The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has issued a publication about the newly formed ACT initiative created by 22 UN countries to accelerate and promote developments in accountability, coherence and transparency within the UN Security Council. ACT also aims to encourage non-council members to take part and reform the prior working methods of the council to allow non-members to benefit more from the body.
August 2013 | Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung
Reforming the Working Methods of the UN Security Council - The Next ACT
On 2 May 2013 a group of just over 20 UN member states launched a new initiative to improve the working methods of the UN Security Council. The group chose the acronym ACT to highlight its goal of pressing for greater Accountability, Coherence and Transparency in the Council’s activities. To achieve this, ACT aims to increase both the involvement of non-Council members and the accountability of the Council to the entire UN membership. The group currently comprises 22 members from various regions: Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Hungary, Ireland, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Maldives, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania (observer) and Uruguay.
This publication investigates the opportunities and the political challenges that lie ahead for this new initiative, especially against the backdrop of two processes: firstly, the currently stalled attempts to reform the composition and membership of the Council. Secondly, the failure of the so-called S-5 group, whose efforts to reform working methods crumbled in 2012 under the joint pressure exercised by the permanent five (P5) members of the UN Security Council.
Security Council Membership Reform: Stalled Again
The debate about reforming the UN Security Council is about as old as the UN itself. This is mainly due to the fact that from the very beginning in 1945 the dominance of the five permanent members (the so-called P5 countries: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) was enshrined in the UN Charter when they assigned themselves the prerogative of the veto. Back then, in addition to the P5, the Council was composed of six non-permanent members that were elected for a two-year term and did not have veto power. In 1965, the number of elected, non-permanent seats without veto power was extended from six to ten, bringing the Council up to its current configuration. This remains the only Security Council reform involving an amendment of the Charter that has ever been adopted.
Yet as the increase in UN membership due to decolonization continued, so too did calls for increased regional representation and further reform of the Council. In 1992, this led to the establishment of the »Open-ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council«: a cumbersome term even by UN standards. However, this informal Working Group quickly became deadlocked in its reform efforts, as it had to operate on the basis of consensus. The disagreement over the extension of the Council was also reflected in the 2005 UN World Summit Outcome Document (A/RES/60/1). On the one hand, there were membership groupings such as the Africa Group at the UN and the Group of Four (G4), comprising Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, which sought an increase in the number of permanent seats on the Council. On the other, the Uniting for Consensus group (UfC) was formed by regional counterweights to the G4 (including, among others, Argentina, Italy, Pakistan, South Korea) and advocates only an extension of non-permanent seats.
The stalemate lingered on until 2008 when member states agreed to upgrade the issue and enter into intergovernmental negotiations under the auspices of the General Assembly. This also meant that decisions could be taken by a two-thirds majority vote. Led by the Afghan Ambassador to the UN, Zahir Tanin, eight rounds of negotiations on a text to reform the Council were conducted. But they were called off in May 2013 when the differences seemed too insurmountable to continue the debate. Tanin concluded that, for the time being, it would be better to »put the negotiations on strategic hold.« But his position as negotiation leader also seemed to be weakened because of an ongoing tussle with the incumbent President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic. Once again it appears that when it comes to efforts to reform Security Council membership, inertia is gaining momentum.
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1) For the historic overview see Kugel (2009): Reform of the Security Council – a new approach? FES Briefing Paper No. 12. Retrieved 22 July 2013 from: http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/iez/global/06696.pdf.
2) A comprehensive review of the dynamic of these intergovernmental negotiations can be found at Swart, Lydia (2013): Reform of the Security Council: September 2007 – May 2013. Retrieved 1 July 2013 from http://www.centerforunreform.org//system/files/1b+June+2013+for+website.pdf.
3)See »A New Low Point in the Security Council Reform Process: Serious Clashes between the President of the General Assembly and Chair«, Center for UN Reform Education, June 2013, retrieved 22 July 2013 from http://www.centerforunreform.org/node/501.