New Orientation for Reformed Multilateralism
Expected Council Action
In December, the Security Council will hold an open debate on “New Orientation for Reformed Multilateralism” under the agenda item “Maintenance of international peace and security”. India’s Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, is expected to chair the meeting. Secretary-General António Guterres and General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi are expected to brief.
No formal outcome is anticipated.
Background and Recent Developments
The Council has discussed the UN Charter and the multilateral system several times in the past few years. The most recent discussion was on 7 May 2021 during China’s Security Council presidency on the topic of “Upholding Multilateralism and the UN-Centred International System”. Previous meetings include an open debate on 9 January 2020 on “Upholding the United Nations Charter”, following which the Council adopted a presidential statement that “reaffirm[ed] its commitment to multilateralism and the central role of the United Nations” and “recognised the critical importance of the Charter to the maintenance of international peace and security and development of international law”.
In October, in light of this year’s renewed interest in Security Council reform and to mark the 20th anniversary of the AU, Gabon facilitated a discussion on how to build a “constructive multipolar world” during the annual debate on the partnership between the AU and the UN Security Council as a way of focusing attention on African views on the matter.
India’s meeting in December aims to build on the momentum that has been generated on reform. In the concept note prepared to help guide the debate, India argues that a representative multilateral structure, which is reflective of contemporary geopolitical realities, is needed to address emerging challenges such as terrorism, radicalism, pandemics, threats from new and emerging technologies, growing asymmetric threats, the disruptive role of non-state actors and intensifying geopolitical competition. It also maintains that intensive efforts are required to reform the global development architecture and to enhance the coherence and consistency of the international monetary, financial and trading systems. India notes that such reform is essential for ensuring sustainable development, including strong, sustained, balanced, inclusive, and equitable economic growth for all.
During the high-level week of the 77th session of the General Assembly, India’s external affairs minister highlighted the significance of multipolarity, rebalancing, fair globalisation, and reformed multilateralism, with reforms of the Security Council at its core. Several heads of states and government also affirmed their support for Security Council reform in their national statements. Among the most notable was that of US President Joe Biden, who underlined that “the United States supports increasing the number of both permanent and non-permanent representatives of the Council”. He added that the US supports permanent membership for countries in Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as for nations whose permanent membership the US has long supported. Similarly, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed Council reform, especially the addition of new permanent members and restricting the use of the veto in cases of mass atrocities.
The main forum for discussion on Security Council reform has been the Intergovernmental Negotiation (IGN) process at the UN General Assembly. On 17 November, the General Assembly convened for the 36th plenary session to discuss the “Question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Security Council”. In his remarks at the plenary session, Kőrösi noted that the entire multilateral system is under serious strain because of a set of interlinked challenges.
The Secretary-General’s 10 September 2021 report “Our Common Agenda” took note of the calls for reform of the UN’s principal organs, indicating that “the majority of Member States now acknowledge that the Security Council could be made more representative of the twenty-first century, such as through enlargement, including better representation for Africa, as well as more systematic arrangements for more voices at the table”. General Assembly resolution 75/1, adopted unanimously on 21 September 2020, emphasised that “our challenges are interconnected and can only be addressed through reinvigorated multilateralism”.
Key Issues and Options
An overarching issue is how to strengthen multilateralism to meet current challenges and threats to international peace and security.
In this regard, during the debate some members may focus, as suggested in the concept note, on how to inject new life into the reform discussion as well as identify the tools needed to address the challenges of the future. Members may also choose to address how to make the Council more representative of today’s world.
A connected issue is how the Council can cooperate with other bodies on transnational challenges such as terrorism, climate change, cyber security, and transnational organised crime.
While Council reforms that would require revising the UN Charter are largely in the hands of the General Assembly, the Council may wish to consider changes to working methods and the use of certain UN Charter articles that could improve their ability to address issues of peace and security in the current climate.
Council members are broadly supportive of Security Council reform and acknowledge that it needs to reflect today’s geopolitical realities. They remain divided, however, on how to achieve the desired reform. Some elected Council members, including the three African members (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya), have recently been vocal on the issue of Security Council reform. At the 11 October debate, Gabon’s foreign minister said: “[i]t is intolerable to see Africa in the Council Chamber without hearing its full voice around the table on a permanent basis, despite its legitimate claim to a seat”.
India is another elected member that has persistently called for Security Council reform. It may express strong support for a text-based negotiation in the context of the IGN process to make progress on the issue. Some other Council members, such as China, remain cautious or even sceptical about this, fearing that it may give “more power to some individual power blocs”. At the 17 November meeting of the IGN, China underscored the need to redress the overrepresentation of developed countries by having small and medium-sized countries from underrepresented regions, such as Africa, serve in the Council.
At the 11 October debate, the US reiterated the support expressed by Biden at the General Assembly debate and underscored the need to forge a consensus around the reform discussion to make the Security Council “more effective, representative and credible”. At the General Assembly debate on 24 September, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov noted that the Council needed to adapt to today’s reality and that this should be done through a broader representation of African, Asian and Latin American countries. He mentioned India and Brazil “as key international actors and worthy candidates for becoming permanent Council members, subject to enhancing Africa’s standing at the same time”.
The veto issue is a divisive one among members. At the 11 October debate, Mexico emphasised that “reform should not be limited to an increase in the Council’s membership”, drawing attention to the need to reform the Council’s working methods, particularly the use of the veto.
UN DOCUMENTS ON MULTILATERALISM
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|9 January 2020S/PRST/2020/1||This was a presidential statement adopted during the ministerial-level debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: upholding the UN Charter”.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|9 January 2020S/PV.8699||This was a ministerial-level open debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: upholding the UN Charter” where member states reflected on and reaffirmed their commitment to upholding Charter principles, particularly in the context of international peace and security. The list of speakers numbered 111 member states, which led to the open debate continuing over the following two days (Resumptions 1 and 2).|
|11 May 2021S/2021/456||This letter transmitted the meeting record of the high-level videoconference briefing on “Maintenance of international peace and security: Upholding multilateralism and the United Nations-centred international system”, which was held on 7 May 2021.|
|28 June 2022S/PV.9079||This was an open debate on the theme “Security Council working methods”.|
|11 October 2022S/PV.9149||This was a debate on “Cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations in maintaining international peace and security”.|
|General Assembly Document|
|15 September 2008Decision 62/557||In 2008 the General Assembly adopted Decision 62/557 “to commence intergovernmental negotiations (IGN) in informal plenary of the General Assembly”.|
|22 November 2022Elements Paper on Convergences and Divergences on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and related matters||This is the elements paper on “Convergences and Divergences on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and related matters”, submitted by the co-chairs of the IGN Process for GA76.|