Reform of the UN Security Council: A Comment on the South African Position

Article excerpt

Albert J. Venter is professor in the Department of Political Studies at the Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg, South Africa. He is guest professor at the South African Defence College, the Naval Staff College, and the Foreign Service Institute, Potchefstroom University. Among his publications are South African Government and Politics (1989) and The Government and Politics of the New South Africa (2001). He has published over eighty articles in professional journals and has contributed to many books on political science.

Ever since Nelson Mandela walked from prison a free man, and from the time of the first democratic elections in South Africa, the ruling African National Congress as government of South Africa has been calling for the reform and "democratization" of the United Nations. In his last address to the General Assembly of the United Nations on September 21, 1998, Mandela said:

"...this very Organization, including its important Security Council, must itself go through its own process of reformation so that it serves the interests of the peoples of the world, in keeping with the purposes for which it was established."1

At its establishment in 1945, another famous South African, Gen. Jan Smuts, wrote in the preamble to the Charter of the United Nations of these very purposes. He urged the peoples of the world to be determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, "which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind." The preamble goes on to reaffirm the founding states' faith in fundamental human rights, the dignity of the human person, the equal rights of men and women, and the establishment of conditions under which justice and respect for obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained. The preamble commits the founding members to practice tolerance, unite in seeking peace and security, and to ensure that armed forces shall not be used, save in the common interest. High purposes indeed.

The purpose of this essay is to briefly portray the development of the present structure and composition of the Security Council of the United Nations; summarize the main arguments of the non-Western powers, including those of the South African government and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), for the reform of the Security Council; and offer some comments regarding this position.

Origins of the hegemony of the industrialized north on the Security Council

The immediate origins of the organizational structure of the Security Council can be found in the Atlantic Charter of 1941 in which the wartime Allies, the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union agreed to establish the United Nations as a future guarantor of international peace and stability. The basic formation of the United Nations reflects the balance of international forces at the time of its foundation in 1945. Roosevelt and Churchill believed that international stability would be guaranteed by both the universal character of the United Nations, as well as, in their view, including the five most powerful nations in the world at the time as permanent members of the Security Council. The US, USSR, Britain, France and (Kuomintang) China would act as an international police force to keep the international peace through the mechanism of the Security Council.2

The structure of the United Nations was such that the General Assembly would represent all the member governments of the United Nations, it was to be a "popular assembly" of governments. However, its decision-making powers would be limited. It was almost to be an international debating forum. The real power lay with the Security Council. Only the Security Council could take binding decisions regarding the keeping of the international peace. Moreover, its membership was to be split into two levels. Five super or elite states would have permanent membership as well as veto power over decisions of the Security Council, while six other ordinary members would fill the positions on the Security Council by rotation. …