World News

Japan, India join call for permanent African seats on Security Council

By Jehron Muhammad | Last updated: Oct 3, 2019 - 7:51:54 AM

What's your opinion on this article?

World leaders gathered recently in New York City for the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, whose membership includes 193 member nations. Two non-member states include the state of Palestine and the Holy See, the area under the Pope’s jurisdiction.

(L) Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses the UN General Assembly. (R) India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the UN General Assembly.

The UN was formed in 1945, at the end of World War II, with the stated aim of keeping peace around the globe.

According to the BBC, the General Assembly is one of six groupings inside the United Nations, “and the main one for deciding what it should do. It is also the only one in which all of the 193 UN members are represented.”

The BBC explanation does not do the UN configuration justice. Even though the General Assembly is comprised of all member states, its vote is not the last word. The groupings inside the UN include the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, the UN Secretariat and the most important, most powerful body of them all, and the one that has the last word, the Security Council.

The Security Council is always comprised of representatives from 15 countries. But only five council members are permanent members, each holding veto power. They include the United States, United Kingdom, Republic of China, Russia and France.

Leading up to the 74th annual gathering was limited discussion about the importance of Security Council reform. The World Politics Review actually wondered out loud about why “the lack of high-level debate over reforming the United Nations Security Council?”

According to WPR, “When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the seven largest Western economies—three of which have permanent seats on the council—accounted for 51 percent of global economic output. Today they account for only 30 percent. A decade and a half ago, many voices insisted that the council must expand to retain its legitimacy and effectiveness. They have since fallen silent.”

Why this year, as in past years, have not African leaders, including the African Union, called for expansion of the Security Council, is anyone’s guess. It is the only UN body whose decisions are mandatory and have the power of international law—including permanent seats with veto power.

In 2015, Africa’s first UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (1997-2006) of Ghana said the UN Security Council must take in new permanent members or risk increasing irrelevancy on the international stage.

“I firmly believe that the council should be reformed: it cannot continue as it is. The world has changed, and the UN should change and adapt. If we don’t change the council, we risk a situation where the primacy of the council may be challenged by some of the new emerging countries,” he said.

Echoing Mr. Annan’s sentiments was Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari. “To restructure or not to restructure is no longer the question—the United Nations must be restructured for it to remain relevant in the years to come. How to restructure the United Nations should be our priority number one. Several ideas are out there. All that we need is to get them together and agree on what works for (the) majority of the people of the world,” he said.

“As a leader of one of the leading African nations, I want to see a United Nation’s Security Council that is expanded to have one or two African permanent members with veto powers,” added the Nigerian president. It needs to happen to give the world “a more balanced outlook on matters of importance to us all,” he added.

Critics of the current Security Council configuration have said powerful members of this policy-making body, which frequently uses its veto power to enhance its members’ individual and collective interests, is undemocratic.

But talk of simple Security Council expansion also brings a question: Is this a case of the oppressed joining the oppressors by becoming permanent members, rather than seeking to reform the UN Security Council?

The African Union in the past has demanded “not less than two permanent seats with all the prerogatives and privileges of permanent membership including the right of veto,” reported Pambazuka News. Although the AU opposes, in principle, the veto, it strongly feels the veto should be extended to all permanent members “so long as it exists.”

The 55 countries of Africa, who represent the single largest General Assembly bloc of nations, making up more than a quarter of its membership, should have permanent Security Council membership. One reason is that of 13 UN peacekeeping operations mandated and overseen by the council, seven are in Africa.

This past spring The Economic Times reported India was pushing for Africa’s right to a permanent seat. “We must take action so that Africa is given a central and leading role in an internationally formed new order especially in a reformed and expanded Security Council and so that the Council reflects the world of today and not of 1945,” Sanjay Rana, joint secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, said at a high level General Assembly meeting.

Japan has also committed to helping Africa win a permanent seat.

During discussions at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, participating countries and organizations unanimously agreed that exclusion of African members from the list of permanent members of the Security Council was wrong.

“We acknowledge the historical injustice against Africa with regard to its representation in the Security Council and express support for full African representation in the Security Council, though not less than two permanent seats with all the prerogatives of permanent membership including the right of veto, and five non-permanent seats, in line with the African Commission Position as enshrined in Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration,” read one of the resolutions in the Yokohama Declaration.

Since 1946, over 25 African countries, including Kenya and South Africa, have served as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. Some have served more than one term on the council, with each term lasting two years.

Follow @jehronmuhammad on Twitter.