A New Low Point in the Security Council Reform Process: Serious Clashes between the President of the General Assembly and Chair

On 27 June 2013, the President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, rather than the Negotiations Chair, Zahir Tanin, presided over a meeting of the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council Reform, highlighting an ongoing disagreement between the two about how and when to proceed during the current session.


Jeremic appointed Tanin as Chair relatively late in the session, on 9 November 2012, after conducting six weeks of consultations with Member States first. While the G4 (see footnotes for details on the various interest groups) has at times been displeased with Tanin because of the slow progress - even suggesting in 2010 that the PGA play a more active role - the group never questioned his impartiality outright. The UfC, however, did exactly that after Tanin wrote a letter in July 2012 outlining his proposals on how to move the slow-going process forward. Especially his proposal to task the Chair with creating a concise working document became a bone of contention. The G4 had called for a shorter text for years.

Tanin had hoped to have a meeting at the end of January 2013, but Jeremic apparently disagreed. Finally, the first meeting of the negotiations during this session took place in April. At this meeting, Tanin’s proposals from 25 July 2012 were discussed, but no consensus was reached about the Chair producing a concise text: The C10, UfC, and permanent members China and the Russian Federation expressed reservations. The G4 and L69, on the other hand, indicated strong support.

While some insiders wondered if Tanin would throw in the towel, he clearly did not regard the April meeting as a definitive rejection of his proposals. But Tanin told the Center in early May that it might be best to put the meetings on “strategic hold.” Soon afterwards he must have changed his mind, however, because a few weeks later he wrote a number of times to the PGA about convening two additional meetings during this session and he copied one of his letters to all Member States. Jeremic then decided to chair the next meeting himself instead, which he announced to Member States on 12 June 2013.

Meeting of 27 June 2013

Jeremic’s opening statement stressed that Member States clearly want to have meetings, but that there is a divergence of opinions on how to proceed. He used the words ‘stalemate’ and ‘deadlock’ to describe the negotiations, an evaluation few insiders would disagree with. Hinting at the disagreement between Tanin and himself, he said: “The situation was unfortunately further complicated by an attempt to schedule two additional meetings at once without having first secured agreement on each of the topics to be discussed.”

Speaking at the meeting were St Vincent and the Grenadines (on behalf of L69); Italy (on behalf of UfC); Guyana on behalf of CARICOM; Sierra Leone on behalf of the C10; Brazil on behalf of the G4 as well as in its national capacity; and Belgium (also on behalf of the Netherlands). Additional interventions came from India, Russian Federation, Mexico, Egypt, France, Pakistan, China, Spain, United Kingdom, Liechtenstein, Japan, South Africa, Chile, South Korea, Ukraine, Colombia, Canada, Turkey, Indonesia, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Germany, Argentina, Bhutan, US, Rwanda, Pacific Small Island Developing States, Solomon Islands, Mauritius, Congo, Nigeria, Guatemala, and Singapore.

Besides rehashing points of view made at earlier meetings, some Member States or their groupings shared the following opinions:

  • A large number of statements referred to Tanin. Some of these just noted his absence, but most seemed to expect a continued role for the Chair. Liechtenstein asked the PGA for clarification on Tanin’s status. But apparently none of the UfC counties that spoke mentioned Tanin, nor did China or the Russian Federation.
  • Those that specifically mentioned a concise working document were: L69, G4, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Liechtenstein, Rwanda, and the Pacific Small Island Developing States.
  • Sierra Leone (C10) said that there are no convergences between UfC and the C10. It also claimed that the African position now enjoys the broadest support.
  • Mexico contended that threatening to hold votes causes division. (This probably refers to the draft L69 and CARICOM resolutions.
  • Congo suggested that the next meeting could be on which version of the negotiation text to use for further negotiations: Revision 2 or 3.?
  • We could have a meeting on the intermediary model (Belgium, Indonesia, and Liechtenstein) or on a concise working document (Belgium).
  • Liechtenstein raised the possibility of reviewing the mandate of the negotiations under decision 62/557.
  • L69, G4 and Chile raised the hope for progress by 2015 (L69, G4, Chile). Recently, two G4 delegates told the Center that they hoped to have real momentum in 2015 (the 10th anniversary of the 2005 World Summit and 70th anniversary of the UN) and even suggested a role for the Secretary-General in this regard. This is probably in reference to the proposal by Tanin that when the time is right, a high-level meeting could be held on Security Council reform.

When closing the meeting, the PGA made the following points:

  • My approach has been hands-on, including through meetings with the Chair of the negotiations.
  • The Chair’s letter of 25 July 2012 caused much “turbulence” and this influenced my approach to Tanin.
  • Maybe we had few formal meetings during this session, but more meetings took place between Member States and myself than during the previous session.
  • Tanin was invited to this meeting and I deplore his absence. Tanin’s status has not changed during this session. That Tanin was absent today will influence my decision on how to proceed. (Reportedly, Tanin was not specifically invited to attend in his capacity as Chair.*)
  • I should not be seen as being against votes.
  • Security Council reform has to be a membership-driven process. I’m not suggesting that the PGA should determine the process.
  • It seems clear that this meeting did not provide more clarity on how to proceed. Tanin made a bold move in July 2012, but the result seems to be another long-lasting joust about process rather than substance. Considering the difficulties in agreeing to the last revisions of the negotiation text (also referred to as the compilation text, depending on who you are talking to) it now seems evident that Member States could no more readily agree on a draft concise working document.

Notes on key Groups:
African Group: the 54 Member States from Africa. Its position is coordinated by the C10: Algeria, DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Namibia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Zambia. In favor of new permanent seats with veto rights. However, South Africa and Nigeria have been willing to be flexible on veto rights as recently as 2009.
G4: Brazil, Germany, India, Japan: in favor of permanent seats but willing to be flexible on veto rights. It gathered almost 80 supporters in 2012 for a draft resolution on adding permanent members but it did not mention veto rights. Many of the backers for this draft resolution apparently do not support extending the right of veto, or have made their support conditional in other ways. The list of endorsers was not made public but is likely to include members of the L69 and African Group.
L69: India, Brazil, and approximately 40 other Member States, many of them small island states: in favor of permanent seats. 14 of these are reported to be supporters from Africa. Since 2012, in favor of adding veto rights to new permanent seats.
UfC: Uniting for Consensus, with Italy as focal point. Against new permanent seats. Core members are Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Spain, and Turkey. China and Indonesia attend UfC meetings at expert level. Support for its objection to existing models for new permanent seats probably total between 30-40 Member States. Has proposed a compromise model with longer-term and renewable seats.

* See http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/kyodo-news-international/130627/chairs-absence-at-key-un-council-reform-meeting-sparks