TOPICS: Security Council seat for EU, ASEAN?

James Goodby and Kenneth Weisbrode:

The recent reports about UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s secret meetings and shakeup of senior management remind us that public interest in the UN’s future has sadly been lost to personalities. The UN and its members face critical decisions that extend far beyond the current crisis of confidence. Top on the list is the proposed expansion of the Security Council to include as many as six new permanent members.

Annan’s own commissioned report on the subject received hardly any serious attention when it was released a month ago. But it falls short in one critical respect — the role of regional organisations. Ever since the governments of Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan launched a joint effort this past summer to seek permanent Security Council membership, expansion has been taken for granted. For nearly 60 years, council seats have been reserved for the victors of World War II. Britain, China, France, Russia, and the US made a good case that reform is long overdue. Without doubt, all four countries are global powerhouses. But wouldn’t more permanent members weaken an already fractious Security Council? And what about other aspirants — South Africa, Mexico?

The best place to start would be with the UN Charter — beefing up Articles 52 and 53 to begin the process of transferring permanent membership from the hands of a privileged group of states to well integrated groups of regional organisations. The most thoroughly integrated of these is the European Union, but other organisations that might qualify include NATO, the Organisation of American States, the African Union, the Asian Regional Forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Offering a seat to one of these organisations could be made contingent on an understanding that others will be accepted when they have incorporated procedures that encourage them to act as a single unit in foreign affairs. Reorganising the Security Council along regional lines may mean that some major powers, such as the US, would be represented in more than one organisation. This should not be an obstacle but rather an incentive to veto-holding members to allow regional bodies to act for them in the council. More power-sharing between them and the Security Council is very much in the interest of global security. Universalism and regionalism must be complementary. Skeptics will argue that reform of this kind is premature. Most regional organisations around the world are too weak to be taken seriously. And intervention in civil conflicts is one thing; deterring large-scale aggression is another. Would regional organisations be able to confront rogue states any better than the current Security Council? Yes. If UN member states work together to build stronger regional alliances and institutions, they will find it easier to nip regional threats in the bud.

If the ultimate goal is to make the UN Security Council both more effective and more representative, the best solution is to do so in a way that balances national and global interests by mobilising regional organisations. The alternative can only be a vicious scramble among nations for the best seats on the top deck of a sinking ship. — The Christian Science Monitor