The principal task of the UN Security Council – established under the founding charter of the UN as one of the UN's main organs – is supposedly to promote international peace and security in every part of the world. Yet it is undoubtedly more notable for its failures than for its achievements since its first official meeting, which took place on January 10, 1946. The Security Council is enthusiastic about performing that task only when it suits the interests of its permanent members that it should do so. It is not too cynical to suggest that this explains its wretched failure to intervene seriously to stop the mass-murders of ordinary people in the Balkans, Rwanda and Iraq; yet it declared war on ‘international terrorism' only one day after the attacks in the US on the WTC and Pentagon in September 2001. The Security Council has also hugely but selectively expanded its imposition of economic sanctions as a means of targeting governments and groups that are said to threaten international peace and security, but which in reality are not approved by Washington and its allies.
In the Balkans and Rwanda massacre, millions of Bosnian Muslims and Tutsis (the minority tribe of Rwanda; the majority of the population are Hutus) were killed; the Security Council did little or nothing to prevent the tragedies from taking place, or from continuing once they had begun. In the case of the far less serious attacks that took place in the US in September 2001, firm action was taken on the very next day. The Security Council expressed its readiness to combat terrorism and repeated the right to individual or collective self-defence in accordance with the UN Charter. At the end of September it passed Resolution 1373, establishing a Counter-Terrorism Committee to monitor a range of measures to combat "international terrorism", including greater international cooperation and information-exchange and suppressing the finances of "terrorist groups", or groups suspected of being terrorist. Since then, the Security Council has taken many steps to facilitate the implementation of this resolution. Yet it continues to ignore the mass murders of ordinary people in civil wars in Africa (in the Congo andSierra Leone, for instance) and the war of terror being waged on the people of Palestine by Israeli forces, who are occupying the Palestinians' homeland in violation of international law.
Not surprisingly, this selective performance of its duties has led to demands for reform of its structure, membership and functions. This has resulted in an ambitious plan of reform through the expansion of its membership from 15 to 25. The expansion was proposed earlier this year by Kofi Annan, the secretary general, to reflect today's reality rather than the situation after the second "world war". Recently Annan, speaking after a two-day debate at the UN, said: "I think we all have to admit that the council can be more democratic and more representative. There is a democracy deficit in the UN governance that has to be corrected." This understatement refers indirectly to the domination of the council by five members with permanent seats and a veto: the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, the victors of the war that ended in 1945. The other ten places are filled from the rest of the membership of the UN for two years at a time.
Annan's himself has ceased to have any moral authority (if he ever had any) because he is under investigation for fraud in connection with the UN oil-for-food corruption scandal. His son Kojo was awarded contracts when Iraq was allowed to sell oil to buy food. But the problems facing the plan to reform the security council are not confined to his lack of moral – and indeed legal – authority. They derive from the fact that the UN members seeking the reform or opposing it are motivated by their own interests as states, not as members of the UN who are anxious that it should function properly. There is the added problem of the personal interests of the rulers of the 161 member-states, who are keen to impress supporters or voters in their respective countries through their attitudes to the plan for reform.
As soon as Annan announced his plan for the expansion of the security council, Japan, Germany, Brazil and India organised themselves into the "G4", proposing six permanent seats without veto power and four non-permanent seats. They then set out on an extensive lobbying campaign to secure for themselves four of the six permanent seats they were proposing, thus ensuring the rejection of their plan by their enemies or rivals. Argentina and Chile are keen to block Brazil; Pakistan is naturally determined to prevent India from becoming a member of the security council; Spain and Italy would prefer that Germany not acquire a permanent seat; even the US, though a strong ally, does not want Germany to become a permanent member (Bush is probably still angry with its Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, for his opposition to the invasion of Iraq). The US envoy responsible for UN reform even told the General Assembly that Washington would not vote for the G4 resolution. Russia and China are also opposed to it, but Britain, the fourth permanent member, says that so long as it can retain its own permanent seat it will support the G4 proposal.
Proposals for reform are, however, not approved by the Security Council but by the General Assembly, whose 191 members do not have any veto power and make decisions by simple majority. This means that the G4 resolution must secure a majority of votes. This explains why the G4 states held a meeting with representatives of the 53 African countries to secure their backing. But those countries have now tabled a resolution of their own, which shows that they are opposed to the G4 plan. They propose a 26-member security council in whichAfrica would have four places, instead of the three proposed by the G4. So far Nigeria and Egypt have declared their interest in acquiring permanent seats, and there is little doubt that when African countries meet to allocate their permanent seats there will be sharp differences among them.
Whatever reform plans are submitted will be discussed at the UN special summit called by Annan (September 14 – 16). But the summit, which will also discuss the issue of world poverty, will not be preoccupied with issues of genuine organisational reform to make the Security Council a body capable of carrying out its duties. The delegates will instead devote their efforts to advancing the interests of their own countries, allies or masters, as usual. Many of them could indeed be influenced, under pressure, to support the US line. In any case, both the proposals and the positions adopted by the delegates will be such that failure to reform the UN is guaranteed to be the summit's ultimate outcome.