The reform of the UN Security Council (UNSC) is one of the ever-pending issues of world governance. Set up in 1946 , by the winners of the WWII, the UNSC represents a world order that no longer exists – that of France, UK, US, China and Russia as world “gendarmes”. Although outdated and unbalanced in representation, the UNSC continues to be the only global body charged with the duty of dealing with world security issues.
The UNSC is not –and was not meant to be- democratic, accountable, representative, or transparent. This has justified many claims for reform. The main obstacles of reforming this body are two; firstly, those in the Security Council (SC) are not willing to give up or share their veto power and secondly, there are so many pretenders to enter the club that opening the body without changing the veto right would make the SC simply unworkable.
Amid the more general debate on UNSC reform there is also the discussion on whether the EU should become either a member or an observer in the SC. This option has a lot of opposition, both from within the EU (France and UK) as well as from outside. Alternatively, some experts have been proposing a reform of the SC in which the EU and other regional organisations alike could sit to discuss world security issues. This option has been widely regarded as visionary and politically unrealistic. However, the latest developments in the world and the growing regionalisation in South-America, Africa or Asia start to hint a tendency which could change world politics as we know it. The question arises on how would a change from a SC composed of a selected and privative club of 5 countries evolve into a council of world regions.
Changing the institutional structure of the UNSC
The architecture of UN, and more specially of the UNSC, is a lot weaker than that of the EU. The fathers of the EU wanted –as Jean Monnet put it- that the “institutions survived them” in a sense that the institutions would be able to carry the European integration forward after the founding fathers died and when the memory of the war would have faded. Indeed, the EU institutions have been designed in a way to allow for enlargements, democratisation upgrades, changes in distribution of power, and other changes. The UNSC is exactly the opposite. It is a body that was designed for a very different historical reality and is as such not prone to enlargements or democratisations. With the veto power as its main decision-making characteristic, the architecture of the SC doesn’t provide any incentive for change permanent members, such as France or UK who will hold on to privileges regardless of how unfairly they represent their current weight in global politics.
Germany has been intermittently pushing to have a permanent seat in the UNSC since 20 years and after the likely failure of the G4 initiative (Germany, Brazil, India and Japan push to get permanent seats) it looks like the biggest European economy will have to look for an alternative strategy to make its voice heard in the UNSC. Germany has always stated that its goal was to obtain a European seat in the SC but in view of the negative response from UK and France to give away their seats this was seen as a mission impossible.
A seat for the EU in the SC
What are the arguments for the EU to have a seat in the UNSC? Unlike with trade policy the EU doesn’t have single foreign and defence policy. Thus, many claim that this is a reason not to change the status quo. However it might well be that the EU seat in the UNSC could be a mean rather than an end in itself; by being in the SC the EU would be forced to craft a more cohesive foreign policy in order to speak with one voice.
Another consequence from the EU being in the SC would be the first injection of world regionalism into the SC. Such move could open the door for other world regions such as the African Union to enter world governance structures. At the same time, it is unlikely that world regions such as the EU could obtain veto power, unless France or UK would resign their privileges –which they won’t do in the near future-.
The main practical reason behind the EU wanting a seat in the SC would be to give Germany indirectly a seat at the SC table. This is particularly relevant after its last decade’s frustrated attempts to obtain a seat.
Notwithstanding the motivations, it is a generally agreed that any change of the status quo that requires opening the UN charter is very unlikely to happen in the short term. More pressure from the emerging economies to shift the balance of power in the world governance bodies is needed before the SC fortress can be cracked.
Workable short term reform of UNSC
In order to work out a realistic short term solution while continuing the discussion on the development of the world regionalism, we should take into account the following factors: Firstly, as discussed above, it is unthinkable that France and the UK will give away their seat in the SC freely. Secondly, it is in the interest of the EU to find an answer to the calls for a more balanced and updated representation of world powers -and the sooner the better because its decline on the global stage is associated with the decline in its bargaining power-. Thirdly, that a solution has to be found to accommodate Germany in the new world order especially after the failure of the G4 experience. Fourthly, that outside Europe the perception is that “too many Europeans” are already in the global institutions. And finally that whatever solution is found it is preferable that it doesn’t require amending the UN charter for it can mean opening the Pandora’s box.
Bearing in mind these conditions, a workable short term solution for the EU –and more concretely for Germany- would be to merge the two European regions with rights to nominate non-permanent SC members (western Europe has the right to select 2 non-permanent members and Eastern Europe 1) and merge them into one “EU + others” group but giving only 2 rotating non-permanent seats to this new region. This option would allow the EU to arrange at least 1 of these 2 representatives and hence give priority to Germany so that it could effectively be present in most UNSC negotiations –although without veto right. Moreover, it would decrease the “European” presence in the UNSC –it would have 2 instead of 3 non-permanent members- which would make this proposal acceptable for other world countries who believe that the European representation should be scaled down. Finally it would give the option to the EU to work better as coordinator of this new “UN grouping”.
Rise of world regionalism
In a more long term and sustainable vision for the SC we should note a growing tendency to regional integration around the world. Oddly, it is in times in which the European integration project finds itself in its lowest popularity levels when one can find progress in supranational integration and/or coordination elsewhere.
In Latin-America the last decade has brought an unprecedented rapprochement between countries and leaders which has been materialized in an ever-increasing cooperation. For instance the Mercosur, a free-trade area between southern-American countries founded in 1991, saw a big push in 2005 when it decided to start electing its members starting from 2011 and organise a simultaneous elections in 2014. In the African continent the African Union, founded only in 2002 and composed of all African countries except Morocco, has also made unexpected progress and in less than a decade and following a different a new path is advancing towards a political union without having built on the economic free-trade leg first. In Asia what started as club for South-Eastern Asian countries (Asean) in 1967, has seen an increasing interest from the rest of the continent and although it is mainly an economic organization without foreign policy ambitions it is a fact that it has been instrumental for the advance in the regionalization in the area.
These are just three examples that mark a tendency; that of a growing regionalisation in the world. They are in different stages of development, follow different models, and they are still very far from achieving the degree of integration of the European Union. However, the tendency matters and justifies exploring the option of a future regionalisation of the world which could be useful to envisage a new kind of global governance, particularly in the future of the SC.
A SC composed of World Regions
The advantages of having a SC composed of international organisations are significant. Firstly , this would allow for a better and bigger representation of the world community which increases the legitimacy of the body. Secondly, even in the case where veto prevailed the limited number of members –world regions would not be more than 10- would make the organization more workable than the current options of enlarging the SC. Finally such a structure fits the –so far unbeaten- traditional logic of state organization in which the SC could become an upper chamber representing the states via the international organisations and allow for the development of another chamber representing the people –a world parliament in the way proposed by the UNPA campaign-. The distribution of voting rights and composition of both chambers in order to be representative is a technical matter that falls out of the scope of this article. However, the EU is a good example of how to distribute power in order to accommodate states of different populations and GDPs.
Advancing in the path of world regionalism
The idea of having a SC composed solely of international organisations following the EU model is still far but considering the rise in world regionalization it should not be considered anymore as too visionary. In fact, it is necessary to set a goal of this kind in order to orientate the UNSC reform in a way that allows progress to be measurable and defines a final destination that can be acceptable and desirable by the international community.
Two requisites have to be met for a SC composed of international organisations to be feasible; first, these international organisations should have the capacity to speak with one voice and second, they have to be able to implement the decisions taken in the SC. Currently the EU has the power to implement the decisions , such as sanctions. When it comes to speaking with one voice, the EU also fulfils this condition in most of the cases, although it is also true that the EU tends to be split in most important decisions-. However neither of these two conditions are yet met by any other regional international organisations. It is therefore necessary to wait until organisations such as the African Union, Mercosur, Asean and others can reach the minimum level of integration that would make such a SC acceptable and functional.
The role of the EU in changing the UNSC reform
Advancing towards a SC composed of world regions will be slow and cumbersome. Changing the status quo is never easy. However the EU has an important role to play in this transition. Being the most developed world region in terms of political and economic integration, the EU could start by asking for a permanent observer seat in the SC with the condition that other world regions who want and can be represented would also be allowed to join the SC as observers when they fulfil at least one of the two conditions mentioned above (capacity to speak with one voice and to implement decisions). This last condition consisting in opening the door to other world regions is a must; first because most countries oppose the EU seat in the SC because of the current over-representation of Europeans and they could only support this option if the door is open for their region too. Second, because the participation of the world regions as observers would have an effect in developing procedures and mechanisms to organise common positions and the implementation of the decisions among world regions. The learning by doing would be important to pave a future in which the SC could be composed solely of world regions.
This change consisting in inviting world regions to participate as observers would not require amending the UN charter in the short term, as long as the regions are only observers. And only when the world regions have evolved sufficiently would be time to consider amending the charter to replace the current SC with a new one composed of world regions –and eventually a big state such as the US, China or Russia.
A forum for world regions outside the UN system
The other option is to create a forum outside the UN setting where the world regions can start to interact and negotiate as well as exchange best practices. In the beginning, and because of the different levels of integration it need not take binding decisions but in a not too distant future it could be possible to envisage developing commonly agreed legislation and taking decisions applicable in those countries bound to the regions represented. It could be the embryo of a world upper chamber that could one day replace the SC. In this case the leadership of the EU in setting up this forum would be welcomed and recommendable. By inviting other world regions to sit down as equals around the same table, it would help combat the negative perception from the rest of the world of what some call the “European moral superiority”.
The difficulty of both options –besides the still insufficient integration of world regions- are the opposition from the current members of the SC who undoubtedly will be suspicious of any initiative that can hinder their privileged position. However, there are more countries outside the SC than inside it and with the emerging economies there can be a good consensus to push in the direction of a reform that is acceptable for the majority.
Europe’s last chance
The times are changing, we find ourselves in an age of multipolarism in world relations. Some European states refuse to accept that the world has changed and their weight in the world has been considerably reduced. The current financial and economic crisis combined with the developments in the rest of the world are shaping a new global order in which European countries will no longer be superpowers. Only under the umbrella of the EU they can continue to influence world politics and hence it is crucially strategic that the member states and the EU itself change their approach to world politics.
We might be facing the last chance for Europe to enter the history as a generous player rather than a loser. In situations like these, in which power is shifting, it is always better to give away power than to have it taken away. The EU had a first taste of how it feels to be pushed aside during the Climate Change negotiations in Copenhagen in which the final deal was stricken without the EU inside the room. Hence there is certain urgency for the EU to act while it can still do it. If the EU waits too long it might see how the opportunity to get a decent compromise is gone forever.
The EU needs to change its policy in world politics and stop angering other countries by pushing forward with more European over-representation. Instead, the EU should think long term and help the articulation of its natural partners; that is other world regions. No doubt building world regions will take time and patience but this long-term goal would be the most stable, legitimate and democratic alternative to current world governance, especially as far as UNSC is concerned. The EU should encourage and assist the development of these world regions and lay the ground for a new and more democratic level of world governance.
Article published in Europe’s World, June 14th