The Doha Forum
Doha, State of Qatar
12-13 May 2011
The Call for Reform: The UN and the Security Council in a Changing World
H.E. Zahir Tanin
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan
To the United Nations
The only consistency in the global political climate is that it is always changing. It is as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who was obsessed by change, said: “You cannot step into the same river twice.” “International Stability,” the topic we explore here this morning, must be addressed in the context of the shifting political landscape over time. International bodies, such as the United Nations, must adapt to such changes in order to remain effective, efficient, and relevant in our dynamic world. Although adjusting to change is a constant challenge, it is also a chance to progress.
In 1945, the United Nations was founded upon the need to work together globally toward international stability. Recognizing the increasing interdependence of the world, and mutual responsibilities of nations to their people and to each other, the United Nations was developed to inspire mutual respect and trust between people and nations. In the aftermath of the Second World War when the UN was founded, the global political map dramatically transformed due to anti-colonial liberation wars and movements, and the fight for self-determination. In 1965, the membership of the UN increased to 117 from 51 in 1945. In fact, the number of independent countries in Asia quintupled. In Africa, where in 1939 there had been one independent state, dozens of independent countries (now 53) emerged. In Latin America, though there were twenty or so republics, decolonization added another dozen.
Instead of being an exclusive club of former colonizers and World War II victors, the UN suddenly consisted of Member States from all over the globe, encompassing the colossal mass of the remaining two thirds of the world, representing two billion people. In order to reflect this change, in 1965, the number of UN Security Council non-permanent members increased from six to ten.
After 1945, the Cold War, which lasted for over 4 decades, shaped UN activities, in particular the Security Council, within the limits of cooperation mainly between two super powers. However, while the US and USSR continued to sufficiently agree to take global decisions and avoid direct confrontation, the UN was able to deal with conflicts, which essentially were confined to outside Europe. In fact, the two super-powers used the UN as a venue of cooperation, or rather the possible entente between themselves. Therefore, the world was stable enough to avoid another war that was constantly feared: a Third, possibly Nuclear, World War.
The end of the Cold War marked a significant shift in the nature of conflicts and the balance of power. Gone was the traditional East-West dynamic. As such, the UN in particular the Security Council, entered a different period characterized by the need for collaboration in an increasingly diverse and multi-polar world.
Just before the end of the Cold War, in 1987, the Five Permanent members of the Security Council known as the P5, worked together through sponsoring a Chapter VII resolution to end the Iraq-Iran war. The resolution asked for an immediate ceasefire, threatening the use of sanctions if the parties did not comply with the demand. The turning point was the Security Council mandate for ejection of the Iraqi invasion from Kuwait in 1990. It was a time in which former President George Bush Sr. talked about a new role for the UN as an agent of a “new world order”. The Security Council’s efforts in 1990 therefore marked the beginning of a new era for the UN.
The collaboration of P5 and the other members of the Security Council extended to other conflicts in the 1990s and 2000s, from Haiti to Bosnia and Sierra Leone, or from Central African Republic to Mozambique and East Timor, and very recently from Iraq, to Ivory Coast and Libya. Everywhere, the UN could offer its full potential of not only peacekeeping, but peacemaking and peace building.
In the 1990s and in the beginning of this century, we witnessed significant changes on the international stage:
1. The disappearance of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw camp;
2. The unique role of the United States, which remains today;
3. Emergence and strengthening of new power centers;
4. Rapid change of interstate relations;
5. Erosion of state sovereignty by the new wave of globalization as well as the Council’s decisions.
In the post-Cold War and the post-9/11 period, with its ever-shifting dynamics, the UN and the Security Council became immersed in a completely new trajectory of the world’s history. The fact that about 30 newly independent countries following the fall of the Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia joined the UN was a consequential change in both the structure and operation of the UN.
At the same time, by the end of the Cold War in the 1990s there was a shift toward a unipolar world, which posed a significant challenge in the ways the Security Council and the UN operated. Gradually, however, at the end of first decade of the 21st century, the changes reshaped the world en route for an increased multilateralism and interconnectedness. It became clear that partnership was all-important and indispensible. The first decade after the end of the Cold War was one of renewed optimism and trust in global institutions.
The new era brought new expectations about the UN and the way it functions and adapts itself with the call of time. However, where the question of the change comes into play; on one hand, people wanted a more pro-active UN, and on the other, people wanted to see the UN supporting and giving voice to weaker states. Reform for the UN is about the organization adapting itself not only to post-Cold War and post 9-11 times but the on-going shifts and at times conflicting demands for its involvement.
The 1990s witnessed dramatic reforms of the peacekeeping system, of how the UN functions internally, of how the General Assembly works and of how the Security Council conducts its business. At the UN, discussions emerged about how the organization could change to reflect new and unfolding realities. As an organization, the UN was on the right path, however, the ultimate reform –a change in the composition of the membership of the Security Council – continued to elude the organization.
The first decade of the new millennium, the post 9-11 world, featured what was known as a “Global War on Terror,” a continued and accelerated pace of globalization, a heightened threat of climate change, global financial crises, and an increase in conflicts involving non-state actors. It became ever more urgent to define new global governance for the 21st Century. The 2005 UN World Summit was an attempt by the international community to do just that and to secure the UN’s place at the centre of the international system. While that Summit was not without its accomplishments, much was left undone, among other things, Security Council reform.
After that disappointment, the Member States of the UN picked up the pieces and established a new reform process, namely the intergovernmental negotiations that I have been presiding over for three years now.
It has so far been a long and bumpy road towards a reform of the Security Council. While all Member States agree on the need for change, opinions differ wildly on how it should be done. Our current efforts, which were mandated by a September 2008 decision, attempt a radically different approach than previous ones: Intergovernmental Negotiations that as I mentioned are in their third year. The first year marked the launch of the negotiations, which was a break from the long-winded discussions of past working groups, and an opportunity to move towards real reform. The main initiative of the second year involved developing a text-based process. The completion of this text marked a watershed moment in the history of Council reform. For the first time, there was one negotiation text on which all Member States could agree. And for the first time, we had the basis for streamlining negotiations. This was a major achievement towards progress in the reform process. This year, we completed the third revision of the text, which was the first step toward streamlining the positions, a process that is still underway.
While the negotiation process is essential, the reform ultimately requires the political will of Member States. Such a will can be generated in two ways:
1. If there is a consensus for a pro-active role among P5 and other big players, or
2. If there is a sufficient majority or rather a wider concurrence around an agreed model of reform.
Of course there are others who argue about the difficulties of changing the Security Council, as it was once put, “short of geo-political shocks, change has not seen nigh…” (David M. Malone, 2004). But shall we wait for a shock, possibly a Third World War or a Nuclear Tsunami, to reform the organization and the Council that is in dire need of reform?
It has been long argued that if the UN has no role in shaping the collective conscious or implementing a pro-people agenda, it then would become irrelevant (V. Parshad 2007). However, as former Indian Prime Minister J.L. Nehru famously said, millions of people around the world in all countries see the UN as the principle institution for planetary justice. With this charge comes the responsibility of reform.
The UN can be strengthened, it can be reformed, and it can work efficiently; if the collective will is there. In 1965, the reform became possible only because there was a real majority of more than 90% of member states that wanted the reform to happen. If there is a will there is a way.
On the way forward, it is up to member states to continue to build upon the progress made thus far toward the reform of the Security Council. In other words, political will is the sole driving factor of the reform process. Because we have all agreed upon the shared objective of reforming the Security Council, it can be expected that all delegations will be committed to efforts to this end. National interests however, have so far taken precedence above the good of all. Agreements then remain at the mercy of national interests, which all too often fail to make the connection between national needs and international stability.
We have come a long way since 2008, but much still needs to be done. There is no doubt that the Security Council will have to adapt in order to continue to command the same level of respect and authority as it currently does. The United Nations, as the only body claiming to represent all nations on earth, and its Security Council, has a responsibility to reform in order to remain relevant in the current international context.
Already in our young but quickly unfolding current decade, let’s call it the “post Bin-Laden” time, we are witnessing new countries being born, and we are seeing a blossoming movement towards democracy – in the Arab world and elsewhere. What I think we are all witness to is a general reshaping of global alliances and new international constellations. The need for international problem-solving and burden-sharing continues to accelerate as a result of the increasing interconnectedness of the world, the collective nature of our most pressing challenges, and an increasing global desire to share the fruits of human progress. As a result, for example, we are seeing the emergence of the European Union as a relevant body, exemplified by the recent General Assembly vote to strengthen its participation in the UN. We are seeing the expansion of the scope of activities for groups such as the G8 and G20; and the injecting of new impetuses in the work of G77 and Non-Aligned Movement and similar organizations in order to respond to current global conditions. We are seeing new and old countries considering and reconsidering the core fabric of the international system and the roles of international organizations within it.
Eyes are increasingly turning to the UN and to its Security Council – to reaffirm itself as the central player on the international stage, to coordinate all these diverse efforts, while responding to the changes in the global landscape. In order to maintain this multi-faceted role and to reflect the realities of this dynamic international environment there is a clear and urgent need for reform to the UN system and Security Council. With no reform we risk losing the legitimacy of the Security Council.