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UN sleeps over SC reform

The General Assembly formed a Working Group in December 1993 to suggest how to reform the Security Council in keeping with emerging global realities and the rise in UN membership. But 10 years on, the Group has still not been able to come up with a blueprint.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2003 20:47 IST
PTI

The reform of the Security Council is long overdue. The most powerful body of the world's most powerful organisation has been lying dormant through momentous churning in the world order.

The General Assembly formed a Working Group in December 1993 to suggest how to reform the Security Council in keeping with emerging global realities and the rise in UN membership. But 10 years on, the Group has still not been able to come up with a blueprint.

While all member states accept that the Council needs to reform, there is no consensus on what should these reforms be.

The "Open-Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters related to the Security Council" came into being on December 3, 1993 by the General Assembly's Resolution 48/26.

It was meant to discuss two primary concerns, clubbed under two clusters:

Cluster 1: Council membership, including its expansion and the use of veto
Cluster 2: Council's transparency, measured through its working methods and its decision-making process

All the 191 General Assembly members are part of the Group. Over the years, they have held five general sessions and discussed a surfeit of proposals. But nothing even near to a consensus has been reached so far.

Biggest issue before the Group: The biggest, and the most controversial, issue before the Group has been the Council's permanent membership, and the use of veto. Many feel, and not incorrectly, that the power is used by the five permanent members (P5) to serve their own ends, and most of reform proposals try to address this issue.

Proposals over use of Veto

More permanent seats: One proposal is to make permanent membership more representative by giving permanent seats, and veto power, to powerful industrialised nations like Germany and Japan as well as rising nations like India and Brazil to it.

However, rival nations like Italy, Australia, Pakistan and Argentina are opposed to this proposal as new permanent seats would upset regional power balances. They have even formed an informal pressure group called the "coffee club" [link to article on coffee club] to prevent such reform.

Abolish the veto: Another proposal is to abolish the use of veto altogether. But, not surprisingly, the five veto-wielders are dead against it. Such a move would require an amendment to the UN Charter, and, if there ever is any formal move to abolish the veto, all the five can be expected to veto it.

Curtail the use of veto: Some other proposals try to curtail the use of veto, either by allowing it only for issues relating to Chapter VII of the Charter (dealing with international peace and security), or by making it subject to the General Assembly's approval or to support from at least one more permanent member. All these changes would require amendments to the Charter, and none of them find favour with the P5.

Increase non-permanent seats: Yet another proposal is to increase only the number of non-permanent seat, even if as a temporary measure. This wouldn't address the issue of misuse of veto, and thus has the support of the P5. Even other member-states agree to it in principle.

However, the modalities - including issues like how many more seats to add, how to make them geographically and economically representative and so on - are the subject of much difference within the General Assembly. Thus, even this proposal hasn't reached any substantive form until now.

In 1997, the two co-chairpersons of the Working Group conducted a survey of UN members to obtain their views on Council reform. A substantial majority advocated an increase of both permanent and non-permanent members.

First Published: Nov 10, 2003 07:22 IST