Global Policy Forum

Update on Security Council Reform

This article gives an update on the current state of Security Council Reform discussions in the General Assembly, including summaries of the discussions from October 2010 to March 2011.

By Mie Hansen

April 5, 2011

Since the Center’s latest update of 22 June 2010, Members States held text-based [1] negotiations on 21 October 2010, 11 November 2010, 14 December 2010, and on 2 March 2011 in their efforts to reform the Security Council. Some countries apparently continue to slow down the negotiations, while others may push for a vote sooner rather than later.

On 13 September 2010, just before ending the 64th session of the General Assembly (GA), the GA decided to continue the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform in the 65th session (see 64/568 [2]). The next day, on 14 September, the President of the 65th session of the GA, Swiss Ambassador Joseph Deiss, in his opening statement [3] of the GA, stressed the importance of continuing the reform of the Security Council and the responsibility of the membership in this regard, saying: “…Reform of the Security Council remains important. We are all aware of the need for this reform. I would like us to be able to make progress on this matter, but it is for you, the Member States, to take decisions that enjoy broad support and make a convergence of views possible.”

On 1 October 2010, GA President Joseph Deiss informed Member States that he had reappointed Afghan Ambassador Zahir Tanin as Chair of the intergovernmental negotiations - a position Tanin has held since February 2009. Since 10 May 2010, when Ambassador Tanin sent out a first version of the negotiation/compilation text, the intergovernmental negotiations have been based on a document which incorporates all submissions from individual Member States and interest groups. As of April 2011, the text [4] has been revised 3 times.

Informal Plenary on Security Council Reform, 21 October 2010

The “First Informal Plenary on Intergovernmental Negotiations on SC Reform at the 65th session of the GA” was held on 21 October 2010. 37 Member States made statements, providing their views on the best way to move the process forward, mostly restating their previous well-known positions. Views expressed ranged from revising and shortening the compilation text before the end of the year to facilitate the early start of actual negotiations, to continuing the exchange of views in the current informal format with the objective to first agree on the principles of reform.

The G4 (Brazil, India, Japan and Germany) underlined the urgency of reform and specifically called for the shortening of the current text. They asked the President for more guidance and leadership in the negotiation process.

Uniting for Consensus (UfC), on the other hand, generally emphasized the need to ensure the broadest consensus possible and underlined that all five issues under discussion (the size of an enlarged Security Council; the categories of membership; questions concerning regional representation; questions regarding extending the power of the veto to additional member states; and the working methods of the Security Council and its relationship with the General Assembly) were interlinked and therefore had to be considered in a coherent manner.

On behalf of the African Group, the Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone argued that as long as the key principles for reform had not been agreed upon, efforts to produce a shortened version would be a waste of time.

Plenary Meeting of the GA, 11 November 2010

On 11 November, the 48th ( A/65/PV.48 [5]) and 49th ( A/65/PV.49 [6]) Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly were held, featuring a joint debate on the Annual Security Council Report (A/65/2 [7]) and the “Question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and related matters.” In response to the Security Council Report, several countries welcomed the efforts of Council members to intensify transparency and responsibility in their work, but at the same time many Member States expressed an ongoing complaint; the lack of analytical perspectives in the report.

Regarding the question of reforming the Security Council, the usual standpoints of the different factions were aired: The G4 expressed their preference for an expansion of the Security Council in both its permanent and non-permanent categories, as well as a wish to shorten the negotiation text and “…proceed into real negotiations…” as India stated.

Italy and Colombia spoke on behalf of the group Uniting for Consensus (UfC). UfC repeated its main positions regarding a reformed Security Council, stating that democratic, representative and legitimate reform cannot be achieved by enlarging the Council with permanent members, thereby extending, as Italy stated, “out-dated and ineffective privileges such as permanent membership to few, neglecting the rights of many.” On the contrary, according to the UfC members, a reformed Security Council can only get more representative and democratic by extending the number of non-permanent members.

Jamaica spoke on behalf of the L.69 group (See note 1) saying that while improving the working methods and enhancing transparency are important issues, these must be viewed solely as just a few of the elements in the overall reform process. For the L.69, comprehensive change is required in the composition of the membership of the Council to render it more effective and to reflect contemporary global realities. Jamaica expressed the wish of the L.69 for an expansion in both the Council’s permanent and non-permanent categories of membership.

Switzerland spoke on behalf of the S5 (Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore, and Switzerland) and stressed once again the group’s focus on reforming the working methods of the Security Council, adding that “…progress in this area has to take place whether or not we can agree on an expansion of the Security Council.”

Among the permanent members (P5) of the Security Council, the UK once again voiced its support for permanent membership of the G4 countries: Brazil, Japan, Germany and India, as well as permanent representation of Africa. The UK also pointed out that an intermediate model for reforming the Security Council might be the best option at the moment.

Letter from the Chair of the intergovernmental negotiations to the Membership

On 24 November 2010, the Chair of the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council Reform, Ambassador Zahir Tanin, sent a letter to inform the Member States that a first exchange of the sixth round of intergovernmental negotiations in informal plenary would take place on 14 December 2010. The Chair informed that the exchange would revolve around all the chapters of the existing second version of the negotiation text which, according to Tanin, still contained redundancies, overlaps, and remained in need of editorial changes, and he therefore urged Member States to contribute by suggesting concrete language that could help create a leaner text. The Chair invited Member States to continue their editorial work and to draw inspiration from the organizational add-on, which was circulated on 27 August 2010 as a stepping-stone towards a leaner negotiation text. Tanin suggested that for the meeting on 14 December, countries could propose language for the different bullet points that made up the add-on, or language for new bullet points altogether. The Chair promised that by the end of the sixth round of negotiations he intended to distribute a third version of the negotiation text, reflecting the proposals made.

Informal Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the Reform of the Security Council, 14 December 2010

The informal plenary meeting on Security Council reform, held on 14 December 2010, was based on the second version of the negotiation/compilation text.

Italy, as a member of Uniting for Consensus recalled the main points of the group’s positions on the matter, stressing the "flexibility" of the group as compared to other group’s stances. Ambassador Ragaglini underlined that the second revision of the negotiation text differed from the first one only thanks to the flexibility shown by UFC and he continued: “Having said so, UFC is – again – ready to be flexible and to engage constructively.” Italy proposed starting out with working on the less contentious parts of the document, namely the last three clusters of the text: Regional Representation, Working Methods and Relationship between SC and GA.

India, as a member of the G4, and the L.69, backed up a statement made by Jamaica earlier at the meeting that focused on expanding the Security Council with members from not-represented or underrepresented parts of the world. India also called for a shorter text, focusing on the expansion of the Council in both its permanent and non-permanent categories. The new permanent members should, according to India, have the same rights and obligations as the current permanent members. Finally, India voiced the G4's stance concerning a review of the entire Security Council that should take place fifteen years after the reforms had been set in motion.

As a member of the S5, Singapore stated that a first and most constructive step would be to reach an agreement on how to move forward:” It would (…) be useful for us to set down a common starting point before getting to the meat of the negotiations, by coming, for instance, to a clear understanding that we want to streamline the text before us and are ready to consider possible options in this regard, some of which we have already started to hear in this meeting.” Singapore also noted the increasing common ground that existed between the various proposals. One of the broad agreements mentioned, was the understanding that the Council should be expanded in a way that makes it both more representative and effective, and that it should conduct its work in a more transparent and accountable manner. Singapore further stressed the necessity for forming compromises while at the same time respecting the differences in opinions and hearing all sides out.

Informal Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the Reform of the Security Council, 2 March 2011

On 2 March 2011, the seventh round of negotiations began. The Plenary Meeting took up the third revision of the negotiation text, compiled by the Chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Tanin, based on contributions from the membership. The meeting was closed, but two countries, among others, publicly disclosed their respective statements at the meeting.

One of them was Italy, speaking as a member of the Uniting for Consensus group. Among other things, Italy regretted that the third revision of the negotiation document did not interlink the five key reform issues but dealt with them separately. Italy stressed that all positions are equal and have to be treated accordingly until everything is agreed upon. Italy further criticized that a proposed regrouping of the document had not been addressed properly. Since the idea of restructuring the document was to pool positions with potential commonalities in order to facilitate further negotiations, Italy wondered why one part of the document – dedicated to the intermediate approach - started out by reporting positions that were against it. Another concern of Italy was the sequencing of the document. According to Ambassador Ragaglini, in the first draft each cluster would commence with ''general statements'' followed by more specific positions – a sequence that in the third draft had been reversed so that all clusters now instead ended with the ''general statements'' – a change deeply lamented by the Italian Ambassador. Italy ended up stating that the third draft needed further clarification and that it was necessary to legitimize the current document before thinking of a new one.

Germany, as part of the G4, also made their statement public. In its statement, Germany praised the third revision of the negotiation text for regrouping the positions of the Member States – making the text more clear. However, Germany felt that the text was still too long, saying that the membership could not negotiate a reform of the Security Council on the basis of a text of this length. Along with the reduction of pages, Germany felt that clear minority positions must be eliminated. The focus should be on those principles on which there has already been reached broad agreement. Germany stated that the on-going process needed guidance from the Chair, but could also benefit from complementary initiatives coming from the membership, building upon the on-going process in the informal plenary.

In Summary

It seems clear that the UfC continues to slow down the process while the G4 is increasingly becoming impatient. According to unconfirmed rumours, the G4 may soon insist on a vote on a short resolution, spearheaded by India, which calls for expansion of both non-permanent and permanent seats. To pass, such a resolution will require the approval of two/thirds of the membership.


1) “L.69” refers to the countries that supported draft resolution, A/61/L.69 which was submitted by 27 Member States on 11 September 2007. It was drafted by India and some of its more prominent co-sponsors were Brazil, South Africa and Nigeria. This resolution, which they threatened to bring to a vote, called for strong language towards intergovernmental negotiations and clashed with the draft report from the President of the General Assembly (PGA)under consideration. In the end, as a compromise, the PGA report was amended to include the language: “Decides that the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matter related to the Security Council should be considered during the 62nd session of the General Assembly, so that further concrete results may be achieved, including though intergovernmental negotiations, building on the progress achieved so far, particularly in the 61st session, as well as the positions and proposals made by all Member States.”


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