Harare, Zimbawe – Calls to include one the 54 African states in the world body’s security council are gaining traction as the 68th session of the UN General Assembly continues at the UN headquarters in New York. President Robert Mugabe has said he would press for Africa to have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
“We don’t understand why you have three countries out of five countries on the Security Council as permanent members with a veto coming from Europe,” Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs minister said. “We all know that Europe is no longer such an important part of the world as it was in 1945. And then you look at Africa, 50-plus odd countries and not a single country sits on the Security Council as a permanent member wielding the veto, representing Africa and African interests.”
Set up in 1946 by the winners of the World War II, the UN Security Council comprises of 15 members, five of them – Britian, France, China, the United States and Russia – are permanent, while 10 are non-permanent members that serve for two years on a rotational basis.
The council is the UN’s most powerful body and helps shape international law. It has the power to make binding decisions about war and peace. Critics say it represents an international order that no longer exists – that of France, UK, US, China and Russia as world “gendarmes”.
The 70 percent of the issues that go to the Security Council are about us, so it cannot continue to be without us.
Mumbengegwi, a top ally of President Mugabe, said the ongoing UN General Assembly must demand this reform.
“There should be arrangements whereby the General Assembly can be able to force the hand of the Security Council by an appropriate number of votes either to get the Security Council to do something or to prevent the Security Council from doing something as the will of the majority of the world dictates,” he said.
Mumbengegwi said it was unacceptable that Europe has three countries on the Security Council while Africa and non-aligned member states have none.
South Africa, Zimbabwe’s powerful neighbour and non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, is also stepping up calls to have one of the 54 African countries sit on the Security Council.
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s International Relations Minister said in a recent press briefing that the reform of the UN Security Council is one of the ever-pending issues of world governance.
“We must not reach that point where the organisation reaches 70 years and there is no change,” Nkoana-Mashabane said. “Africans have a very clear position; we are saying there will be no change without us. The 70 percent of the issues that go to the Security Council are about us, so it cannot continue to be without us.”
Drift into irrelavence
Vuk Jeremic, the president of the current UN General Assembly and a former Serbian Foreign Affairs Minister, said the composition of the Security Council clearly does not reflect the realities of the 21st century.
“I think everybody agrees that it needs to change,” Jeremic said. “Otherwise the UN is going to slowly drift into irrelevance.”
A multitude of proposals have been put forward since 1993, when the General Assembly authorised an ‘Open Ended Working Group’ to study expansion of the Security Council. But attempts to launch formal negotiations on expanding the council have failed.
Critics say the composition of the council is outdated and must adapt to a much-changed world in the 21st century. In recent decades, the inability of the Security Council to act effectively in the face of violent situations such as Rwanda, Bosnia-Srebrenica, Somalia, Sudan-Darfur, Libya, Syria and many others makes it clear that reform needs to take place, they say.
Trevor Maisiri, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group think-tank, said Mugabe’s call for a permanent seat for Africa in the Security Council will find a lot of traction, not only from developing countries, but from critical peace and security institutions, civil society and some in the industrialised nations as well.
“If you look at the UN Peace and Security Council agenda of late; it has heavily been skewed in dealing with matters on the African continent,” Maisiri said. “Given the global move towards equitable sovereignty and the dismantling of historical imbalances and inequalities; the call for an African seat on the Security Council is justified.”
Motivated by self-interest
Tendaiwo Peter Maregere, a peace and security analyst, told Al Jazeera that the common theme among proposals for reform of the UN Security Council in recent years, including the one tabled at the 68th General Assembly by Zimbabwe, was a call for an increase in Security Council membership.
One dilemma is that adding new veto members would impede the council from acting in an efficient manner.
“The corollary usually is that adding more members to the council will make it more representative, but this does not equate to effectiveness,” Maregere said. “By increasing membership the group would be too large to conduct serious negotiations and still too small to represent UN membership as a whole.”
Maxwell Saungweme, a development expert, said while Mugabe’s intentions were noble as the current UN structure was outdated and definitely not reflective of the current world order, Mugabe’s “campaign will fail given his own tainted image” and that most superpowers are not ready to open up and allow Africa to have veto power in the Security Council.
“Support for Mugabe’s position may come from China and Russia but the campaign will not succeed as it will not get enough support from those that will vote,” Saungweme said.
Maregere said it was incontrovertible that self-interest, not democracy, motivates the membership claims, and warned that a council loaded with more permanent members would suffer from gridlock and political sclerosis.
The current “chances for Security Council reform are zero,” he said, adding that member states could only exert moral pressure to reform the old institutions in a new world.
“Essentially, the idea of Security Council reform is nice in principle, but in practice, it does not work,” Maregere said.