Having heard from the Ambassador for Italy on United Nations Security Council structural reform, it is my task to address the issue of Security Council working methods. I start with a simple proposition: The UN Security Council lacks the effectiveness required for today’s challenges, and certainly needs better and more effective working methods. There’s an essential distinction between the improvements required to the Council’s working methods, in itscurrent composition, and the broader, and more difficult topic of Security Council structural reform – that is expanding its membership – and we should see these as two essentially separate, but also related tracks.
It’s been argued that working method reforms could proceed independently, as these might not be so politically charged as the expansion negotiations –particularly as most proposals for reform and working methods wouldn't even require any amendments to the United Nations Charter. But, sadly, this year we‘ve seen that even proposals for the most marginal improvements to the Council’s working methods can still be politically charged.
The Council is, of course, fiercely protective of its right to be master of its own working methods. I understand that, but reject, absolutely, the suggestion that only Council members have a legitimate interest in its working methods. That's about as valid as arguing that voters have no legitimate interest in the procedures of their parliaments; or that citizens have no legitimate interest in the procedures of their courts. Even if the final decisions must rest with the Council itself, the 178 non-Council members are the "faces pressed against the window", and have every right to a say on these matters.
And, insofar as it claims exclusive prerogative over any such reforms, progress within the Council is painfully slow. Its informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions, for example, is tasked with improving its working methods; but, at the moment, we’re seeing it debate how penholder responsibilities and chairs of subsidiary bodies are allocated. Those are important questions, particularly for the elected members, who want more influence over the Council’s work - but those same elected members don’t necessarily want to get side-lined into the often very technical work of chairing a subsidiary body like a sanctions committee. The simple fact that such matters are the focus of current Council working methods debate probably demonstrates that it isn't even close to looking at “radical reform”.
We can’t discuss Council effectiveness without mentioning the veto. Specifically, as you know, the Charter requires that all Security Council resolutions must have the concurring votes of the five permanent members. For member states such as New Zealand, this is the issue that attracts the attention of our public at home; as it is so often the reason for inaction on crucial international issues; but also because, in San Francisco, in 1945, we were among those who led the opposition to the veto – indeed, it was the only Charter issue put to the vote.
This year, there have been positive signs of General Assembly determination to address these matters, including calls from the wider membership for the P5 to limit use of the veto in situations of mass atrocity crimes. France, to its great credit, has responded positively on that – a very encouraging step from a permanent member – and we hope others will follow.
But this year's most significant development on working methods was (or, perhaps, should have been) the draft resolution from the Small 5 (or S5), of which Switzerland, one of the organisers of this course, was a member. That resolution proposed a number of practical, positive working method improvements which would have enhanced the Council’s inclusiveness, effectiveness and transparency – but it finally had to be withdrawn after strong opposition from the P5 (a clear demonstration that some Council members’ are likely to oppose any changes in working methods – particularly those that might be suggested from outside).
That resistance would be more credible if, at the same time, the Council was seriously addressing its own shortcomings – but that's certainly not happening on a comprehensive basis. Take, for example, the issue of prevention, on which the whole UN system is increasingly focused – and yet it hasn't proved easy to incorporate the principles or the practice of prevention into the Security Council’s operations and its decisions. Just getting an emerging situation (which might require preventive action) onto the Council’s agenda is a considerable challenge, particularly where a threat to international peace and security might still only be at the emerging stage.
One way of ensuring that the Council is properly seized of such issues in a timely manner is to be found in the UK initiative of having the UN Secretariat provide “Horizon Scanning” briefings to the Council. Those briefings provided the Council with advance notice of emerging issues, so that it could put a matter on its agenda in a timely manner, allowing it to monitor developments on a more formal basis and to be proactive about the situation as it continued to emerge. That would enable greater and more effective use of Chapter VI of the Charter, which we believe is not sufficiently put to its intended and effective use.
But we’ve seen much resistance to “Horizon Scanning” briefings, and that they've fallen by the wayside; particularly because some members want more control over matters which make it onto the Council’s agenda. Compare that with the early- to mid-1990s, when the Council actually had a more open environment and received daily briefings on emerging peace and security issues. It’s troubling, indeed, to reflect that we’ve gone backwards over the last twenty years.
In short, we need a strong, nimble and effective United Nations; and we particularly need a Security Council that works effectively and which reflects geopolitical realities – and those realities have changed since 1945.
Today, emerging powers credibly seek a fuller, longer-term Council role; we should support them in that endeavour, even if there are differences of view about how it might best be achieved (and, following Italy's comments about a possible three-tiered, interim or intermediate solution, I note that we, too, have talked of that possibility). Africa, Asia and Latin America are all under-represented on a Security Council that only reflects the politics of 1945 – or, at the most, of 1965 when it was last enlarged. So – achieving Security Council effectiveness and responsiveness also requires consideration of its composition.
But remember too that most UN members are not major or emerging powers; they are small states (who are a majority of the UN's membership). Their representation is also crucial to the UN’s universality and to its legitimacy; they, too, must contribute at the Council table.
Let me put it simply: If we reform the Security Council to provide a fuller, longer-term role for emerging powers, we must also ensure a role for small states – they are just as much a part of its legitimacy and its universality. In last year's UNGA General Debate, the Foreign Minister of Trinidad and Tobago said that "the smallness of a country is not a deterrent to the realisation of big dreams …"; and the Prime Minister of Cape Verde, said that “small states [must] have a greater voice in [international] decision-making …”; and I strongly agree with both. Today's United Nations Security Council doesn’t reflect the emergence of middle powers, who seek a greater role in international affairs; and it doesn't always reflect the essential role of small states either.
Security Council effectiveness is strongly linked to legitimacy; any UN organ that's not effective will lose respect and, above all, will lose legitimacy. If, as we should, we value the Council’s critical role in maintaining international peace and security, under both Chapters VII and VI, we should promote and support reforms that enhance its effectiveness – in the short-term, with improved working methods, in the longer-term, with structural reform.