The Chair Advances Security Council Reform, but Substantial and Procedural Complexities Persist

By Lydia Swart, 29 May 2015

On 13 May 2015, an update of the Populated Framework Document was distributed to Member States, immediately followed by two days of surprisingly interactive meetings on 14 and 15 May. Pointed questions were raised about groupings and positions, and some - but far from all - were immediately addressed. The framework document indicates that with a few exceptions, stated positions have not significantly changed during the last few years. In most of the submissions, support for specific expansion models remains qualified in ways that cannot easily be reconciled. The notion of a comprehensive framework resolution emerging and succeeding anytime soon seems quite unrealistic.

Introduction

Recent developments on Security Council reform are regarded by some as a success for both the Chair of the negotiations, E. Courtenay Rattray, and the President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa. That Africa in particular contributed to the framework document is a significant development. As recently as in February of this year, the African group and others had insisted on using Revision 2 from 2010 as a starting point for a more operational text. Another group of Member States, however, preferred Revision 3 . To overcome this impasse, the Chair seems to have pressed the “rewind button,” asking Member States to restart the creation of a text from scratch.

On the downside for Rattray and Kutesa, give-and-take negotiations are still not taking place. Moreover, the Chair’s efforts thus far have met considerable reservations from the Arab Group, Uniting for Consensus (UfC), and three permanent members. This group of countries did not contribute to the latest document. UfC continues to stress that only Rev2 remains a consensus document and that Rattray’s process is not sufficiently transparent. The dissenting Member States did participate in the recent meetings but - like other Member States - were not forthcoming with precise answers to particular questions, promising to address them at a later time.

Significantly, at the meeting on 14 May 2015, Sierra Leone did note on behalf of the African group that transforming the framework document into a genuine negotiation text will be difficult. Curiously, at this meeting with open seating, Sierra Leone’s Permanent Representative sat next to his counterparts of the G4, a fact that created considerable unease among some African countries.

The submissions to the populated framework document include a familiar and wide variety of options on each of the five key issues: expansion, the question of the veto, regional representation, size and working methods, and the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly. In the past, narrowing down the many positions turned out to be an insurmountable task, and the previous Chair was not given much space to maneuver.

Membership of groupings, internal divisions, real versus stated positions

At the meetings on 14 and 15 May 2015*, L69 was asked to be more transparent about their membership. To be able to gauge levels of support for a particular stance, it is useful to know whether the membership of various groupings overlaps and what their exact positions are. [See notes on groupings below.] L69 has promised to provide a list of their members in writing.

Insiders believe that among L69’s reported 42 members, there are 12-14 African countries, 12-13 members of CARICOM, and two of the G4 members.

What was not specifically asked at the recent meetings was whether the overlap in membership means that some Member States endorse conflicting positions. For instance, Brazil and India are not only part of G4, but also of L69. Do these two countries have a preferred option, or can they live with either solution: new permanent members with veto rights extended immediately, or with a final decision on the extension of the veto to be deferred until a review? Or is there no real divergence between the G4 and L69 groupings at this point?

Since October 2014, G4 members have actively lobbied the capitals of many developing countries for the option of deferring a final decision on extending the veto for new permanent seats, seeking endorsements for a framework resolution that would reflect this. In recent Japanese press reports, it has been asserted that a joint resolution of the G4 and Africa is to be expected in the fall. Does this mean that the G4 lobbying efforts in capitals have been successful? Will the Common African Position finally change as a result - maybe at the Summit of the African Union to be held in South Africa in June? Or do such articles mostly represent wishful thinking? Or, as one G4 delegate has suggested, is the mention of such a resolution a case of bad reporting?

Africa’s submission to the framework document indicates that the Common African Position remains unchanged since 2005. Moreover, the C10 - the group of 10 countries that coordinates the African position - recently met in Zambia and welcomed the L69 submission which calls for veto rights to be extended immediately, in line with Africa’s demands. L69 immediately asked for this fact to be reflected in the framework document, where it appears as a footnote. Why this insistence if there is no real divergence between G4 and L69? Some insiders wonder whether Africa as a group is being played. Or are some (or the allies of) G4 members being deceived?

The Center has regularly been given the impression that some African countries prefer permanent seats in Africa to be of a rotating nature. This would prevent the difficult choice of giving 1 or 2 African countries permanent status at the Council in perpetuity. At the meeting on 14 May, however, Sierra Leone explained that rotating African permanent seats are not part of the Common African Position. Whether this option remains a preferred position among some African countries is unclear at this point.

CARICOM (notably without Antigua and Barbuda) made a submission separately from L69, while its membership overlaps with that group. The question of how exactly the L69’s positions differ from those of the 12 CARICOM countries was apparently not questioned during the meetings. While the L69 asks for specific numbers of permanent seats for regions, CARICOM’s submission is more vague. It was explained at the meeting that the idea of creating a cross-regional and dedicated non-permanent seat for small island developing states originated from CARICOM.

Interestingly, during the negotiations, representatives of SIDS (Small Island Developing States) have regularly made statements in line with those of L69 and CARICOM. However, SIDS - 52 countries - did not submit positions for the framework document, suggesting that there is no evident unity on Security Council reform among them right now, or that there is no strong desire to actively participate as a group at this stage.

Clarifications, shifts of positions


  • At the meetings, Sierra Leone, on behalf of the African group, reiterated that the AU will decide which African countries will get new permanent seats. The time is not yet right to do so because it is not yet clear whether Africa would get one or two permanent seats.

  • Some Member States want new permanent members to be chosen by the whole UN membership, rather than their region of origin. There seem to be different interpretations about regional representation/distribution. The US and UK probably do not regard themselves as representing a region on the Council. Sierra Leone stressed that the Charter does not rule out regional representation.

  • The AU does not yet have a position on the distribution of all non-permanent seats on an expanded Council. Not all Member States seem ready to equally accommodate the demands of non-permanent seats for Africa, East-European Group, and small island developing states. Rather tellingly, the G4 position proposes a total size of 24/25 members, with 14/15 non-permanent seats. All in all, provided numbers for the total size of a new Council vary from 21 to no more than 27 members.

  • Sierra Leone said that Africa looks for the widest possible support, but did not define what exactly this means. Some countries indicated that this reform is quite different from most decision-making in the GA, and that a high level of agreement will be desirable. Some permanent members believe (near)consensus will be necessary, and argue that a third of the membership not in agreement would not be a desirable outcome. Other Member States believe that Charter provisions should simply prevail: two-thirds of the membership in a vote, plus ratification by 2/3rds, including all five permanent members. Whether both procedural and substantial decisions need 2/3rds or more of the membership is still a matter of contention.

  • Should the whole membership agree whether a dedicated non-permanent seat for small island developing states would rotate or be elected, and would there be criteria for such a seat? L69 suggested that small island developing states should come with proposals in this regard.

  • The “cascade effect” was brought up: will new permanent members have all the privileges that the P5 currently enjoy: have more senior positions at the UN, quasi-permanent seats on the ICJ, etc? Africa seems to want to have all the prerogatives and privileges that the P5 enjoy now. Some Member States, including CARICOM, felt that those entitlements that are not specified in the Charter could be discussed separately, outside the IGN. L69 felt that this issue could be taken on in the IGN, exactly because they are just the result of practice. It was noted that if new permanent seats would also enjoy such entitlements, other Member States would have even less chances to get elected to the ICJ, for instance.

  • Many countries that are open to expansion with new permanent seats do not want veto rights to be extended, or at least not until a review would take place. Some are not yet sure, possibly depending on progress on veto restraint. Interestingly, France deviated from the position of other current permanent members and indicated that it is open to the extension of veto rights when aspirant countries indicate they want it.

  • Both France and the UK apparently no longer propose transitional seats: seats of a longer duration that could become permanent at a review. These two countries no longer show a united front. France promised an update on its veto restraint efforts, which reportedly enjoy the support of some 60 countries, but no other permanent members.

  • The question was raised whether the status of permanent members could be reconsidered at a review. Brazil said this should be the case. Some countries would like the status of all permanent members to be reviewable in the future. A difference between permanent seats versus permanent members was raised, suggesting that the latter category could be reviewable. Having a review to revoke, confirm, or to postpone decisions raises many questions, as was explored by the Center in 2008.

  • The G4 position has been that new permanent members “shall not exercise the veto-right until a decision on the matter has been taken during a review.” This language raised the question whether they would technically have the veto right, but would (voluntarily) not use it until a review. At the meeting, the G4 explained that the veto would not be extended from the onset. The latter interpretation removes the G4 further away from the Common African Position. In the past, the G4 was not able to simultaneously accommodate both the African group and those with reservations about extending the veto.

  • All permanent members seem to agree that the issue of working methods should be the sole prerogative of the Security Council itself, without interference from the GA. The UK stated that it prefers the working methods to be “provisional.” Because working methods - apart from those that are directly linked to expansion such as a new majority necessary for voting in the Council - do not require a Charter amendment, some countries prefer to deal with this issue separately. Some indicated that changes in working methods had to happen (and even be institutionalized) before agreement on expansion should take place. That so many Member States submitted language on working methods indicates that having an effective Council remains as important as having a more representative one, as was agreed at the 2005 World Summit.

  • A large number of Member States that favor new permanent seats would like these to originate from all existing regions. But there are increasingly voices from the global South that do not want WEOG to end up with more permanent seats than the other regions. Russia noted that a Council with 3 permanent members from the EU and 4 of NATO would not enhance the weight of developing countries.

  • Belgium and Luxembourg submitted a joint position, without the Netherlands this time. The Netherlands is open to new permanent as well as new intermediate seats, adding that the relative influence of non-permanent seats could be significantly diminished by new permanent seats. Belgium and Luxembourg feel that a new category of seats would do exactly that, but both do reject the extension of veto rights to new permanent seats. The Netherlands suggested that working methods could address new imbalances caused by changing the composition of the Council, but did not come with specific proposals in this regard.

  • Veto restraint comes in many forms. Some current veto restraint efforts take place outside the IGN, such as the French proposal (voluntary veto restraint in case of mass atrocities) and those of ACT (voting restraint promised by current and future Council members alike in case of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity). The populated framework document contains many other variations of veto restraint: limiting the veto to Chapter VII matters; requiring two or three concurring votes of permanent members; add ethnic cleansing as a factor for restraint; or systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law; explain the use of the veto, etc. The submissions of so many variations may indicate that the question of the veto is seen as crucial. It may be politically easier for many countries to stress their reservations about the right of veto than specific models of expansion.

  • The elimination of the veto - possibly gradually - also enjoys support, but not widely. Nor does abolishing permanent seats altogether. There is a risk that a permanent member would leave the UN rather than give up its privileged position.

  • The Arab Group wants a permanent seat also, complicating G4 and African demands. Some Arab countries belong in both the African and Asian groups.

  • An intermediate solution (seats of a longer duration, that could be renewed) are seen by some as a good way to succeed. For many, this solution could prevent a stalemate later on.

  • East European countries seem to agree on another non-permanent seat for its region, but differ on the other variables of this reform effort.

  • Cuba explained that it would not oppose having all current non-permanent seats be immediately renewable.

  • On the second day, the UFC group was peppered with many questions: Sierra Leone asked if the populated framework document should not be considered broadly representative? Does UfC believe that the Chair set any artificial deadlines? What is exactly the UfC position: the 2009 Italy/Colombia proposal or the UfC document distributed in the spring. What is UfC’s definition of widest possible consensus? What role should the Chair assume before UfC will participate? Apparently, the atmosphere had become more polemical at this stage. Italy, on behalf of UfC, said it would take written questions, and respond to them in the future.

  • UfC too was asked about its membership. UfC is still believed to have 12 members and 2 observers. (See below)

  • The Arab Group stressed it was in no hurry to find a solution; that this reform has already taken more than 20 years and that this was for good reasons. Russia, China and the US expressed their usual stances, not keen to come with new proposals to stimulate convergence of positions.
  • In closing, the Chair noted that there is significant overlap among the submissions and that removing redundancies and sharpening the language here and there could shorten and improve the document. A new version should come out in a few weeks’ time but not be regarded as a Chairman’s text. For now, the meetings should be seen as an interactive dialogue, rather than negotiations, and he understood why at this stage, some Member States are not precise due to tactical or strategic reasons. The negotiations need to develop organically and artificial deadlines are not relevant, he added. The Chair will seek the support of as many countries as possible to move forward.

    Hints of a vote in the near future are unlikely to create momentum, and may even turn out to be counterproductive. In the past, untimely initiatives resulted in decisions that made the negotiations even harder. [See the timeline] An effort towards a comprehensive solution in the 1990s resulted in resolution 53/30, stipulating that any decision on Security Council reform requires a 2/3rd majority. Efforts to push for a resolution in September 2007 similarly resulted in significant push-back: decision 62/557, linking expansion to four other key issues and insisting on the “widest possible political acceptance.” Despite the proactive stances of both the Chair and President of the General Assembly during this Session, it seems far from certain that there is sufficient political will to move from the latest compilation of positions to a concise negotiation text, let alone a framework resolution.

    *It is impossible to do justice to two days of meetings in an update, but hopefully this summary represents many of the key elements of the discussions. Informal meetings do not have a public component at the UN, but the Center tries to add some transparency to the proceedings nevertheless. Additions or corrections are very welcome and may be emailed to .

    KEY GROUPINGS

    The Group of Four (G4: Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan) advocates for a new permanent seat for each of its members, as well as two such seats for Africa. Veto rights would not be extended until a review to take place after 15 years. The official stance of the G4 has been the same for a long time, although five years ago, Brazil, Germany and Japan seemed open to exploring compromise models such as longer-term seats, especially if they could transition into permanent seats at a later stage. But India did not concur.
    The African Group/C10. The common African Group position asks for two new permanent seats, which would immediately be extended veto rights, and an additional two non-permanent seats. Although the African Group puts a common position forward in the IGN, it hides the same kind of internal divisions found in the other regions. There are self-nominated candidates (South Africa and Nigeria, among others); those that oppose them, including competing large countries and disgruntled neighbors; some that insist on veto rights to be extended as long as veto rights exist; some that are willing to compromise to bring about convergence with the G4; some that want African permanent seats to be accountable to their region, in which case every Council decision might have to go through the African Union in Addis Ababa, giving the whole region a veto; some that prefer rotating seats rather than permanent seats for individual countries; some that have little to gain and are quite indifferent at this point, etc.
    In 2005, South Africa and Nigeria tried to bring about a convergence with the G4 that would allow a final decision on veto rights to be postponed until a future review took place. Resistance to this idea from parts of the African Union was intense and the Committee of 10 was established to act as a focal point on SC reform and to explore convergences with other groupings. The C10 represents the five African regions and consists of Algeria, Congo Brazzaville/Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Namibia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Zambia.
    Permanent Members. France and the UK used to have matching positions, but this is no longer the case. France seems open to the stances of the G4 at this time and is even flexible about extending veto rights. The UK is still firmly against providing any new permanent seats with veto rights. China, Russian Federation, and the US often coordinate their activities, but lately the Russian Federation seems to chart its own course more. There is no agreement among the permanent members about a specific solution, and which countries exactly should get permanent seats.
    The Uniting for Consensus (UfC) group is opposed to adding any new permanent seats. Instead, they have advocated for adding only non-permanent seats or a new category of longer-term seats. Its members consist of regional rivals of the G4 and others espousing principled objections to permanent seats. It has a core membership of about a dozen members (Italy is the focal point and others are believed to be Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Malta, Mexico, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Spain, and Turkey) and China and Indonesia take an active part in this grouping as well.
    L69. This grouping of developing countries consists of 42 Member States: G4 members Brazil and India, 11-14 African countries, CARICOM members and other small island states, and a handful of Member States from Latin America.