The purpose and scope of demands for reform at the UN

by Haydar Oruç

Heads of governments and states from different parts of the world were in New York last week for the opening ceremonies of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly. In this context, President Erdoğan arrived in New York with a large delegation, made various contacts, and addressed the General Assembly on September 19.

In his speech at the UN, President Erdoğan touched upon many regional and global issues and explained Turkey’s position on these issues. Then he emphasized his long-standing insistence that “the world is bigger than five” and ” A fairer world is possible ” and brought it to the attention of the world that a structural reform of the UN has become essential.

However, this year, unlike previous years, we have heard similar messages from many other leaders besides Erdoğan, with some nuances. We know very well what our President means by UN reform and what is being done for it, but to summarize briefly, we can say that it is to change the current “decision-making structure in the Security Council, freeing the UN from the domination of the five permanent members and thus making the UN more transparent and fair”.

In this context, it should be noted that the Directorate of Communication has been working on the international level for a long time and has been trying to explain Turkey’s theses to its interlocutors through events organized in different parts of the world. As such, I have no hesitation in suggesting that the fact that we heard demands for reform from more leaders at the UN this year may be the result of the efforts of our Directorate of Communication.

Although there is a growing demand for reforming the UN, it would be unrealistic to say that everyone who has made statements on this issue sees the issue from the same perspective. This is because most of the actors who have made statements on this issue, seem to understand UN reform in terms of strengthening their own positions and taking a greater role in the management and administration of the UN.

In fact, discussions on reform at the UN are not new. However, it is possible to say that there are qualitative differences between today’s debates and demands and those of the past. In previous years, the UN was asked to contribute more to sustainable global development, be more effective in conflict prevention and peacekeeping operations, and ensure more accountable governance. Today, criticisms are being made against the structure of the Security Council in general, and alternative proposals are being made.

The most important reason for this is that the Security Council is the most influential and the only body of the UN with sanctioning power. Although the General Assembly is the most broad-based UN body with representation from all member states, it is ultimately overshadowed by the Security Council as its decisions are advisory in nature.

Currently, the Security Council is composed of 15 members, five permanent with the right of veto (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France) and 10 temporary (elected by the General Assembly for a two-year term based on regional distribution). In order to adopt a resolution in the Council, at least nine members must vote in favor and no permanent member can veto it. In other words, even if 14 members vote in favor of a resolution planned to be adopted by the Security Council if any of the permanent members use their veto, there is no chance of the resolution being adopted.

Therefore, when we talk about reforming the UN, we need to understand that this means changing the structure of the Security Council and the way it makes decisions. In order to better understand the importance of reform, we should recall that the structure of the Security Council in 1945, when the UN was founded, was different from today, and that some updates were made in this regard due to the increase in the number of members of the UN.

Because in 1945, the UN had only 51 members and the Security Council had a total of 11 members, with five permanent members and only six temporary members at then. As the number of members increased over time, the current composition was created by changing the member structure in 1965. Although the UN currently has 193 members, the composition of the Security Council is still the same as it was in 1965. However, the decision-making procedure remains unchanged too.

While the most important problem in the Security Council is the decision-making procedure, inadequate regional representation It should also be noted that it is the most complained about issue. As of today, although there are 54 states in Africa and 33 states in Latin America and the Caribbean, they have no permanent representatives in the Security Council. In addition, Asia, with 54 states, is represented permanently only by China, and Eastern Europe, with 23 states, is represented permanently only by Russia. In contrast, Western Europe and North America, with 29 states, are represented permanently by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, that is three states.

The temporary membership in the Security Council is as follows: Africa three, Asia two, Latin America and the Caribbean one, Eastern Europe one, and Western Europe-North America two.

As can be seen, Europe in general has a disproportionate advantage in terms of permanent or temporary membership in the UN Security Council, with Western and Eastern. Therefore, even though its founders include two Eastern countries such as Russia and China, it is an undeniable fact that the UN is a Western-centered international organization in terms of representation and decision-making power.

In contrast, the “G4 initiative” composed of Japan, Brazil, Germany, India, and Brazil, was established in 2004 and presented a new draft plan to change the composition of the Security Council in 2005. According to this plan, the number of permanent members of the Security Council would be increased to 11 with the addition of six countries; two from Africa, two from Asia-Pacific, one from Latin America and the Caribbean, and one from Western Europe. The number of temporary members will be increased from 10 to around 14-15, bringing the total number of members to 25-26.

In the proposal of the G4 initiative, in addition to redesigning the regional distribution, the veto power of permanent members is abolished. It is also recommended that majority or qualified majority voting should prevail instead. In fact, the draft of the African Union, which works in a similar vein, and the draft of the G4 initiative almost overlap.
However, in order for such plans to change the structure and modus operandi of the Security Council to be realized, the current permanent members must accept or not veto such changes. Given the recent tensions and even rivalry between the United States with Russia and China, it does not seem realistic to expect either the United States or Russia or China to relinquish this power.

Nevertheless, it is not possible to maintain the unfair and unjust status quo any longer. This is because conditions have changed since World War II, it is long past time for a new order to be established.

For the establishment of a new order, instead of waiting for “World War III” to break out, It seems the most reasonable option to give some guarantees to the permanent members, who would lose their veto power in the event of a possible change, that the situation will not be used against them. This would overcome the current deadlock in the Security Council and the UN system could be revised without war will be shown.

A Security Council with more members would be fairer in terms of representation than the current one, and the fact that no member, even a permanent one, has veto power would force members to cooperate to make decisions on any issue. The new composition of the Security Council would necessarily minimize, if not abruptly end, the current polarization and the forced détente could eventually evolve into cooperation.

For this reason, it seems essential to adopt the slogan “The world is bigger than five”, which our President voiced, and to make it more popular and widespread in order to convince the interlocutors to change. Why not live in a “fairer world”?

This article was originally published in Diriliş Postası on September 26, 2023, in Turkish.

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