judged by the peoples it is at the service of.

As stipulated in its Charter, the principal function of the U.N is to maintain international peace and security. Other roles include international cooperation, coordinating social, economic and cultural covenants as well as international conventions and other humanitarian problems, notably, in areas of promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms. The U.N mainly comprises of the Security Council [UNSC], General Assembly [UNGA], the Secretariat and specialized agencies. As Sydney D. Bailey [2001:40] argues, «The United Nations General Assembly consists of all the small and large, greedy and generous, allied and neutral, democratic and tyrannical, arrogant and diffident member states of the United Nations». When the U.N was established, the core responsibility for maintaining international peace and security was entrusted to the UNSC. This organ is made up of five veto power wielding permanent member countries [The United States [U.S], Russia, France, the United Kingdom [UK] and China] requiring it to act in accordance with the purposes and principles of the U.N.

According to John T. Rourke [1995:363], «In the U.N Security Council any of the permanent members can, by its single vote, veto a policy statement or action favoured by the other 14 members. Between 1946 and 1990, the veto was cast 246 times, with each of the members using its special prerogative to protect its interests.» The use of veto by permanent members has led to some questioning whether or not the UNSC can still be the custodian of international

peace and security. As John Young [2003:56] puts it, the UNSC «operates, by and large, according to the golden rule - those who have the gold make the rules».

Since the establishment of the U.N, global politics has been facing major systematic challenges. Throughout this period, the UNSC did not fully live up to peoples' expectations as a guarantor of international peace and security. The incessant calls for reform result from the fact that the UNSC today still reflects the global power structure of 1945, though its non-veto membership was expanded from eleven to fifteen in 1965. The four WWII victors and China have held on to their privileged status. They are permanent and can veto any UNSC decision that affects their respective interests. Considering the current geopolitical context, it is no longer possible to conceive of and implement an international peace and security which is restricted to the maintenance of order stricto sensu. Hence, in a bid to adjust the UNSC to new global governance and geo-political realities, consistent calls for reform have become louder.

Objectives and Purpose of the Study

The quest for reform of the UNSC has been an integral part of the life of the U.N since its earliest days. Since its establishment in 1945, the organization has experienced an array of proposals, some of which have been adopted and implemented, and others have remained to gather dust. Considering the role of veto power in the management of international politics and the preservation of the veto wielding states' interests, the study examines the possibility of amending Article 108 of the U.N Charter and allocating two permanent seats with veto power to Africa. The researcher assesses the picture of the future world political behaviour, prospects and challenges the expanded UNSC is likely to face in the next generations.

This study examines how the unilateralist approach to global challenges exercised by veto- wielding countries militates against the objectives of the U.N Charter. The study analyses the extent to which this unilateralist approach has polarised and paralysed the current global political landscape, as claimed by Third World Countries, mostly African. The research also projects the prospects and challenges of a reformed UNSC in maintaining international peace and security. The study also assesses whether or not new permanent members, if granted veto powers, will result in the UNSC achieving its core responsibility.

This study may assist decision-makers in Governments, international organizations and members of international community on how these reforms will affect their activities in areas of foreign policy and diplomacy. Arguing from an idealist perspective which advocates unity of purpose in the U.N, cooperation between states, poor and rich, that international peace and security may be achieved, this study examines the practical possibility of this idealist's view and assesses whether or not having more permanent member states with veto power, would result in less tragedies at a high scale. The researcher also examines whether or not the inclusion of new permanent veto-wielding members will result in powerful states being limited in taking a unilateral military action without the express endorsement of the UNSC. The study further assesses whether or not any other state or combination of states will consider taking unilateral actions in their own interests such as the controversial invasion of Iraq in 2003 as Adekeye Adebayo [2005:17] notes, «when the world's most powerful state, the U.S, discovered it had power without legitimacy, while the U.N rediscovered it had legitimacy without power».

Literature Review

Few aspects of U.N reform have attracted as much political interest and academic attention as the projected reform of the UNSC. Since January 1994, UNSC reform has been tabled in the UNGA without any progress. As Robert J. Art [2002:38] argues, «In September 2000, Heads of State attending the Millennium Summit called for the rapid reform and enlargement of the SC making it more representative, effective and legitimate in the eyes of everyone in the world». The High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Changes, was appointed in 2000 by the U.N Secretary General, Kofi Annan. As John Shiva [2004:30] notes, «The Panel presented two models of expansion of the UNSC which involved a distribution of seats between four major areas: Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and America». Nevertheless, while the expansion of the UNSC's membership pointed in the right direction, the veto power, which is critical, remained unchallenged in the report. Commentators from the Great Powers argue that the veto is crucial to the operations of the U.N: «It keeps the big players in the game and there is no game without them» [Berlie Macknara, 1986:40]. The U.N reform, in the sense of changing the organization so that its capacities to fulfill the goals of its Charter are strengthened, has been a continuing matter of concern and the object of serious research. According to Salmon C. Trevor [2000:81], «The U.N's failure to fully understand and doctrinally adjust to the new

circumstances surrounding global politics brought the world body to the point of outright strategic failure». As Nicholas Hopkinson [1998:50] has put it: «The world balance of power has changed dramatically in the years since the United Nations was established but the composition of the Security Council has not». Hence the need for reform has persistently been suggested.

Over the years, a variety of proposals to amend the structure of the UNSC, to bring it more into line with the current geopolitical realities, have been proposed. However, the veto power aspect has become a stumbling bloc, as the five permanent members have been ever ready to quash any attempt that may lead to the amendment of Article 108 of the U.N Charter. As John T. Rourke [1995:363] argues, «The continuing importance of the veto in practice, its value as a symbol of big power status, and the difficulty of amending the Charter mean that the veto authority is likely to continue without major revision despite arguments that its existence is in the hands of an unrepresentative few countries and is undermining the legitimacy of the UNSC». Advocating the overhaul of the U.N, John Galtung [2000:98] observes that,

Abolishing the Security Council, revising the contribution structure, significantly reducing the level of the United Nations salaries, the dewaldheimization of the United Nations system, greatly reducing the power and authority of the executive heads, and moving the United Nations headquarters out of New York will make this international body more efficient and reliable.

The special status enjoyed by the Permanent five [P-5] of the UNSC has become a simmering issue in the U.N. As John Rourke [2002:169] argues, «The most common argument against the arrangement is that the existing membership has never been fully realistic and is becoming less so as time goes by». Many global and regional powers that do not have the veto power have been pressing for changes in the UNSC structure. In the same vein, less powerful countries have jumped on the bandwagon. This can be illustrated by the Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga who once called on the UNSC «to become more representative and more responsible to the general membership of the United Nations» [John Rourke, 2002:169]. The Sri Lankan President's sentiments were echoed by Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa who emphasised that «The Security Council can no longer be retained like the sanctuary of the hollies with only the original members acting as high priests, deciding on issues for the rest of the world who cannot be admitted» [John Rourke, 2002:169]. In his report [March 2005], titled

`In Larger Freedom: Development, Security and Human Rights for All», the U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan, stated that, «No overhaul of the U.N would be complete without reform of the Security Council». Dissatisfaction with the UNSC has spawned many plans to revise it. However, any change in the membership of the UNSC requires an amendment to Article 108 of the U.N Charter which needs the consent of all the permanent veto-wielding members. As such, it is highly unlikely that any formal changes concerning membership of the permanent members or their veto power will materialize.

Theoretical Framework

The world's political behaviour is dictated by the struggle for self-centered national interests. It has long been argued that world politics is characterized above all by egotistical states operating in an anarchical environment. David Forsythe [1989:30] argues that, «From the celebrated works of Hans J. Morgenthau to the much-praised restatements by David Franklin and Hedley Bull, commentators have stressed the power drive of nation-states operating without higher authority». In these classical treatments emphasis has been placed as David Forsythe [1989:40] argues, «on the independence of states, on their drive to maximize power as both ends and means, and even on the morality of normally evil action when done in pursuit of national interests». In this study, which examines power dynamics, competition, and unilateral exercise of power within the UNSC, realist and idealist theories of international relations were examined. These theories were chosen because they do help a great deal in understanding the current anarchical power struggle-ridden international system. As Bruce Russett [2001:25] observes, realist philosophy postulates that «international politics is a continuous struggle for power among nations and these nations always seek to dominate each other in the conduct of their own affairs».

This assertion finds expression in the UNSC structure and its permanent members' résistance to proposed reforms. Since the foundation of the U.N, there have been some insurmountable obstacles that have prevented Charter amendment to Article 108 of the U.N, which requires the affirmative concurrence of the five permanent members of the UNSC. Practically, this means that none of the five will approve anything that removes them from the UNSC or takes away their veto power privileges. In the history of the U.N, much more has been achieved by changes

in practice, rather than Charter revision. Thus, one may observe that any reform will have to maintain the status quo.

More recently, there has been renewed attention to the subject of cooperation in world politics, whether through emphasis on regimes or on other forms of collaboration. According to David Forsythe [1989:30], «Joseph Nye, Robert Keohane, Ken Oye, Robert Axelrod, and others have sought to modify Morgenthau's `realist' school of thought by emphasizing the possibilities if not the extent of cooperation under anarchy and trying to clarify the dynamics of that cooperation.» Arguing from the idealist paradigm, Bruce Russett [2001:25] contends that, «states' behavior over each other can be modified and states act in harmony rather than always in conflict with each other». In some cases as David Forsythe [1989:31] argues, «Focus on international regimes has been blended with the use of game theory to analyze the start, duration, and decline of international cooperation». In these analyses emphasis is especially placed on development of a long-term view of interests, and restriction of the number of actors involved in the quest for agreement.

As Paul Hightower [1999:40] argues, «A number of states have been satisfied to share power rather than constantly strive to maximize it; others have reduced unilateral power in the interests of order and friendly relations». Thus, as David Forsythe [1989:31] notes, «The U.S entered a new treaty arrangement with Panama to provide for the security of the important waterway, even though the U.S appeared to be giving up prerogatives». He adds that, «Under this doctrine, it has been demonstrated that less can mean more; less assertions of unilateral advantage may mean more maximization of national interests». It is this mix of cooperation and anarchy which constitutes the environment in which the UNSC and the entire U.N system exist.

It is this recognition of cooperation rather than struggling for self-centered national interests, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are witnessing a transition from the classical Westphalian world order to a world order where regions and their organizations such as the European Union [EU], the African Union [AU] to states are playing a central role in global governance. As David Forsythe [1989:31 argues, «Processes of regional integration are indeed increasingly affecting and even shaping international relations». However, it is poignant to note that we are not entering the era of post-Westphalian world order in which nations are

disappearing or becoming irrelevant, on the contrary nation-states remain important for identity and local governance.


For the UNSC decisions to command worldwide respect and advance international political progress as well as international law, restore the entire U.N legitimacy and credibility, granting veto power to new permanent members remains the sole option.


The bulk of this study is confined to the analysis of library materials. Reference was made to various articles on international law and international politics. Legal instruments such as International Covenants, Declarations, Charters and the International Court of Justice's decisions were examined. The researcher analysed several resolutions adopted by the UNSC and the UNGA. The internet was used to supply relevant information on the subject matter. The proposal presented to the 60th UNGA Heads of State Summit by AU on U.N reform was analysed. Where necessary, tables, diagrams and figures were used. It is reiterated that all media information public and private were used with caution to avoid politically persuaded opinion and in some instances patriotism which clouds the relevant issues for the discussion. Data is presented in a discussive and narrative format.

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