UNSC resists reform as debates flare up again

Due to its failure to respond to mainly global humanitarian crises, the UN Security Council is once again taking the flak, especially from rising mid-level powers such as Turkey

UNSC resists reform as debates flare up again

The UN, established to save the world from a third world war, currently fails to prevent global threats such as civil wars. The need for reform remains merely within the realm of debate as the permanent members (p-5) of the UN Security Council (UNSC) show resistance against any type of reform. The proposals focus mainly on changing the UNSC's structure as it is criticized for the veto rights and inadequate representation entailed by permanent membership.

Just as the League of Nations, the first intergovernmental organization founded to realize the idea of securing world peace, failed to prevent the Second World War, the UN came into force as a system of victor states after the war.

In effect, the UN was designed as a tool for the most powerful states- the US, USSR, UK, China and France - to preserve the status quo and guarantee their privileges.

UNSC: Organ symbolizing inequality of the equals

While all member states were representated equally in one of the UN's key organs, the General Assembly, the other key organ - the UNSC - was monopolized by the Big Five. Although the UNSC includes non-permanent members which rotate every two years, only the permanent Big Five have exclusive veto powers.

Despite there being 9 votes in favor of a decision, it can be invalidated by the veto of just one permanent member. Therefore criticisms against the UNSC primarily focus on the existence of permanent members, inadequate representation and veto rights.

Harvard University International Relations Professor Joseph Nye explained the reason behind veto rights to Anadolu Agency (AA):

"The veto power in the Security Council can prevent it from acting. The idea was that the veto was like a fuse in the fuse box of an electrical system. It was designed to keep the great powers from fighting. Better to have the fuse blow and the lights go out than to have the house burn down."

Membership of former colonies no remedy

The UN had been one of the most fierce stages of the Cold War theatre as the UNSC could hardly make any decisions because of the vetoes of the US and USSR.

Leading UN expert CUNY Political Science Professor Thomas Weiss says that the UNSC relatively gained some efficiency after the end of the Cold War as 193 vetos were used between 1945 and 1990, whereas only 17 vetos were used between 1990 and 2004.

The only change in the UNSC structure was undertaken during the Cold War as most Third World countries became UN members in the decolonization process, and the number of members rose from 50 to 118 in 1965.

In 1963, 4 more non-permanent members were added to the UNSC, increasing the number of the UNSC from 11 to 15. In addition the "regional representation" principle also was added based on a proposal by the African Union Organization (AUO).

However this was the first and last partial recovery in the UNSC structure throughout the UN's history.

Reform demands strengthen

In the post-Cold War era, Iraq's Kuwait invasion was the first test for the UNSC and, as a result, the UNSC decided in favor of a joint military operation led by the US.  

In the same period, the second reform wave began as different groups in the General Assembly formed working groups for reform with their main demands focusing on whether or not to increase the number of seats in the UNSC, have new permanent members and give veto rights to them.

As the Big Five did not relinquish their veto rights and resisted the addition of new permanent members, the working groups proved to be unproductive.

Annan plans

As the US invaded Iraq in 2003 without a UNSC decision, a third wave of criticism began, paving the way for the Annan proposals.

In 2004, Secretary General Kofi Annan called on the Assembly to widen the UN's power of representation to the whole world and adapt it to current geopolitical realities, and presented two proposals.

The proposals, known as Plan A and B, envisaged increasing the number of seats in the UNSC to 24. According to Plan A, G4 countries, one African and one Arab League country would gain permanent seats, in addition to 3 non-permanent members.  Plan B projected adding 8 non-permanent members with 4 year-rotations, while keeping the five permanent as they are.

Adding new members to UNSC can work

The Annan proposals are still debated from time to time in UN circles. According to the remarks of Thomas Weiss, the US doesn't favor Plan A as it brings more privileged members into the club. In addition the new members without veto rights might have disagreements with the Big Five.

Joseph Nye said, "I favor adding some members, such as Kofi Annan's High Level Commission suggested, but it will probably make decision making more, rather than less, difficult."

Nye also highlighted, "We have to be realistic about the limits of the UN. Much depends on relations among the major states."

Turkey's objections

Turkey has been criticizing the UN, especially regarding its failure to effectively respond to humanitarian crises. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently been drawing attention to the UNSC members' blocking of the system when it comes to making a decision on the Syrian civil war. Erdogan points out the need for structural reform and frequently says, "The world's fate cannot be left to the hands of 5 countries."

Turkey's reform demands include strenghtening the General Assembly, adding new non-permanent members to the UNSC, rendering the UNSC open to all members' contributions and questions.

Lastly, during his address to the General Assembly's 68th session on Tuesday following US President Barack Obama's speech, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said, "the Security Council needs to be really democratic, effective, accountable, representative and questionable in the light of new world conditions."

 "Turkey wants international system to work fairly"

Deputy Chairman of the Center for Strategic Research (SAM) under the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mesut Ozcan told AA that Turkey demanded that the organizations leading the international system operate fairly.

Ozcan said, "Turkey does not call for an all out change in the international system. The UN undertakes important responsibilities but also there are some areas it falls short of the expectations. Thus, Turkey points out the need for a more fair system that would represent all the member states."

Regarding the projections about increasing the number of UNSC members, Ozcan said, "Reform proposals including adding more permanent members, or abolishing the veto right, will at the end be decided by the five permanent members. As they would not give up their permanent privileges, maybe the most possible proposal would be to adopt a more flexible position on voting, softening the veto right, maybe limiting it to specific issue-areas and enlarging the membership."

Ozcan added, "Empowering the General Assembly is a more likely and easy thing to do, as it would attract less objection and require less change."


Güncelleme Tarihi: 25 Eylül 2013, 17:03

Muhammed Öylek