By: David O. Monda
June 17th will be heralded among diplomatic circles in Nairobi as a successful day if Kenya succeeds in its quest for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. However, on closer analysis, it is clear that Kenya’s quest for this non-permanent seat, is meaningless without United Nations (UN) reform. This reform needs to come within the framework of two key bodies. The General Assembly and the Security Council.
The Security Council requires expansion to cater to both Africa and Latin America. These are two regions of the world that were ignored when the Security Council was created on 24th October 1945. At that time, Latin America was perceived to be within the sphere of influence of the United States. From the historical precedent of the Monroe Doctrine, it was assumed that Latin America’s interests would be handled by the United States in the UN. Africa, for its part, was assumed to have its interests covered mainly by the United Kingdom and France. These were the two major powers with vast control over the continent in 1945. As of 2020, however, the global order has changed. There is a pressing need to have at least two permanent seats on the Security Council for Africa and two permanent seats for Latin America.
The second reform also revolves around the Security Council. The veto power of the permanent members of the Security Council enables them to individually cripple the ability of the UN to enforce its Charter. Specifically, Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to tackle threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression. A veto from any permanent member of Security Council, will block the adoption of a draft resolution. Expansion of the number of permanent seats on the Security Council, coupled with a simple majority vote of the council on a draft resolution, will allow the organization to have the bite required to handle the plethora of global issues facing the international community.
Currently, the population of all five permanent members on the Security Council is just over 2 billion. One country, China, makes up almost 70% of the 2 billion population of all five permanent members. 2 billion represents less than 30% of the global population of 7 billion. Yet this minority of 2 billion uses the UN to dictate international policy to 70% of the rest of the world. This is undemocratic and opposed to the tenets of fairness and international justice. The Security Council needs to be democratized to accommodate a majority of the world that is still peripheralized in its decision making process.
Lastly, in relation to the General Assembly: the resolutions passed by this arm, which includes a majority of the world’s nations, need to be binding. Currently, General Assembly resolutions are considered recommendations. In contrast, resolutions adopted by the Security Council under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, are binding. The General Assembly not only represents the majority of the world’s population, but also represents majority world opinion on major international issues. As it stands, the General Assembly can only make recommendations to the Security Council which can easily be vetoed or disregarded by any permanent member of the Security Council.
Currently, non-permanent rotating membership seats on the Security Council are provided to developing nations like Kenya. This comes across as contemptuous tokenism. It does not afford the weaker nations of the world an avenue to advance their interests. Developing nations are played off against each other by major powers based on the perceived allure of a non-permanent seat, a seat which is actually ineffective. There is nothing to celebrate in acquiring such a seat on the Security Council under the current UN structure.
June 17th might be a celebratory day for members of Kenya’s diplomatic community if Kenya wins the non-permanent seat on the Security Council. However, for the vast majority of Kenyans, Africans, and people of the developing world, the UN will remain a forum for empty, turgid, and needlessly self-congratulatory speeches by heads of state. The time for UN reform is now.
David O. Monda is professor of Political Science at City University of New York – York College
Image: PAM Illustration. Based on a photo of the UN Security Council meeting on Syria, on December 18, 2015, at the United Nations in New York City, NY.