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Special Section: Report of the High-Level Panel on Threats,

Challenges and Change

An Unchanged Security Council:

The Sky Aint Falling

Department of Political Science, The Graduate Center, The City
University of New York, USA

IRTHDAYS ARE OFTEN moments heads and injecting some historical per-
to take stock and then change. spective into the Secretary-Generals plea
However, the results of the UNs that the UN must undergo the most
50th anniversary in 1995 and the Millen- sweeping overhaul in its 60-year history
nium Summit in 2000 lead to profound (Annan, 2005b: 66). It seems as though
skepticism about any major overhaul in many observers share the worst negative
September 2005 for the world organiza- judgments of current multilateralism put
tions 60th anniversary. The agenda will forward by Washingtons neocons.
advance modestly, but there is no evidence The UNs business is excessively tied to
of Secretary-General Kofi Annans fork in this mornings headlines. It is essential, for
the road (Annan, 2003), the justification instance, in evaluating the debate about
for the High-Level Panel (HLP) on Threats, humanitarian intervention and multilater-
Challenges and Change. alism to recall even the recent past. Shortly
Indeed, an interesting reversal of roles is after the 1991 Gulf War and allied efforts
taking place around the three documents in Kurdistan, the word renaissance was
before member-states from the HLP ubiquitous. Apparently, there was noth-
(United Nations, 2004), the Millennium ing the world organization could not do.
Project (2005), and the Secretary-General But in 1994 there was nothing that it could
(Annan, 2005a). Usually it is outside schol- do to halt the murder of 800,000 people in
ars who rant and rave about the untenable Rwandas nightmare. From that nadir,
status quo. Once these have made the case 1999 was the annus mirabilis or horribilis,
for dramatic reforms, if not revolution, depending on ones views, with interven-
practical folks in foreign ministries or tions in East Timor and Kosovo. And then,
international secretariats habitually point following the decision in March 2003 by
to geopolitics, throw cold water, and call Washington and London to wage war in
instead for incremental changes. Iraq without UN approval and the dis-
This time, we are witnessing the oppo- ingenuous morphing into a humanitarian
site. The refrain from many diplomats, justification, we were once again in the
secretariat officials, and members of dark ages.
august commissions resembles that of This roller-coaster is the essence of inter-
Chicken Little, and their hyperbolic rheto- national relations, not an aberration. Yet
ric amounts to its now or never. the dramatic climate of so-called paradigm
Meanwhile, academics are scratching their changes in the post-9/11 world character-

2005 PRIO, www.prio.no

SAGE Publications, http://sdi.sagepub.com
Vol. 36(3): 367369, DOI: 10.1177/0967010605057905
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368 Security Dialogue vol. 36, no. 3, September 2005

ized the High-Level Panels deliberations argues for increased legitimacy but ignores
and report. The latter has many positive the third component, because it is com-
building blocks: the definition of terror- posed of not only process and purpose but
ism, thoughts about disarmament and performance as well. A Security Council
non-proliferation, the Peacebuilding Com- that grows into a rump General
mission, an intellectual framework linking Assembly would not stimulate activism. It
security and poverty reduction. None- would be too large to conduct serious
theless, it also has at least two basic prob- negotiations, but too small to represent
lems. The first is the lengthy shopping list the membership as a whole. The recom-
of recommendations unkindly known as mended changes would do nothing to
the 101 Dalmatians. Supposedly, these foster decisionmaking about the use of
constitute a grand bargain to which force in Darfur or Congo indeed, they
member-states are to vote thumbs-up or would inhibit it.
thumbs-down. The Secretary-General also The High-Level Panel proposes two
speaks of a package. alternatives for an expanded 24-member
Former US President Bill Clinton con- Council. In addition to the permanent five
tended that in his student days he smoked (P-5) and ten elected members, Model
but did not inhale. The HLP and the A provides for six new permanent seats
Secretary-General, however, seem to have . . . and three new two-year term non-
done both. International negotiations permanent seats . . . Model B provides for
always occur item-by-item. Only a very no new permanent seats but creates a new
limited number of the HLPs recommenda- category of eight four-year renewable-
tions will be accepted as is; perhaps a few term seats and one new two-year term
more will be modified and approved; but non-permanent (and non-renewable) seat.
the vast majority will be debated and left In both, the veto remains the exclusive
for further deliberation down the road. prerogative of the P-5, and seats are
The clearest candidate for no action is a divided among the major regional areas.
reformed Security Council, and the second Article 23 of the UN Charter never speci-
key problem is the HLPs tactical blunder fied diversity as a criterion for member-
of having recommended changing the ship, but rather the willingness of Council
Councils numbers and procedures as the members to contribute to the maintenance
linchpin of its sales pitch. This political of international peace and security. The
correctness was dead in the water. HLP would like to revive the largely
Of course, the Security Council reflects ignored criterion of financial, military, and
the world of 1945 and not the 21st- diplomatic contributions as part of the
centurys distribution of power, but every selection and re-election qualifications of
solution brings as many problems as it those aspiring to membership. The panel
solves. Since its establishment in 1993, suggests a full review in 2020 (United
the entity with the lengthiest name in the Nations, 2004).
annals of multilateral negotiations Everyone can agree that the Councils
the Open-Ended Working Group on the decisions would have greater political
Question of Equitable Representation clout if they had broader support. How to
and Increase in the Membership of the get there from here has always been the
Security Council and Other Matters conundrum. The HLPs so-called recom-
Related to the Security Council risks mendation is a superb illustration of why
also setting a record for continuing to go there will be no movement. Never has a
nowhere for the longest period of time. major independent international commis-
Reform efforts are a microcosm of a per- sion or panel made a recommendation
petual problem: the UN is so consumed that is an option. If 16 individuals cannot
with getting the process right that it come up with a single way ahead, how
routinely neglects consequences. The HLP will 191 states and their parliaments? Even

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Thomas G. Weiss An Unchanged Security Council 369

the Secretary-General by himself did not September 2005. Rhetorical fireworks over
decide. He urged Member States to con- the last decade have contributed to a
sider the two options . . . or any other permissive environment that facilitated
viable proposals (Annan, 2005a: 43) one pragmatic modifications in working
more indication of the absence of political methods. These have injected more open-
convergence. ness, accountability, and diverse inputs into
In early April, and undoubtedly spurred Council deliberations and should be
by popular protest against Japans cam- expanded (Weiss & Young, 2005: 131154;
paign for a permanent seat, China dealt a Weiss, 2005; Annan, 1998). They have
peremptory blow to the notion of expan- not made a dent in the national-interest
sion and told the General Assembly that decisionmaking, but neither would UN
Beijing was unwilling to rush a decision. Charter changes.
The next day, the USA echoed the senti- Will the inability to move ahead with
ment with specific references to artificial dramatic reforms compromise UN credi-
deadlines. bility on matters related to the future use
If past is prelude, there will be no sub- of force? The answer is: not more than in
stantial changes anytime soon in the the past.
Security Council, and certainly not in

* Thomas G. Weiss is Presidential Professor of Political Science at The Graduate Center of

The City University of New York and Director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for
International Studies, where he is also Co-Director of the United Nations Intellectual
History Project and Editor of Global Governance.


Annan, Kofi A., 1998. The Quiet Revolution, Global Governance 4(2): 123138.
Annan, Kofi A., 2003. Secretary-General Address to the General Assembly, New York,
23 September; available at http://www.un.org/webcast/ga/58/statements/
sg2eng030923.htm (accessed 18 May 2005).
Annan, Kofi A., 2005a. In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights
for All, A/59/2005. New York: United Nations.
Annan, Kofi A., 2005b. In Larger Freedom: Decision Time at the UN, Foreign Affairs 84(3):
Millennium Project, 2005. Investing in Development: A Practical Plan To Achieve the
Millennium Development Goals. New York: United Nations Development Programme.
United Nations, 2004. A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the
Secretary-Generals High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, A/59/565.
New York: United Nations.
Weiss, Thomas G., 2005. Overcoming the Security Council Impasse: Envisioning Reform,
Occasional Paper 14. Berlin: Friederich Ebert Stiftung.
Weiss, Thomas G. & Karen Young, 2005. Compromise and Credibility: Security Council
Reform?, Security Dialogue 36(2): 131154.

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