Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Multilateral Maze and (South) Africa's Quest for Permanent United Nations Security Council Representation

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Multilateral Maze and (South) Africa's Quest for Permanent United Nations Security Council Representation

Article excerpt


The United Nations Security Council is the most powerful global governance forum in the history of humankind. In a rapidly globalising world its constitutive mandate--addressing issues of international peace and security--is expanding and becoming increasingly diffuse as human security concerns transcend political borders. Nowhere is this more evident than in Africa, which dominates the Council's agenda in terms of its sheer number of unresolved conflicts and humanitarian crises.

Africa therefore has a fundamental stake in the deliberations of the Security Council, yet remains of all regional groups the largest without permanent representation on the Council. For these and many other reasons, the latter's anachronistic composition has become the subject of activism within the United Nations community for structural transformation of its executive core. Progress has thus far been elusive, mainly due to competing formulae that mask a host of foreign policy agendas. The dilemma also applies to Africa: notwithstanding the continent's decade old 'Common Position', the issue of Security Council reform has caused deep rifts and a paralysis of strategy.

This article highlights the imperatives of permanent African membership on the Security Council. It, however, argues that the continent's prospects in this quest are limited by the African Union's obsession with continental consensus. It is therefore incumbent upon the various African middle powers who have expressed ambition in this respect--notably South Africa--to pursue this objective by exploring alternative diplomatic strategies.


On 26 June 2005, the United Nations (UN) celebrated its 60th birthday. During September of that year the world's leaders congregated in New York City, with high hopes of witnessing seminal changes in the organisation. The most talked about and lobbied about reform of the UN concerned its anachronistic Security Council (UNSC). After decades of being relegated to the audience, African states imagined themselves at the cusp of a breakthrough in joining this exclusive arena of global authority.

Kofi Annan, himself an African, announced with something akin to reverence: (1)

   The 2005 World Summit is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the
   world to come together and take action on grave global threats that
   require bold global solutions. It is also a chance to revitalise
   the United Nations itself. It is, in short, an opportunity for all

It turned out to be a squandered opportunity. Africa's dogged emphasis on a continental 'Common Position' may, ironically, have been the reason that, three years later, it remains the only major region of the world without permanent representation on the Council. South Africa, for many reasons, is widely seen as being eligible for a permanent seat, but at this stage has eliminated itself from the race by its pacing around in a multilateral continental maze. This article argues that South Africa should explore alternative diplomatic strategies, not in betrayal of its broader representation of African interests, but precisely because it has a responsibility to provide leadership in this crucial effort to bring Africa--and the UNSC--into the 21st century.


2.1 Raison d'etre of the Security Council

In 1945, when the UN Charter was drafted, the world was reeling from the enormity of the Second World War. Europe was still the epicentre of global geopolitics, even if after the war the continent had become introspective in its attempts to suture political and economic haemorrhaging. The creation of the UN was a second effort (after the failure of its predecessor, the League of Nations) to prevent war among the powerful industrialised states by institutionalising multilateralism on a global scale. Henceforth, global policing would be entrusted to one of the three pillars of the new organisation: its Security Council. …

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