Update on the resumption of the discussions on Security Council Reform at the General Assembly

9 February 2007

On 9 February 2007, the President of the GA, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, convened this year’s first meeting of the [i]Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council (Press Release).

During the informal meeting, Sheikha Al Khalifa introduced the five key cluster areas which will be the focus for discussion in the next two months and announced who the five facilitators will be (Statement):

  • The size of an enlarged Security Council (H.E. Mr. Heraldo Muñoz of Chile)
  • Categories of membership (H.E. Mr. Ali Hachani of Tunisia)
  • The question of regional representation (H.E. Ms. Mirjana Mladineo of Croatia)
  • The question of the veto (H.E. Mr. Andreas D. Mavroyiannis of Cyprus)
  • The working methods of the Security Council and the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly (H.E. Mr. Frank Majoor of the Netherlands)

Member States welcomed the GA President’s proposal to engage in discussions on the basis of these five key areas and appeared eager to begin consultations. Liechtenstein, inter alia, noted that the facilitators should be given a free hand in how to organize their respective clusters – i.e. to choose whether they wish to consult in an open-ended format or conduct bilateral or other talks. Furthermore, the five thematic issues should be approached in a coherent and consistent manner.

The President of the GA announced that discussions on each cluster will begin in the week of February 19th, 2007 with an inclusive informal meeting that should “allow all Member States to express their views in a transparent manner.”(Statement)

During the meeting, 22 Member States made statements:

Security Council Enlargement
With regards to the enlargement of the Security Council, there seems to be considerable consensus amongst the UN membership that none of the formulas proposed and discussed to date will allow Member States (MS) to reach the “broadest possible agreement” necessary to move the process forward as early as possible. Thus, the idea of a transitional arrangement is gaining ground. An interim arrangement, without precluding further deliberations, could enable MS to address immediate concerns and interests while gaining experience with a more accessible and expanded Security Council.
In this respect, Panama came forward with a proposal which was well received by some of the Member States present and which will be discussed further:

  • The number of SC members should be increased from 15 to 21 (6 additional seats)
  • With due consideration to the principle of geographical representation, the 6 new seats would be distributed as follows: 1 for Latin America and the Caribbean States, 1 for Western Europe and Other States, 2 for Asia and 2 for Africa.
  • The 6 new members would be elected for a period of 5 years with the right to be immediately re-elected to the Council.
  • Any country elected for four consecutive terms on the Security Council would automatically become, and for this reason only, a permanent member
  • New permanent members would not have veto power.

Veto Power
A considerable number of Member States mentioned that veto power should be gradually eliminated (Cuba, Panama, Argentina, among others). And until the use of veto would be completely abolished, Member States should phase it out by limiting its use to situations falling under Chapter VII of the Charter and refrain from exercising veto power in instances of violations of jus cogens (e.g. genocide).

Working Methods
Member States also insisted on the importance of reforming the Security Council’s working methods (The Netherlands, Japan, Belarus, Liechtenstein, Cuba, and China among others). Ambassador Majoor from the Netherlands, the new facilitator for the ‘working methods and the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly’ cluster, noted that improved working methods and assured interaction of all the membership with the work of the Council and its subsidiary bodies are key to improve the effectiveness of the Council. More, and perhaps institutionalized, consultations with those countries on which relevant resolutions may have a direct bearing, is needed. To achieve this, he suggested that SC members could make more frequent use of Art. 31 of the Charter offering regional organizations a seat in the Council in certain occasions. Cuba remarked that the usurpation of GA and ECOSOC roles by the Security Council is an issue that will have to be looked at more closely.

Panama, in the context of the proposal mentioned above, suggested a few measures to be considered in reforming the working methods of the subsidiary organs, in case the Council will be enlarged:

  • Formalize the practice of subsidiary organs only being presided over by non-permanent members of the SC.
  • The number of subsidiary organs’ members should be limited to 11: two members for each group plus the presiding member
  • Only non-permanent members should take presidency of the SC.

How to achieve progress?
Concerning the format of the consultations, some Member States stated their doubts on the efficacy of the current arrangement, the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council (e.g. Germany, Japan, Switzerland). Germany compared the OEWG to a favorite but old car (the Group has been meeting since 1993) and stated that today MS have reached a point where “the way forward needs a new engine.” The OEWG has been a useful tool for discussion, but it is hampered by the process to reach consensus and MS should switch to a new vehicle. The five facilitators might be able to help MS identifying areas of agreement. Switzerland suggested that discussions should be conducted as informally as possible so that Member States can feel free to be creative.

Ambassador Wenaweser from Liechtenstein noted that Security Council reform will remain elusive unless proposals are brought to the plenary. He also reminded MS that if a proposal is agreed upon, it should be both achievable and ratifiable, as there would be no use for a proposal approved by the GA but then stuck in the ratification process ad infinitum.

On the other hand, some Member States declared their support for the format of discussions used thus far (China and Pakistan among others). Pakistan noted that Member States should be careful not to quickly switch to a fast and flashy car as it could result in a fatal crash Before putting the old car in the garage, MS should think of how to make best use of it.


Prepared by Irene Martinetti

February, 2007