The UN Security Council: From the Cold War to the 21st Century
The UN Security Council: From the Cold War to the 21st Century

The UN Security Council: From the Cold War to the 21st Century

Mar 4, 2004

Malone points out that disagreements among the Permanent Five Security Council members have been confined to just three issues since the end of the Cold War: Israel-Palestine, Kosovo, and Iraq.


JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I’m Joanne Myers, Director of Merrill House Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I’d like to welcome our members and guests to this afternoon’s panel discussion on the Security Council.

The individual presentations that you are about to hear are all based on contributions to a new and definitive work on this subject. The name of the book is The UN Security Council: From the Cold War to the 21st Century, which is edited by David Malone, who is seated next to me.

In September of last year, Secretary General Kofi Annan told world leaders that the time had come to choose between maintaining the Charter as drafted after the Second World War or to contemplate enacting radical changes to the international security system.

It was with this directive in mind that he recently appointed a high-level panel to consider how the UN might best respond to today’s threats to world peace and security. One of the primary issues that this newly created panel will address is that of the Security Council.

The Council, as many of you already know, is the UN’s most powerful body, the one entrusted with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. It is the one arm of the UN over which the fiercest debates often arise about its political architecture, with many states arguing that it does not reflect the present realities of the day.

Therefore, in order to familiarize ourselves with the workings of some of the issues that have arisen with respect to reform of the Security Council, we are very fortunate to have gathered here today this stellar panel to discuss this subject. Our panelists will attempt to assess the Council’s objectives and performance during the turbulent years in the post-Cold War era. Some of the topics they will address are:

  • The changes in the Council’s objectives
  • Decisions it has taken
  • Its working methods

I believe the size of this audience today indicates not only the keen public interest in this subject matter but an anticipation of garnering insights into what these distinguished panelists have to say on this subject.

As you peruse their bios, which are attached to your guest lists, you will note that each in his own right is a towering intellect and reservoir of practical experience.

I would like to thank you all for joining us here this afternoon, and especially to you, David, for suggesting that we bring this panel to the Carnegie Council. Thank you very much.

I would like to turn the panel over to David, who will preside as the moderator.


DAVID MALONE: Thank you very much.

We have very different experiences with the Security Council. I sat briefly on the Council in 1990 during the beginning of the Iraq crisis, but since then I've been much more an observer.

Kishore Mahbubani, on the other hand, was a member of the Council for two years very recently during high-profile events, and he can shed a great deal more light on what it’s like to sit in the body and have to face difficult decisions.

Ian Martin has tremendous experience in the human rights field. Once he had been Secretary General of Amnesty International for a number of very important years for the organization, he began working for the UN on human rights in the field and later became a UN political envoy. He had to relate to the Council as somebody in the field, somewhat at the mercy of the body, and sometimes in a pleading role to get the Council to do the right thing for East Timor, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

You’ll get very different perspectives from the three of us.

I will quickly give you a tour de raison about what’s new in the Security Council since the end of the Cold War. I will assume that you are all familiar with the limited although still useful role the Security Council played at the margins of conflict resolution during that period.

All of this changed around 1986 when Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, then the Secretary-General of the UN, was one of the very first people to realize that the Cold War was ending. It may have been because of his discussions with Gorbachev; it may have just been instinct.

He challenged the Permanent Five to start working together towards overcoming the Cold War divide, and the P5, rather shocked to be so challenged by the Secretary-General, did start cooperating on resolution of the Iran-Iraq war, a war that was particularly murderous but is largely forgotten today.

The Permanent Five then started working together on a range of other conflicts—bringing about the independence of Namibia, the beginnings of negotiations on Cambodia—and since then have developed a pattern of collaboration.

What we tend to pick up in the newspapers is the divisions amongst the Permanent Five. But their agreement and collaboration far outstrip their disagreements. They have disagreed meaningfully on only three issues since the end of the Cold War:

1) The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which provokes the occasional American veto, is a continuing source of disagreement. But what we see at the UN is largely political theater, because the resolution of the conflict will come about as a result of dealings of the parties on the ground and of American leadership, so far lacking on that front. But when the conflict is resolved, it will not be as a result of work at the UN or UN resolutions; it will be because of the United States, the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the Palestinians’ allies.

2) Kosovo produced a very sharp, albeit brief division of the Permanent Five, with Russia threatening a veto over NATO’s wish to deal with Milosevic and NATO deciding to bypass the Security Council, which had the side effect of reminding the Russians that not all vetoes are equal.

Neither Moscow nor Washington and the other Western capitals were comfortable with this division over Kosovo. They were so used to working with each other that ways were sought to overcome that division—difficult to do in the Security Council because vetoes and veto threats kept getting in the way—so it was actually addressed substantively in the G8 forum, very quietly, away from the news media, where it is easier to discuss very sensitive issues.

An agreement was reached between the Russians and the major Western powers on the way forward in Kosovo, and in June of 1999, only three months after the disagreement broke out, it was brought to the Security Council, and, ever since, Kosovo has been governed under a UN mandate by international authorities.

3) The disagreement over Iraq has been running off and on since 1996. The Permanent Five worked together on Iran-Iraq, at the time of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and it’s only lately in the development of the Iraq file that there has been a major falling out amongst the Permanent Five.

On all of the other subjects they deal with, there has been agreement – or at least non-opposition – amongst the P5 on how to proceed. This is the basic change in the Security Council from which all other changes flow.

What has changed in the nature of the Council’s decisions? First, most of the conflicts that the Council deals with today are internal conflicts. But conflicts never remain strictly internal for long. They spill over into neighboring countries; for example, Colombia’s problems are spilling over into Peru, Ecuador, and the domestic politics of Venezuela.

Sometimes, however, the neighbors spill in, as we’ve seen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where six neighboring countries sent their armies to participate in what had started out as a largely internal conflict.

That most of these conflicts are internal not only represents a doctrinal shift for the UN but also leaves it faced with much greater difficulties:

  • Civil wars are much harder to solve than wars between countries. Often the groups that rebel against bad central governments feel their backs are up against the wall. They feel that if they surrender, if they compromise, their whole community could be wiped out. These are not frivolous concerns.
  • Secondly, for those who are mediators for the UN, it is often difficult to identify the parties to civil wars. In the Congo, for example, at any given time we know a number of the parties to the conflict, but there are others we know very little about.
  • Thirdly, what the UN has become accustomed to doing in classic peacekeeping has been to separate belligerent forces: have a cease-fire line, encourage a cease fire, and have the UN monitor that cease-fire line.

In civil wars the belligerents don’t tidily separate; they overlap geographically and sometimes politically as well. Civil wars present difficulties of many sorts, not least the involvement of neighboring countries, sometimes under a variety of guises; and as a result the whole nature of peacekeeping has evolved. In the past peacekeeping was a military activity of interposition between belligerent states. Today peacekeeping is a largely civilian activity. The functions of peacekeeping in a civil war and the post-conflict peace-building include: humanitarian assistance—civilian; police training and monitoring—civilian; human rights training and monitoring—civilian; civil administration, the running of territories, sometimes countries—Kosovo, East Timor, Slavonia—civilian. And finally, economic reconstruction—civilian.

The heads of major peacekeeping operations today are civilians, rather than the military force commander. And while many blue helmets are still involved in peacekeeping operations, the military component is just one of many in most of these operations.

This presents new problems. While the military share a language, and a certain culture across national divides, civilians from different disciplines—human rights as opposed to economic reconstruction—may have very different perspectives. Bringing all of this together in a peacekeeping operation is very difficult.

After the end of the Cold War, the Council’s agenda exploded. It went from being a very sleepy body that met occasionally, to being nearly insanely busy, which contributes to a number of very bad decisions.

The Council engages in burden-sharing with regional organizations: the Organization of American States in Haiti and Central America; in Europe, the European Union, NATO, OSCE [the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] and the Council of Europe; in Africa, the African Union and a number of subregional organizations. But the UN doesn’t like working with other groups, and other organizations aren’t very good at working with the UN. All of these actors are more practiced at working with each other, and we’re still on a learning curve after only 15 years.

The drivers of action in the Security Council have also shifted. During the Cold War the Council was fairly reactive to military events on the ground. Today the drivers include:

  • Response to the humanitarian imperative. During the Cold War, the Security Council didn’t deal with humanitarian crises. They were considered the province of the Red Cross system, which isn’t part of the UN, and a few UN specialized agencies, like the High Commissioner for Refugees.

    But with the CNN effect, the Permanent Five have been able to agree on addressing humanitarian disasters. The genesis of the UN’s involvement in both Bosnia and Somalia was humanitarian considerations.

  • Human rights. Massive violations of human rights are still tolerated by the Permanent Five and others on the Council, particularly when they occur in Permanent Five countries: Chechnya, for example.

    However, there is a much greater sensitivity to massive human rights violations, particularly once the Security Council had disgraced itself on Rwanda in 1994, and today the Council does address massive human rights violations in many parts of the world.

  • Democratization. Democratization has been the Council’s answer to civil wars. The way of achieving a more stable political set of arrangements within countries that would involve the interests of all parties has been seen consistently as the way forward and then the way out for the Security Council.

    But whereas in the early 1990s the Council seemed to consider that holding an election would be enough, and then getting out, today by and large the Council realizes that democracy is a very slow process and that two or three elections at least are required before any prognosis of success can be made.

    Look at Haiti, for example, a country which suffers from too many elections and a deficit of actual democratic practice.

  • Terrorism. The widespread belief is that the Security Council only started addressing terrorism after 9/11. That’s completely untrue. It started with Libya and the airline bombings: the Pan Am bombing [over Lockerbie, with 270 deaths] and the UTA bombing [France’s Union de Transports Aeriens flight, bombed over the Sahara, with 170 deaths] in the late 1980s and the early 1990s; moved on to sanctions against Sudan over an assassination attempt against President Mubarak; and against the Taliban after the bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, all of which occurred long before 9/11.

All of these changes have brought about a shift in the way sovereignty is appreciated at the UN. Absolute sovereignty of the type that countries claimed during the Cold War, and some countries still claim, is largely discredited in favor of a more qualified sovereignty that the Security Council deals with.

I will make three more institutional points before concluding.

Human rights relate to two important institutional issues. One is international law, particularly criminal law. The Security Council has had an enormous impact on international criminal law by creating the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, which gave impetus to the previously very unenergized movement towards an international criminal court.

Hybrid courts have been created in places like Sierra Leone and Cambodia, and we’ll see more of these, to deal in international ways with very serious human rights violations that have occurred in conflicts within countries.

Non-governmental organizations, which played no role whatsoever in the life of the Security Council during the Cold War, today play a significant role, although not all Council members are keen on it in principle. Why? First because NGOs in the field are indispensable partners for UN actors, often braver actors than UN actors in many dangerous places. When the UN withdraws, a number of NGOs stay to provide humanitarian assistance and monitor human rights.

Secondly, because given that the opinions of NGOs now matter in the life of the Security Council, ambassadors rather quietly meet routinely with the 20 or 25 most significant NGOs with activities relevant to conflict, be they humanitarian NGOs, human rights NGOs, or disarmament NGOs.

Finally, Security Council reform. Because the Council is much busier than in the past, pressure for reform is mounting because more countries would like to sit on the Council, either as permanent or elected members. This is creating a number of unhealthy dynamics at the UN.

The Security Council is the only decision-making body at the UN that works at all well. And if a reform exercise is implemented and the Council winds up being ineffective, there will be nothing left of the UN that’s meaningful in terms of decisions on peace and security.

Although we must consider Security Council reform, we should also consider the need to preserve the effectiveness of the Council in any exercise that we undertake, because this could be the last meaningful reform program at the UN.


I am planning to make three points. To make them memorable, I have come up with the acronym CPA, since it’s the flavor of the day, the Coalition Provisional Authority.

But this CPA stands for something else. The C stands for change. When you turn on your television and CNN shows you the Security Council chamber, you always see the same chamber, the same 15 chairs, the same mural.

But as Heroditus said, “You can never step into the same river twice,” and you can never step into the same Security Council twice. It’s constantly changing and evolving.

When I was here as an ambassador from 1984 to 1989, I never went to Security Council meetings. Months would go by; the Council would not meet. Today the Council meets day and night and weekends.

This change is accelerating. There were three phases in the 1990s: post-Cold War, post-Gulf War and euphoria about the Security Council.

In the mid-1990s came Rwanda and Slovenia; then you had the failures in Sierra Leone with peacekeepers being captured.

It was at the end of the 1990s that we saw once again a bounce up as the Security Council began to have successes such as in Sierra Leone.

Even in the last six years I have seen three different Security Councils. One was pre-9/11. The Security Council post-9/11 bore no relationship to the Security Council pre-9/11. The chemistry changed, the agenda changed. Terrorism was an agenda item for the Security Council, but the Council suddenly began to be powerful and intrusive on terrorism issues, and every nation state in the world had to file very long reports on action in the battle against terrorism.

Almost immediately after I left the Security Council in December 2002 came Iraq, and post-Iraq was a still different Security Council. The change is coming faster and faster, and therefore trying to capture the Security Council and understand it becomes increasingly difficult.

At the same time, the Security Council is supposed to be one member of a family of institutions. But with each passing year, the political space that it occupies within the UN family keeps growing. Agenda items which are meant for the General Assembly or ECOSOC [UN Economic and Social Council] are pulled in by the Security Council – whether it’s women in peace and security or protection of children in armed conflict – because people perceive the General Assembly as ineffective. The Council will increasingly play a bigger and bigger role.

An essentially political institution like the Security Council is at its best in reflecting the prevailing geopolitics of the day. Given the U.S. interest in Iraq, in battling terrorism, in Afghanistan, and its realization that to deal with this problem it needs the Security Council, the Council's role will continue to grow.

Let me now turn to my second point, P. P stands for permanent membership and the relationship among the five permanent members of the Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States—and the ten elected members.

When people ask me my impression when I joined the Council, I said, “It’s like jumping on a moving train in January 2001 in the last compartment. In the course of two years you went from compartment to compartment and begin to understand all the different parts of the Council, but when you finally are about to get to the engine room to see how it is being driven, we were thrown out in December 2002.” The permanent members, by virtue of their permanence, will always set and drive the agenda.

Despite the fact that permanent membership clearly creates an advantage for the permanent members over the elected members, it is still essential to have permanent members in the Council to provide institutional memory and continuity to your management. If you look at some of the files that they’re handling, whether it’s the DR Congo, Liberia or Iraq, and you keep changing the hands that manage the operational body every two years, you will have trouble.

So the permanent members do perform a vital role, and even the veto is important in anchoring the major powers in the Security Council, in giving them a vested interest in keeping it going well.

In looking at the performance of the P5, it is quite surprising that the most active and the most driven ambassadors among the group will almost always be those of the United Kingdom and France because, as apparently Jeremy Greenstalk used to say to his staff, “We have to earn our place in the Council every day.”

Finally, the A in the CPA is for accountability. If you want to look at the future of the Council, remember the accountability point, because the Council is in a very peculiar situation today. As its role and importance grow significantly, it is affecting more and more lives on the ground in Asia, Africa, Haiti and Latin America.

Who owns the Council? Who provides its legitimacy? Maybe the best way of understanding this is to understand the core function of the Council.

The work of the Council has been compared to a fire department. The Security Council is supposed to come out and put out the conflicts no matter where they happen. But in practice, the Council’s record is mixed. If it affects Park Avenue, the Security Council reacts. If it doesn’t affect Park Avenue, in some parts of Africa, the Security Council doesn’t react. And these double standards are beginning to be perceived.

The 1994 Rwandan genocide was the lowest point for the Council. We all assume that after the mistake of Rwanda, the Security Council will not fail again.

Unfortunately, I learned one big lesson after visiting Burundi in the Great Lakes region. When we returned to New York, the 15 Security Council members met with Gareth Evans, who asked us a simple question: “You’ve been to Burundi, you’ve seen how fragile the situation is. This time around, if a genocide breaks out in Burundi, what will the Council do?”

There was an awkward silence before one P5 member said, “My country has no vital national interest in Burundi, and we will not react.” A second P5 member said, “My country has no vital national interest in Burundi, so we will not react.” And this went around.

Decisions are made not on the basis of the collective security interests mentioned in the Charter, but on the basis of narrow national interests. This eventually will become a problem for the Council. To retain its legitimacy and acceptance by the 6 billion people of the world, the Council must demonstrate that it will be accountable for its actions, and that it is in the interest of the P5 to accept this accountability.

IAN MARTIN: There are tens of thousands of people working in operations established by the Security Council or under mandates given by the Council. The largest proportion of them are military, but an increasing number are civilian; and the Council is responsible for giving them a realistic job to do in what by definition will be some of the most difficult circumstances in the world, providing them the resources and the continuous political support to enable them to do it, and for being constantly concerned for their security as they do it.

David Malone invited me to write about the Security Council as a perspective from the field and allowed me to do so from the context I know best, that of East Timor. Other chapters in the book are on Namibia, El Salvador and Mozambique and are also prepared by authors who write from responsibility in major UN operations, including Aldo Ajello, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Mozambique.

The actual contacts that those in the field and even the senior staff and heads of mission have with members of the Security Council is inevitably very limited. From time to time the Secretary-General's Special Representative will come to New York to brief the Council directly, which also allows for him or her to meet with key member states, sometimes brought together in groups of friends of the particular operation or the core group in the case of East Timor, as well as the Secretariat.

Even more rarely, the Security Council itself may visit the mission, a practice renewed in 1999 when I hosted the first Security Council mission since 1994 to visit a UN operation in the field.

It’s inevitable that there may be very different perspectives in New York amongst members of the Council and in the field amongst those who are working for it as to how the Council is handling its tasks in particular contexts.

In the case of East Timor, I recommend a chapter by Stewart Eldon, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the U.K. at the time of the East Timor crisis in 1999 and after, which tracks the Council’s actions and performance in the region and sees it very much as a success story amongst the Council’s handling of a multi-faceted operations. I would be the last to deny that East Timor is in many respects a success story.

But it is important to learn from the less successful aspects of every operation and to derive lessons from ways in which the Council performed less than completely successfully.

I would like to offer four such aspects from the East Timor experience:

1) Limitations on the willingness or ability of the Council to take preventive action. In East Timor the Council became engaged again in 1999 after Indonesia, Portugal, and the UN had reached an agreement that there would be a referendum in East Timor. At the insistence of Indonesia, security during the ballot would remain its responsibility with no international security presence.

The Council members' awareness that those unsatisfactory security arrangements involved a substantial element of risk for the East Timorese and for UN personnel left the Council with an obligation to maximize its own influence to ensure that Indonesia fulfilled the security obligation that it had insisted on retaining. It’s hard in retrospect to conclude that the Council entirely fulfilled that obligation.

As the extent to which the Indonesian army with the militia they had created were posing a serious security threat became clear, the Council acted through presidential statements, through calling in the Indonesian Permanent Representative, but never in tones that fully reflected what the best-informed members of the Council knew was the reality on the ground. And that was for obvious reasons, because Indonesia’s friends in the Council were insisting on praising it for its cooperation in allowing the referendum.

There was a considerable gap between the reality on the ground and the presentation and understanding of that reality, at least in the full deliberations of the Council, not on the part of all members of the Council.

As there was a final escalation of violence as time moved towards the ballot on 30 August, Kieran Prendergast, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, proposed that the Security Council should itself go to Dili ahead of the ballot in order to display and express the Council’s degree of concern for the security situation and clearly warn of the consequences of the violence that was feared after the ballot.

It was only when that violence had fully broken out that the Council moved swiftly to mount very successfully its first Security Council mission in five years, which then played a crucial role in inducing the consent of Indonesia to international military intervention.

But it was the regional, bloc protection of a member state within the Council by Malaysia and Bahrain that inhibited action. But on the mission it was members of the Group of 77 and Malaysia itself who were particularly important in helping Indonesia to come to terms with what was necessary.

2) Limitations on the Council in ensuring that there is timely and realistic planning for future phases of UN operations. There were reasons why the international community was unprepared for the full extent of the violence that broke out in East Timor in 1999, but the planning that it had undertaken, even on much more optimistic assumptions, was quite unrealistic.

In the Brahimi report, the authors noted that the Secretariat must not apply best-case planning assumptions to situations where the actors have historically exhibited worst-case behavior.

The problem is not just a failure in planning on the part of the Secretariat, but the political inhibition in the Council. Had the Secretariat been known to be working on the assumption that a key member state, Indonesia, would completely fail to fulfill solemn undertakings it had been given, that would have been extremely difficult politically before the worst-case scenario had actually developed.

Let’s consider these two aspects of preventive action and planning in relation to Haiti. I did not foresee the nature of the rebellion that suddenly broke out, but nobody could be surprised that there was a crisis waiting to happen in Haiti. And yet the UN, which had a six-year engagement with Haiti, had left itself in a state of extreme unpreparedness in political understanding, let alone operational planning for what it is now confronting. Having tired of Haiti, the UN had handed it back to the OAS [Organisation of American States]; the OAS in turn handed it to CARICOM [Caribbean Community Secretariat], who had nobody else to hand it to.

Yet when the crisis emerged, the two leading members of the Security Council, the United States and France, essentially thrust aside CARICOM, who had the best comprehension of the situation, and acted in a way which has set an almost disastrous political context for an operation for which the UN will no doubt have to take responsibility.

3) Limitations in the suitability of the Security Council to be an oversight body for governance for, in the extreme case, transitional administration, as in East Timor and Kosovo. David has emphasized the shift from purely military peacekeeping operations into a wider range of civilian functions, and to some extent transitional administration is only the very extreme end of a spectrum that includes support to peace-building and governance functions. And yet the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, historically the Military Department of the Secretariat, and the Security Council, the peace and security arm of the system, are not well-suited to be accountability or oversight bodies for those functions.

If we had time to examine the experience of transitional administration in Haiti, I would argue that there was a need for a degree of oversight in relation to difficult issues of which the Security Council only scratched the surface.

4) Limitations regarding the Security Council’s seriousness when it comes to issues of accountability for gross human rights violations. I illustrate that in the case of East Timor because the rhetoric of the Council at the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000 regarding its indignation at the crimes that were committed in East Timor and the determination that those responsible should be brought to justice was impeccable. As well it might have been, as the UN’s responsibility was a very particular because it included the murders of some twelve East Timorese, UN staff under my responsibility.

And yet the Security Council, whether it’s in East Timor or in other difficult cases like the DR Congo, Burundi and Côte d’Ivoire, three cases where governments, in good faith or not, are asking for international support for measures to end impunity, continues to espouse the principle while regarding most of the options of dealing with it as either politically too difficult, financially unduly costly, or otherwise not available. There is a serious need to bring back together the practical willingness of the Council to act on issues of accountability with the increasingly powerful rhetoric it has been prepared to apply.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: All of your remarks point to successes in the Security Council, and to the workability of the Council by comparison with other parts of the UN.

One of the sad legacies of the debate about Iraq is that the UN’s critics point to shortcomings in the Council when the shortcomings in the organization are spectacularly elsewhere. It’s a sadly depleted organization where the General Assembly, ECOSOC, the Conference of Disarmament and the Commission on Human Rights are virtually moribund organizations, and by comparison the Council does very well.

But I’m not very happy at leaving it as David has said, in circumstances where we have to say that we have to be careful to avoid botched reform, that botched reform is worse than no reform at all.

The Council is very deficient, for example, in the clubby agreement among the Permanent Five and the way it excludes issues.

Let me give a very quick example here, where the New Zealand Ambassador and I went to the Council a few months ago to seek its endorsement for the outstanding work that my country [Australia] and his and others in the Pacific Island Forum have done in the Solomon Islands. We went to the Council and said, “Here’s some activity under Chapter 8 that’s really good, and all we need you to do is applaud it.”

Amongst themselves, the P5 balked because the Chinese objected to doing anything about the Solomon Islands because it recognizes Taiwan—absolutely nothing to do with the issue—and the other four of the Permanent Five were not prepared to have an argument with the Chinese. Equally, the Chinese won’t have any argument with anyone else, particularly with the Americans, where they see that American national interests are at stake.

The reality is that the Chinese play a supine role on the Council to protect their own national interests where necessary and not to offend the others where it’s not. In the end, the agenda is very often dictated by the Americans, the French, and the British, the P3, an agenda that too often excludes large parts of the world, particularly East Asia and the Pacific.

The Council is efficient within its own terms, but it’s extremely deficient in its geographical focus, in the way it needs to work as a truly global organization.

And I would hope very much that David’s saying that botched reform is worse than no reform is not used by those people who are worried about Council reform to avoid vigorous debate on that issue.

DAVID MALONE: There’s no doubt that the Permanent Five are involved in multiple accommodations of each other’s interests.

France, which objected so violently to regime change in Iraq, seemed to have no trouble whatsoever with the proposition of ousting a democratically elected leader in Haiti.

And so, having converted the United States to the view that Aristide was the source of all problems in Haiti and that getting rid of him might solve something rather than complicate things, France and the United States pressured Aristide to leave.

Largely as a decoy operation to detract attention from what had just occurred, France and particularly the United States got the Security Council to endorse ahead of the fact virtually any form of multilateral intervention that a number of countries might decide to put on the ground in Haiti.

Here we see a very cynical use of the Security Council by a couple of permanent members, at least one of which claims to have principles, and it’s by no means a unique case.

The P5 are very self-regarding, placing their own contributions to international peace and security on a plane well above that which they concede to other countries—for example, Australia did all of the heavy lifting in East Timor, particularly at a time when it was risky heavy lifting in the early days of intervention, and the Permanent Five don’t take much account of that.

If we allow our various resentments about the Council to get the better of our judgment on the shape of the UN system overall, it would be quite easy to destroy the Council, but it would be very difficult to erect something in its place. Decision-making would simply migrate to other fora which are even less democratic than the Security Council.

JOANNE MYERS: Let’s group a few questions in the interest of time.

QUESTION: The Security Council will not take on issues in countries such as Sudan, where you’ve had an 18-year political war and in Uganda, which has been the darling of the United States, where you have the Lord’s Resistance Army and massacres.

How do you bring on issues in the Security Council where one or another of the Permanent Five do not want to see that particular massacre, potential massacre, or humanitarian problem dealt with?

QUESTION: To what extent are there feasible reforms of the Security Council which would be more desirable from the point of view of legitimacy? Simply asking the permanent members to be more accountable won’t work. Are there feasible mechanisms—that is, compatible with the incentives of the P5—so that decisions that could be enacted won’t migrate out of the Council?

QUESTION: Because the General Assembly responsibilities have come to the Security Council by default, some expansion of the membership is surely very important to reinforce its legitimacy. Is there anything in the works to make that happen?

KISHORE MAHBUBANI: All of your questions are related to how to reform and transform the Security Council. Changing the composition will not solve the problem until you get a consensus in the international community on what the Security Council should and should not be doing.

The open-ended Working Group on Security Council Reform has become the never-ending Working Group on Security Council Reform because we put the cart before the horse. We keep trying to decide which country should become a permanent member without first asking, what are the criteria for permanent membership?

If you ask the international community what are the most important issues today and where should the resources go, you get one list. If you ask the P5, you get another. It’s quite clear that if you ask the CARICOM countries what should be done on Haiti, you get a very different answer from what’s decided in the capitals.

Change only comes after a major crisis, and right now the Security Council is at a high point. They feel no pressure to change. But they must watch out for something new out there. In the eyes of a significant part of the world the delegitimization of the UN continues.

In the past, if you wore a blue helmet, you flew the blue flag, you didn’t have to worry; everybody else got shot at but never the blue helmet or the blue flag. Today in many parts of the world, you fly the blue flag and you’ll be shot and killed. This is the result of this delegitimization, because of the perception that the Security Council's agenda doesn’t reflect the global agenda.

Change will come when the Security Council wakes up and realizes that it must regain its legitimacy, and when it does so, it must then decide that these are our standards, these are our roles and responsibilities; and then whichever countries want to accept those roles and responsibilities should join the Council.

Right now, the P5 get all the privileges and no responsibilities, so why should they change?

IAN MARTIN: Just one word on the question of access and accountability for the Security Council, which is extremely important from an NGO perspective and from a field perspective.

Significant advances have been made since the time that I was Secretary-General of Amnesty International, when I wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the Security Council. Now NGOs brief the Council in area formula sessions.

Debate has focused on to whether it would be useful to open up more general knowledge of what’s going on in the deliberations of the Security Council; and there’s a tension between the need for the Security Council to retain a degree of cohesion and even confidentiality in the way it conducts itself but also its need to be open to information and perspectives from elsewhere.

DAVID MALONE: You get different messages on Security Council reform from different constituencies. Some want power realities today reflected in the Security Council, which would suggest having some new nuclear powers like India and a powerful, non-nuclear country like Brazil.

Others harp on the theme of legitimacy. But how one defines legitimacy is a very open question. To what extent would one sensibly want San Marino sitting on the Security Council? What is the legitimacy of Monaco were it interested in sitting on the Council?

Coming back to Kishore’s point, what is the contribution of these countries likely to be? In Singapore we have a small country that makes major contributions in a number of spheres, and there are other small countries that do as well.

But the question of legitimacy is much more complex than simply counting up the numbers of members in the UN General Assembly and then suggesting that somehow all of them have to be represented equally.

The criteria question that Kishore raises is very important, and the type of contribution the countries are prepared to make. Many countries, big and small, make no contribution whatsoever, and I don’t see much legitimacy deriving from their presence in the Security Council.

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