For years, Africa has been pushing for a reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to have at least two permanent representatives. Similar calls have been made by Germany, Europe’s largest economy and India, the world’s largest democracy, to have a permanent seat on the UNSC.
The council is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security and is made up of 15 countries, five of which are permanent members and have veto powers. The five permanent members are China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States.
South Africa has been at the forefront of pushing for the democratization or reform of the Security Council ever since Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and became president.
In his last address to the General Assembly of the United Nations on September 21, 1998, Mandela said: “…this very Organisation, including its important Security Council, must itself go through its own process of reformation so that it serves the interests of the peoples of the world, in keeping with the purposes for which it was established.”
On Tuesday, September 22, President Cyril Ramaphosa reechoed South Africa’s stance for the UNSC to be reformed to reflect contemporary times. Other African presidents such as President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone have also called for changes in the composition of the Security Council.
Ramaphosa, who holds the rotating leadership of the continental body, the African Union, made the call in a remote speech to the United Nations General Assembly. “The current composition of the Security Council does not reflect the world in which we live,” he said.
He continued: “We repeat our call for greater representation of African countries on the Security Council, and that this is taken up with urgency at the intergovernmental negotiations.”
“It is only through a reformed and inclusive UN Security Council that we will be able to collectively resolve some of the world’s most protracted conflicts,” he said.
Besides the call for reforms from individual African leaders, the African Union (AU) has also taken a position on the need to reform the Security Council. The AU in 2005 adopted the Ezulwini Common African Position on UN Reform, which recommends expanding the UNSC from 15 to 26 members. The Ezulwini Consensus called for not less than two permanent seats with all the prerogatives and privileges of permanent members including veto powers and five non-permanent members.
The Ezulwini Consensus further noted that even though Africa is opposed in principle to the veto, it is of the view that so long as it exists, and as a matter of common justice, it should be made available to all permanent members of the Security Council.
It is important to stress that any discussion on the reformation of the Security Council that does not critically examine the origin of the UNSC will not appreciate why reforming the body has been difficult if not impossible.
The origin of the organizational structure of the Security Council can be found in the Atlantic Charter of 1941 in which world superpowers like the US, Britain and the Soviet Union (Russia) agreed to the formation of the United Nations to ensure peace and security across the world. Therefore, the formation of the United Nations in 1945 reflected the balance of international power.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (US President) and Winston Churchill (PM of Britain) believed that the formation of the United Nations was necessary for world peace with the five most powerful nations at the time as permanent Security Council members. The US, USSR, Britain, France and China would act as an international police force to keep international peace through the mechanism of the Security Council.
Also, the structure of the UN is such that the General Assembly is largely a forum for debate and its resolutions are not binding. However, decisions of the Security Council are binding on all other countries. The real power in the UN system is vested in the Security Council.
Therefore, any organization with such sweeping powers should be geographically balanced and democratic. For many African countries, the current structure of the Security Council represents an outdated balance of power. In other words, the UNSC reflects the balance of power at the end of World War II. Also, the Security Council was formed when almost all African countries were under colonial rule. Today, the continent is made of 54 countries and a population of over 1.2 billion.
What’s more, most of the issues discussed at the Security Council relate to Africa but issues affecting the continent are not treated with any seriousness when compared to issues in the Middle East or Eastern Europe. The Security Council is responsible for UN peacekeeping missions, more of which are located in Africa than any other continent. Yet, Africa has little or no say in the way peace operations are deployed on the continent.
A reform of the Security Council is unlikely as it will require the approval of all the five permanent members. Also, a reform of the council will reduce the powers of the permanent security members which none of the permanent five wants to lose. The Security Council will only reform with the emergence of a powerful state or bloc that cannot be ignored. In this instance, India is a potential candidate.