The creation of an Advisory Group to provide a basis for Security Council reform negotiations unsurprisingly meets opposition

Update on Security Council Reform: Creation of PGA’s Advisory Group and plenary meetings held on 7 and 8 November 2013
9 November 2013, by Lydia Swart

On 22 October, the President of the General Assembly (PGA), H.E. John Ashe from Antigua and Barbuda, distributed a letter announcing the reappointment of Afghan Ambassador Zahir Tanin as Chair of the intergovernmental negotiations and informing the membership that he had created an Advisory Group. He explained:

I have also invited the following Permanent Representatives to serve as an Advisory Group to myself: H.E. Benedicte Frankinet, Permanent Representative of Belgium, H.E. Antonio Patriota, Permanent Representative of Brazil, H.E. Christian Wenaweser, Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein, H.E. Mr. Robert Aisi, Permanent Representative of Papua New Guinea, H.E. Daniele Bodini, Permanent Representative of San Marino, and H.E. Mr. Vandi Chidi Minah, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone.

The Group is advisory in nature. It does not have a negotiating role. Its purpose is to produce a basis for the start of the Intergovernmental Negotiations that reflects the ideas put forward in the negotiations so far, and also identifies available options.

The Group will begin to meet as early as possible and will take fully into account the views expressed in the Debate on November 7th and 8t , so as to enable it to provide an input for the start of the intergovernmental negotiations on November 15, 2013, or as early as is feasible thereafter.

It looks as though the Advisory Group was chosen to include representatives from major interest groups, namely the G4 & L69 (Patriota), ACT (Wenaweser - but it should be noted that ACT does not participate in the negotiations as a group, focussing on working methods of the current Council instead, stressing that this issue should be dealt with outside the negotiations), small island states & L69 (Aisi), UfC (Bodini), and the C10/African Group (Minah) as well as so-called “neutrals” (Frankinet - though Belgium currently openly favors expansion with new permanent members - as was clear from the statement of the Netherlands on behalf of both countries on 7 November). It appears that this particular group was also favorably stacked with permanent representatives who indicated support for a concise text in the previous session. The creation of a concise text, proposed by Amb. Tanin in July 2012, was a controversial topic during the 67th session. (For more information on the groupings’ acronyms and composition, see the end of this update.)

The notion that the Advisory Group would create a "basis" for the negotiations was bound to meet with opposition. On 10 May 2010, a 30-page negotiation text was distributed that was supposed to form the basis of the negotiations, consisting of a compilation of proposals submitted by Member States, and it was much welcomed as an important next step by those in favor of new permanent seats. 138 Member States had called for such a text in December 2009. By 2013, this text had seen numerous revisions but still remained 30 pages long. Moreover, its third and latest revision continues to meet objections, and permanent members China and the Russian Federation had indicated in 2011 that no such text could form the basis of the negotiations.

Even before the joint meeting on the annual report of the Security Council (A/68/2) and the Question on equitable representation on and increasing in the membership of the Security Council and related matters (agenda item 123) took place on 7 and 8 November 2013, the PGA’s 22 October letter was met with concern not only from the C10, UfC and China, but also from countries from Eastern Europe and the Arab Group.*

In his opening statement, President Ashe clearly seemed to have taken much of the criticism that he had received about the Advisory Group to heart. He stated:

Many of you will recall that, on my election as President of the General Assembly, I emphasized the need to reinvigorate and advance the question of Security Council Reform and I stressed that I would make it a priority.

While this commitment remains solid, the extent of the challenge is not lost on me. My team and I have been unceasingly committed to identifying how to give new life to the established intergovernmental negotiating process on this question. To this end, we held consultations with virtually every interest group on this matter, to ascertain your thoughts and, more importantly, your expectations. Based on the feedback I received, I created an Advisory Group to assist me in identifying ways by which the process could move forward.

... I would like to clarify that its membership was NOT chosen on the basis of geographical representation. Rather, there were three primary areas of consideration: 1) size; 2) representation of the various interests in the debate; and 3) that its members, ever mindful of their individual or “group” positions, would seek to look past such interests and provide me with advice on how to move the discussions forward.

What is important to note is that the Advisory Group is NOT, nor can it be, a formal part of your established intergovernmental process.

Similarly, this Group does NOT have a negotiating mandate. That mandate belongs to you the member States, in the format of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Group. And, equally important, the Advisory Group does not have a mandate to draft any resolution or declaration or document of any kind.

Rather, drawing upon document 62/557, the discussions that have taken place in the intergovernmental framework, and the content of this debate, the Advisory Group has been tasked with providing ideas to me as President of the General Assembly to help start negotiations that will begin on or about November 15, under the auspices of the appointed Chair, Ambassador Tanin of Afghanistan. It will be my prerogative whether or not to accept the ideas of my Advisory Group and I hope that your deliberations here today will provide them with food for thought.

At the joint debate on 7 and 8 November, UfC Member States expressed satisfaction about their meeting with the PGA on 6 November and the assurances he had given them, as reflected in his opening statement. However, the G4, CARICOM, L69, and small island states (these groups have overlapping memberships) and a few others in favor of new permanent seats all spoke in favor of the Advisory Group and its mandate as set out in the PGA’s letter. A number of other Member States, including China and the Russian Federation, would like more clarification about the mandate, or expressed reservations. Egypt explained that NAM also had reservations about any initiative that was in apparent contradiction with decision 62/557, which sets out the parameters of the Intergovernmental Negotiations. In its national capacity, Egypt reminded Member States that the Arab Group also desires a new permanent seat. This aspiration complicates the G4/L69’s calls for six new permanent seats.

At the joint debate, a large number of Member States indicated their support for expansion in both categories: permanent and non-permanent seats. But many of these countries do not favor the extension of veto rights to new permanent seats, as was, for instance, clear from Finland’s statement. In addition, a number of those favoring new permanent seats are willing to consider an intermediate/interim compromise model. Compromise models are, however, not welcomed by India and the African Group.

Many countries stressed that reform of the Council’s working methods could see progress independently of the negotiations as it does not require Charter change. Other countries - especially those that oppose new permanent seats - fear that dealing with this issue separately undermines decision 62/557 which lists working methods as part of the five negotiables to be resolved in a comprehensive manner.

Interestingly, France reiterated its earlier proposal that permanent members should voluntarily refrain from using the veto in case of mass crimes/atrocities; creating a new code of conduct. The UK echoed this proposal, as did a number of other Member States. Such an adjustment of veto powers might make them more palatable to many Member States. However, those NAM countries that favor the outright abolishment of the veto may reject such a proposal.

At the joint debate, it seemed clear from the statements that expansion of the Security Council was of greater interest to most Member States than the discussion of the Security Council’s annual report. However, Switzerland, which coordinates ACT, pointedly only referred to the annual report and welcomed an additional and separate meeting on the report later this month, after Member States had more time to digest it properly.

A number of Member States favoring new permanent seats mentioned the year 2015 as a good time when real progress could or should be made on Security Council reform. 2015 marks the tenth anniversary of the 2005 World Summit which called for “early reform” of the Security Council and also marks the 70th anniversary of the UN. It seems clear that the G4 would like a “reprise” of its 2005 efforts. To be successful, this would likely require a shorter text and a meeting (follow-up to the Millennium and 2005 summits?) where decision 62/557 and its call for “broadest possible political acceptance” and a comprehensive decision on all negotiables could be bypassed. UfC, however, rejects any deadline for the negotiations. In 2005, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan had added security council reform to the agenda of the World Summit. Whether Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon technically can - or is willing to - do the same is unclear to this author in light of the fact that since the 2005 World Summit, intergovernmental negotiations were established.

The joint meeting was held in a plenary meeting and the UN Department of Public Information provided summaries (see here and here) and the taped meetings can also be found on UN Webcast’s archives. Apparently, the exact date of the next meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiations has not yet been decided.

The President of the General Assembly obviously faces major obstacles in trying to move the process along. It has been suggested that decision 62/557 should be revisited. It seems likely that the African Group as a whole, UfC, some permanent members, and others will oppose this. Going back to the drawing board of the Open-ended Working Group - where decisions have to be made by general agreement - are unlikely to expedite things. Without real compromise from all groupings, it is difficult to imagine that a solution can be achieved even if a more concise text would be made available. Existing and new procedural obstacles will undoubtedly be used to hamper any outcome that does not enjoy broad support.



G4: Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan. In favor of new permanent seats for themselves as well as two such seats for Africa. The G4 is willing to forgo veto rights, at least for now. Brazil and India are also part of L69.
L69: A group of 42 countries in favor of new permanent seats. Since 2012 in favor of adding veto rights for new permanent seats. Also in favor of a dedicated non-permanent seat for small island states.
C10/African Union: 53 African countries (Egypt’s membership in the AU has been suspended). According to the Ezulwini Consensus, in favor of two permanent seats for Africa, including veto rights. 14 African countries are also part of L69 while at times South Africa and Nigeria have aligned themselves with the G4 position.
UfC: 12 core members (Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Spain, and Turkey) Indonesia and China take part in meetings at the expert level as well. Against new permanent seats. In favor of adding non-permanents seats and/or longer-term and renewable seats.
Arab Group: In favor of a new permanent seat for Arab countries.
ACT (Accountability, Coherence, and Transparency): 21 countries actively working on reforming the working methods of the Security Council: Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Hungary, Ireland, Jordan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania (obs) and Uruguay.
CARICOM: group aligned with the L69. Some of Caricom’s members are also part of L69.
Pacific SIDS (Small Island Developing States): Aligned with L69 and some of its members are also part of L69. In favor of a dedicated non-permanent seat for small island developing states.