Forget Veto Powers, Annan Tells UNSC Aspirants

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

( - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has advised countries hoping to get permanent seats on a revamped Security Council not to push to acquire the veto power enjoyed by the current five permanent members.

Annan said during a visit to India that the five permanent members (P5) - the U.S., Britain, China, Russia and France -- generally agreed the council should be overhauled but were unlikely to support an expansion of the veto.

Having veto power enables any one permanent member to defeat a resolution, even if backed by the other four.

India is one of several nations vying for a seat under a reform program Annan hopes the world body will embrace by September. Other contenders include Japan, Brazil, Germany and South Africa -- all politically and economically powerful nations in their respective regions.

An expert panel proposed two alternative models for a new council. Both will increase the body's overall representation to 24 countries, but neither envisages broadening the veto right beyond the original five.

"Model A" would add six permanent members -- two from Africa, two from Asia, and one each from Europe and the Americas - and increase the number of non-permanent members from the current 10 to 13.

"Model B" sticks to five permanent seats and creates a new category of eight semi-permanent (four-year, renewable terms) seats, two each from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. It also adds one non-permanent seat, for a total of 24.

Lobbying is underway as the aspirant permanent members seek support for their candidacies. Japan, India, Germany and Brazil have formed a mini-coalition known as the G4, each supportive of the others' bids.

India and some other hopefuls want the new permanent seats to come with a veto, but Annan said the P5 were "not willing to create additional vetoes."

At the same time, he added, it would be "utopian" to expect the current permanent members to be prepared to relinquish their veto power.

According to U.N. figures, Russia (or the Soviet Union) has used its veto the most over the six decades of the U.N.'s existence -- 122 times since 1946. Next comes the U.S. with 80, Britain with 32, France with 18 and China with five. (China has been a P5 member only since it took over Taiwan's seat in 1971.)

Although use of the veto has declined in recent years - only nine times since 2000 - P5 members frequently threaten to veto proposals, exercising what critics call a "silent" or "hidden" veto in order to control the council's agenda.

The Calcutta Telegraph said Friday that "the proposal to induct new members without veto powers runs contrary to the logic that has spurred some Asian and African countries to seek restructuring of the U.N. to make it more representative."

Nonetheless, it added, "it is turning out to be the only pragmatic way of bringing about a change."


Speaking in New Delhi, where he delivered a lecture and addressed a press conference, Annan said the reform focus should not be on the veto issue, but on making the council more "broadly representative."

"Enlargement without veto will itself be a major step forward as the Security Council will get different viewpoints, which most countries are not able to present at the moment."

He also reiterated his position that while it would be preferable for the U.N.'s 191 member states to agree on Security Council reform by consensus, inability to reach consensus should not be an excuse for not acting.

He hoped "broad agreement" would emerge before a U.N. summit in New York in September.

The remark reflects concerns that politically-motivated opposition to specific G4 countries being admitted may hold up the process.

Already, China has expressed opposition to Japan's bid, which is supported by the U.S.

Hurdles are also being put up by non-P5 countries. A loose grouping has emerged of mid-sized countries which for reasons of historical grievances or regional rivalry object to specific G4 members' candidacies.

Nicknamed the "coffee club," this group includes Pakistan (which opposes India's bid), South Korea (opposes Japan), Italy (opposes Germany) and Argentina (opposes Brazil).

The "coffee club" is pushing for the "model B" option for council reform, want the decision to be based on consensus, and reject what they say is Annan's "artificial" September deadline.

The U.S. also has expressed doubts about Annan's envisaged timetable.

Annan said as secretary-general, he did not have a preference for either of the two options, and he would not express opinions about which individual countries should be members of the council.

But he said many countries regarded India as a "legitimate" candidate and said "India's has been one of the most eloquent voices helping to shape the U.N. agenda on behalf of the developing world."

Annan, who is due to retire at the end of 2006, also said his successor would likely be an Asian.

"The secretary-general is elected on a rotational basis. There is a general sense that next time it would be from Asia."

The last U.N. secretary general from Asia was U. Thant of Burma, who served from 1961-1971, and his successors were from Austria, Peru, Egypt and Ghana respectively.

Thailand's U.S.-educated deputy prime minister, Surakiart Sathirathai, is thought to be a strong candidate from Asia, having won the official endorsement late last year of South-East Asian nations.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow