BY Erharuyi Idemudia, 8:50am March 20, 2014,

Face2Face Africa Exclusive: Permanent Members of UN Security Council Are Complicit In Denying Africans Veto Power

un security council africa

 On March 17, 2014, Face2Face Africa published “The United Nations Treat African Nations Like Second Class Citizens,” a report on the discriminatory practices of the UN Security Council. This report is Part 2 of that analysis.

Africa’s lack of veto power in the UN Security Council is not coincidental. It is a systematic and purposeful decision by the five permanent members (China, the United States, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom) of the Security Council to protect and perpetuate their power over the social, economic, and military affairs of the world. As long as African countries continue to kowtow to these five permanent members, nothing will change. Consequently, in order to change the status quo, African countries along with the African Union (AU) must understand its bargaining power and use it to achieve its mission of inclusion and empowerment.

RELATED: Part 1: The United Nations Treat African Nations Like Second Class Citizens

Permanent Members Secure Their Power

Presently, the five permanent members of the Security Council seem to all support some kind of expansion of the Security Council, but interestingly, while each permanent member openly speaks of the inclusion of “underrepresented” regions, each permanent member seems to include a limitation in its support for Security Council expansion.

For example, in 2005, in an address to the General Assembly, China’s ambassador to the U.N., Wang Guangya, explained China’s official position on the expansion of the Security Council. According to Ambassador Guangya, “China firmly supports the increase of the representation of African countries on the Security Council. This position is unswerving.”

While China’s position is encouraging, said position must be reviewed in-depth in order to understand what China’s endorsement lacks as well as its negative impact.

First, China’s “unswerving” position that Africa must be extended permanent membership does not include a provision that Africa obtain veto powers, the single most-important power extended to a permanent member of the Security Council.

Additionally, China insists that the process of expanding the Security Council be deliberate. According to Guangya, “China is firmly opposed to setting an artificial timeframe for the Security Council reform and rejects the forcible vote on any formula on which there still exists significant differences.”

China’s position brings to mind language written by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1953-1969) Earl Warren in Brown v. The Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas, a U.S. Supreme Court case: “Desegregation shall occur with all deliberate speed,”

This language indicates an open-ended, frameless time of compliance.

While I concede and accept China’s position that a rushed, haphazard reform of the Security Council could provide more problems than solutions, a complete refusal to place a time frame on said reform extends an injustice. Simply acknowledging the presence of an injustice while permitting said injustice to continue is as unacceptable as campaigning for the presence of said injustice.

More so, evidence of the ineffectiveness of China’s proposal is the fact that Guangya declared China’s “No time-frame” position in 2005. Eight years since that declaration, the UN has failed to make improvements in negotiations toward extending permanent membership and veto powers to Africa.

Thus, it is apparent that mere negotiation is insufficient.

If the AU continues to simply sit at the negotiation table and discuss, as advised by China, then this so-called negotiation may continue ad infinitum without the possibility of reaching a desired conclusion. As a result, China’s position is both unacceptable and unhelpful to the quandary of the afflicted and excluded.

Similar to China’s outspoken position in support of Africa’s bid for permanent membership over the last 10 years is the United Kingdom’s. It has also supposedly demonstrated a willingness to extend permanent membership to other nations, including African nations. In 2005, the United Kingdom officially supported a resolution proposed by members of the Group of Four (G-4, consisting of Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan), outlining the G-4’s vision of Security Council expansion.

But while the G-4’s vision of expansion provided that two African countries be extended permanent membership, this vision also excluded veto power for those select African countries.

On November 12, 2007, in underlining the United Kingdom’s support for expanding the Security Council, the sovereign state’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, declared that “Interim options must be examined to reform the United Nations Security Council, whose permanent members today do not include…any African country, so we can make the council more representative, more credible, and more effective.”

Again, Prime Minister Brown’s position is admirable; however, one must be curious to learn how the UN “can make the council more representative, more credible, and more effective” when in its attempt at inclusion, the United Kingdom refuses to shed its Orwellian shell. Officially, as far as the United Kingdom is concerned in the Security Council “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

On September 23, 2013, I spoke with the now-former-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It was my objective to understand his personal position on this issue as my interpretation of his statements made on November 12, 2007, was that his comments were irreconcilable with the official position of the United Kingdom: In my estimation, the Prime Minister’s position seemed to indicate a support for full authority and veto power provided to all permanent members of the Security Council and not just the original five members.

But alternatively, the official position of the United Kingdom was that Africa be extended permanent seats in the Security Council without veto powers.

Thus, I asked the former Prime Minister to reveal his position on Africa’s bid for Security Council veto power and what he believes the AU must do in order to obtain permanent membership and veto power(s).

Prime Minister Brown’s response was, “Yes, absolutely, Africa should be given veto powers.” However, the Prime Minister recognized the difficulty in obtaining veto powers in the Security Council. According to Prime Minister Brown, “When I was Prime Minister, we tried to do it and would have liked it to happen. And every time Kofi Annan also tried. It all came down to power politics [by the permanent members of the Security Council]. The five permanent members are clearly motivated by their perception of their own national interests, so you must recognize their national interests.

“The truth is, when it comes to national interest and retaining the veto power, it is probably more important to the permanent members to withhold their power than the general idea of including others.”

Prime Minister Brown’s revelation is one the AU must take seriously.

His position that the five permanent members are more interested in their national interests rather than inclusion should be taken as motivation, rather than disappointment.

The question the AU must ask is how can Africa influence the national interests of the five permanent members of the Security Council in order to obtain the votes necessary to gain permanent membership and veto power?

This inquiry is important because, as Prime Minister Brown explained, “What we now know and must accept is that the balance of power in the world is changing and the world as it was when the UN was first instituted is no more. The world is now more of a multi-polar world and we must assimilate to that.”

Major Obstacles to Veto Power

The AU can emphasize Prime Minister Brown’s position by relying upon its strengths in order to bargain for permanent membership and veto powers. In 2005, the Global Policy Forum revealed that in demand for permanent membership and veto powers in the Security Council, members of the G-4 threatened to reduce their financial or military troop contributions. which are substantial, to the UN if the Security Council did not reward their efforts with permanent membership and veto powers.

Reviewing the G-4 nations’ financial contributions to the UN, one need not look further than the UN Peace Keeping Fact Sheet released on October 31, 2013. The UN revealed that of its 193 member states, 138 members have thus far paid their yearly financial contributions to the UN for peacekeeping efforts.

The total amount of money contributed to the UN was reported to be $1,847,625,693.00. Within this reported amount, three of the four G-4 members paid a combined $474,999,765.00 — this amount is a staggering 25 percent of the total financial contributions made to the UN by its member states, by October 31, 2013, for peace-keeping efforts.

While the UN must consider a threat by the G-4 members to withhold the G-4’s yearly financial contributions to the U.N. as credible, such a threat made by Africa will not be taken seriously. As revealed by the UN Peacekeeping Fact Sheet, as of October 31, 2013, African countries have contributed a combined $28,566,241.00.

This amount is a meager 1.5 percent of the entire UN financial contributions made as of October 2013. Evidently, with such low numbers in financial contribution, the AU cannot threaten to withdraw its finances from the UN as a means of bargaining for permanent membership and veto power. Unfortunately, such a threat would lack credibility and possibly open the continent to ridicule.

And the AU is clearly aware of Africa’s lack of financial power in the UN Security Council.  On September 25, 2013, I spoke with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and she explained the difficulty of African nations gaining permanent membership and veto power in the Security Council given their financial contribution.

She agreed that the “Security Council, the way it is, is archaic and we were not there when it was established. So we think that it should be modernized.” However, according to Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, “It is important to develop ourselves first before we can start negotiations because we weaken ourselves seriously when we are always begging for aid.” She then concluded that if Africa is financially capable, “We can stand on our own feet, and when we talk, people will listen.”

Possible Solutions

While the continent of Africa may not be able to negotiate for veto power from a financial standpoint, it is possible for the continent to negotiate using the large number of personnel she contributes to the UN as a bargaining point.

Examining the same UN Peacekeeping Factsheet, 119 of the body’s 193 member states had contributed a combined 98,311 personnel toward UN peacekeeping operations. Of these 98,311 peacekeeping personnel, the continent of Africa contributed 42,906 personnel.

This provides a large percentage with 43.6 percent of U.N. peacekeeping personnel contributed by Africa.

Apparently, the aforementioned number/percentage provides Africa with a bargaining power in negotiations for permanent membership and veto power in the Security Council. If Africa chooses to withdraw its large number of personnel from UN peacekeeping efforts, the decision will undermine said peacekeeping efforts. Accordingly, such a threat may be taken seriously and at least provide Africa with authority to discuss its terms.

I am not oblivious to contrary arguments criticizing the aforementioned position that Africa can threaten to withhold its personnel contribution from UN peacekeeping operations in order to bargain for permanent membership and veto power. For instance, opposition argument dictates that the number of personnel provided by Africa to UN peacekeeping missions is directly proportional to the number of UN peacekeeping operations that concern and benefit Africa.

In fact, opponents will maintain that in the Fact Sheet released by the UN on September 30, 2013, the UN revealed that as of the aforementioned date, the UN maintains 16 peacekeeping operations around the world. Of those 16 peacekeeping operations, eight peacekeeping operations directly concern and benefit Africa. That is a percentage of 50 percent, a staggering half of the UN’s entire ongoing peacekeeping operations.

The Fact Sheet also reveals that more than 98,000 troops, military observers, police, and UN volunteers (approximately 77, 082) are stationed in Africa. As a result, if Africa chooses to withdraw its personnel contribution to the UN, the decision will negatively affect peacekeeping in Africa rather than cripple the UN’s peacekeeping efforts around the world.

Although the opposition’s argument is legitimate, it is undermined by several weaknesses: While it is a fact that Africa benefits, in major part, from the UN peacekeeping efforts, the opposition’s argument seems to assume that the 42,906 personnel contributed by Africa to the UN peacekeeping effort cannot be redeployed to the AU. The opposition’s argument also assumes that the AU does not currently or is incapable of generating an additional 34,176 personnel. Finally, the opposition assumes that the AU cannot, by itself, broker peace agreements between or within its members and implement said peace agreements.

But the AU has proven its ability to generate troops to combat uprisings around the continent. For instance, in November 2013, the AU increased its troops in Somalia by 6,235 in order to reinforce its campaign against the militants who attacked a Nairobi shopping mall in October 2013.

I concede that the AU has failed to support its ability to generate personnel with sufficient capital as it still seeks financial assistance from the UN to sustain some of the personnel it generates. However, for instance in July 2013, Nigeria, a member of the AU deployed and paid for 800 troops to contribute to peacekeeping efforts in Darfur, Sudan. Again, on November 19, 2013, Nigeria further deployed an additional 400 troops to support the mission in Darfur.

Therefore, It is evident that the personnel is available to maintain peacekeeping in Darfur and the finance to pay for these troops are also sometimes available. But more importantly, it is also apparent that the AU and its members must continue to work hard to increase their finances to support their agenda as they are clearly struggling to accomplish their financial responsibilities.

The opposition’s argument on the financial incapacity of the AU to support peacekeeping efforts in Africa is further weakened by the fact that several of the UN peacekeeping efforts in Africa are not strictly security efforts that solely benefit Africa.

In fact, a number of these operations are to protect UN assets in the region. For example, the United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) authorizes deployment of UN’s forces to “protect [UN] personnel, facilities, installations, and equipment and to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its own personnel and humanitarian workers.”

Additionally, other peacekeeping efforts are implemented to strengthen the UN’s presence in the region and educate the region on measures and ideas favorable to the UN. For instance, the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) provides “good offices, advice, and support to the Government of the Republic of South Sudan on political transition, governance, and establishment of state authority.”

Consequently, it seems that the financial contribution provided by the UN to assist with peacekeeping missions in Africa is not solely for the benefit of Africa, but also, the benefit of the UN.

Second, the facts prove that the AU is capable and has successfully negotiated and implemented peace agreements among its members. The AU or sub-parts of its members have constructed and implemented peacekeeping agreements in several African countries, including, but not limited to Somalia, Zimbabwe, Congo, Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

In Liberia for instance, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a West African Organization made up of several member states of the AU, brokered a peace agreement between government forces and an opposition group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). ECOWAS convinced both parties to sign a peace settlement and also established an observer force, the Military Observer Group (ECOMOG) to militarily control and monitor the peaceful agreement in Liberia.

I will not pretend to lack knowledge that several of the peace agreements brokered by the AU or its members have also failed.

In fact, the African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) stated, “In Africa, []peace agreements have failed as often as they [have] succeeded.” However, there is no evidence to prove that this occurrence is solely an African problem, neither is there evidence to prove that it is solely an AU problem. It seems to me that peace agreements brokered by the AU are likely to succeed or fail as often as those brokered by other continental organizations.

Besides threatening to withdraw its contribution of personnel to the UN’s peacekeeping operations, the AU can negotiate for permanent membership and veto power by understanding the national interests of the five veto-wielding permanent members and recognize how it can affect those interests.

During my conversation with Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, she explained, “It is important for us to think of our own power against the individual members because the veto power is there, but there are 15 members [in the Security Council and] you need nine [members of the Security Council] to agree, plus the five members who already have veto. So we must think of how we must also utilize our own power to express our dissatisfaction.”

Dr. Dlamini-Zuma’s statement is important.

For instance, one can immediately recognize Africa’s bargaining position with veto-wielding permanent member China. On September 2, 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported, “China is now the continent’s largest trading partner, edging out the U.S. Last year, its trade with Africa reached $114 billion, up from $10 billion in 2000 and $1 billion in 1980, according to China’s State Council.”

These numbers are astonishing and provide proof of the huge financial benefit China gains from its trade with Africa. In fact, China announced huge economic gains generated in 2011, reporting a growth in its revenue. On January 19, 2012, Reuters confirmed that China’s “finance ministry said the strong 24.8 percent growth of fiscal revenues in 2011 — much higher than the budgeted 8 percent — reflected China’s rapid economic growth and handsome corporate profits.”

China’s economic relationship with Africa cannot be understated when one evaluates China’s recent economic success. Consequently, it is natural to believe that the AU has a strong bargaining position and should request that China either stand beside Africa at the Security Council or do not stand beside Africa at all.

A contrasting view provides that Africa should not withdraw from its economic relationship with China even if China refuses to vote in favor of granting Africa veto powers in the Security Council. This opposing view argues that Africa also benefits from its economic relationship with China. According to the Reuters, the ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo to the United States of America, Faida Mitifu, explained that “the good thing about this partnership is that it’s a give and take.”

An article published in the Wall Street Journal in 2011 supports Mitifu’s statement and reports that “South Africa has been sending top officials to Beijing’s Communist Party School to learn how to run state-owned companies more profitably. China is also helping Algeria, Nigeria, Zambia, and other African nations build special economic zones to attract foreign investment — similar to the laboratories for industrial reform that spurred its own opening to the world.”

These economic benefits are important; however, the fact remains that Africa cannot continue to compromise its position in favor of trade benefits received from a country that considers Africa as less than its equal. Whatever trade benefits African countries receive from China, one must think that such benefits can be gained from conducting business with another country.

Case in point, the Wall Street Journal reported that Japan has made attempts to “muscle China out of its preeminent” economic position in Africa. It is incomprehensible that China is willing to lose its windfall received from trading in Africa in favor of protecting the status quo in the Security Council.

In addition to the aforementioned economic argument, from a political perspective, the AU must remind China of October 25, 1971. On that date, the UN General Assembly voted to admit the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in to its membership, and in turn, expell the Republic of China (ROC, also Taiwan).

Consequently, the PRC assumed the place of the ROC in the General Assembly, and more importantly, assumed its place as one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council.

At the formation of the UN in 1945, the ROC was the representative of the people of China at the UN. However, in 1949, the communist party (PRC) defeated the ROC and expelled its government from mainland China. After its expulsion from mainland China, the ROC only held control over the island of Taiwan.

Despite this, the ROC still considered itself as the sole government of China. According to the New York Times, “[T]his view was supported by the Western powers in allowing the ROC to remain China’s representative in the United Nations. Their main motive? They wanted to prevent another Communist government from gaining a place in the Security Council.”

Nevertheless, the PRC lobbied for international support and received a momentous backing from the continent of Africa in order to replace the ROC in the U.N. General Assembly and consequently, gain permanent membership and veto-power.

Indeed, to further emphasize Africa’s role in granting UN membership, Security Council permanent membership and veto power to the PRC, the founding father of the PRC, “Chairman” Mao Zedong, famously asserted that “it was our African brothers that carried us into the United Nations.”

Africa’s decision to stand by the PRC in her time of need, especially when several powerful countries opposed the PRC, is an important bargaining tool. It is apparent that without the support of Africa, the current leadership of China would not be a member of the U.N, or a veto-wielding permanent member in the Security Council.

Accordingly, there is simply no reason for China to reject a vote in favor of a resolution to immediately grant Africa permanent membership and veto power(s) in the Security Council.

It is time for China to repay its debt of October 25, 1971, a debt that is long overdue.

While obtaining permanent membership and veto power must remain the long-term goal, the AU must also think about the present and immediate future of the continent. As African countries continue to negotiate among themselves and with non-African nations, the AU must recognize that the Security Council continues to discuss and adopt resolutions that affect and concern Africa.

As a result, the AU simply cannot keep its arms folded and wait in hope for the day it obtains permanent membership and veto power before it elects to have a voice. Therefore, it is advisable that, in the meantime, the AU unify its members and in one voice demand that the organization reserve the authority to ratify all resolutions that directly affect any African country.

It is true that the Security Council holds the right to pass binding resolutions. However, if a binding resolution has negative impact on an African country, said resolution can only be implemented if that country stands alone. Conversely, if the 54 members of the A.U. stand in unison, firmly in support of any African country perceived to be victimized, said country’s voice will be heard and valued.

The modern world is a multipolar world and the continent of Africa has as much authority to dictate the direction of the world as any other continent. According to Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, obtaining permanent membership and veto power “is not going to be easy because the people who have got the veto [powers], have also the veto” to decide who will be extended veto powers. However, if African countries stand united and employ their collective bargaining authority for the good of the entire continent, it is possible.

 SEE ALSO: Can We Get Over ‘My Black Is Better Than Yours’










Last Edited by:Abena Agyeman-Fisher Updated: September 15, 2018


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