What's In Blue

“New Orientation for Reformed Multilateralism”: Open Debate

Tomorrow (14 December), the Security Council will hold an open debate on “New Orientation for Reformed Multilateralism”, under the “Maintenance of international peace and security” agenda item. The meeting, which is a signature event of India’s Council presidency, will be chaired by India’s Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Secretary-General António Guterres and General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi are expected to brief. Several Council members and other member states are expected to participate at ministerial level at tomorrow’s meeting.

India has circulated a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s open debate, which says that a “new orientation for reformed multilateralism” envisages reform in all three pillars of the current multilateral architecture (peace and security, development, and human rights), with the UN at its centre. The concept note argues that a representative multilateral structure that 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 intense efforts are required to reform the global development architecture and to enhance the coherence and consistency of the international monetary, financial, and trading systems. The concept note contends that such reform is essential for ensuring sustainable development, including sustained, inclusive, and equitable economic growth for all.

The concept note proposes several guiding questions, including:

In her 1 December briefing to the press on the Council’s December programme of work, Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj (India) discussed the open debate at length and highlighted India’s priority for a Security Council reform that encompasses “expansion of permanent as well as non-permanent membership of the Council, the question of the veto, and the relationship between the General Assembly and the Security Council and an improvement in the working methods of the Security Council in order to make it more democratic and effective”.

It seems that in convening tomorrow’s meeting, India aims to build on the momentum from recent discussions on reform. On 17 November, the UN General Assembly convened for its 36th plenary session to consider 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 interconnected challenges. He also indicated the growing support for Security Council reform by highlighting that one-third of world leaders spoke on the issue during the General Assembly’s high-level week.

During the plenary session, Kamboj delivered a statement on behalf of the G4, a group of states that are seeking permanent seats on the Council, consisting of Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan. She said that the Council’s membership needs to be enhanced in order to bring it in line with its UN Charter responsibility and to further enable the Council to manage today’s conflicts effectively as well as the increasingly complex and interconnected global challenges it faces.

The main forum for discussion on Security Council reform has been the Intergovernmental Negotiation (IGN) process at the General Assembly. On 18 October, during the General Assembly’s 77th session, Kőrösi appointed Ambassador Tareq Albanai (Kuwait) and Ambassador Michal Mlynár (Slovakia) as the co-chairs of the IGN on Security Council reform. On 5 December, the co-chairs circulated a letter, which noted that the first meeting of the IGN will be held on 26 and 27 January 2023. The letter called on member states to focus at the meeting on aspects such as cross-regional representation in an enlarged Security Council, especially for small states, Small Island Developing States and Arab states.

At tomorrow’s debate, some Council members are expected to highlight certain elements of the Secretary-General’s 10 September 2021 report titled “Our Common Agenda”, which envisages a “New Agenda for Peace” that seeks to allocate a greater role to the Security Council in conflict prevention. The report takes 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”.

In his 24 September speech during the general debate of the 77th session of the General Assembly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the Security Council needed to adapt to today’s realities and that this should be done through the broader representation of African, Asian and Latin American countries. Similarly, US President Joe Biden indicated US support for increasing the number of both permanent and non-permanent representatives of the Council. At the 17 November General Assembly plenary session, Ambassador Zhang Jun (China) underscored the need to redress the overrepresentation of developed countries by having small and medium-size countries from underrepresented regions such as Africa serve on the Council. He added that Security Council reform must be placed in the context of the overall reform of the global governance system and be promoted along with the reform of the global economic, financial and trade mechanisms.

The three African Council members (Gabon, Ghana, and Kenya) have recently been vocal on the issue of Security Council reform. At the Security Council’s 11 October debate on cooperation between the UN and regional and subregional organisations, Gabon’s Foreign Minister Michaël Moussa-Adamo 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”.

While Council members are broadly supportive of Security Council reform, they remain divided on how to achieve the desired reform. Tomorrow, India is likely to call for initiating text-based negotiations that could be conducted with the objective of achieving concrete outcomes in a fixed timeframe. Some Council members, including China, object to holding text-based negotiations and consider the discussion to be at a nascent stage.

Several Council members and other member states may express concern about ongoing violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law around the world and the lack of accountability for serious crimes, including in many of the conflicts on the Security Council’s agenda. Some E10 members are expected to propose reforms in the Council’s working methods that would not require formal amendments, such as the distribution of penholdership among Council members and upholding reforms such as the “veto initiative” (A/RES/76/262), which stipulates that the General Assembly will convene after a veto is cast in the Security Council. The veto issue has remained a divisive one among Council members. At the 11 October debate, Mexico emphasised that it would continue to promote, along with France, the restriction of the use of the veto in situations involving mass atrocities.

For background on the matter of Security Council reform, see Security Council Report’s In Hindsight of 2 October, The Long and Winding Road to Security Council Reform.

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