The seminar "Current Challenges to International Peace and Security: The Need to Reform the United Nations Security Council" was held in Praia do Forte, Bahia, on April 26, 2013, with the support of the Alexandre de Gusmão Foundation (FUNAG). The event was attended by the Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiations on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and related matters, Ambassador Zahir Tanin (Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations), government representatives of the G-4, Guatemala, Sierra Leone and South Africa, along with approximately thirty representatives from academia, think tanks, the media and non-governmental organizations from different regions of the world. There were also Brazilian Ambassadors invited to stimulate discussion.
The initiative of the Ministry of External Relations of Brazil to gather government representatives and well-known advocates in contemporary debates in international relations was motivated by the perception that governments should seek broader dialogue with public opinion and promote greater awareness on the need to update and strengthen the multilateral system of peace and security to reflect current realities and to ensure adequate treatment to the complex challenges confronting the international community.
The seminar was divided in three sessions. The Minister of External Relations of Brazil, Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, participated in the two afternoon sessions. Brazilian ambassadors made opening remarks at the beginning of each session to launch the discussions. After the initial statements, the floor was opened up to the other participants. At the beginning of the sessions it was decided that the "Chatham House" rules would be followed – when participants are free to use the information received, but cannot disclose the identity and affiliation of the speakers. Therefore, the seminar provided an opportunity for an honest and inclusive debate.
The first session aimed to analyze the inter-relationship between the current challenges to international peace and security and the need for better governance. The second one focused on the role of academia, the media and NGOs in raising awareness on this interconnection. In the last session, the discussion was centered on the future prospects of the UN Security Council reform.
In the first block, the need to strengthen multilateralism in general was underscored. Participants agreed on the assessment that it is necessary to reform global governance structures in order to reflect current realities and enable them to tackle today's complex challenges. They considered that the transformations underway in the world increasingly highlight the serious mismatch between governance institutions and the demands of current reality.
A recurring idea was that, on the economic-financial level, the recognition of this inevitability has already resulted in concrete actions, as in the case of quota reforms at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the creation of the G-20, which has been consolidated as the premier venue for multilateral economic-policy coordination. Also recurring was the assessment that, in regard to peace and security, the renewal of governance structures has not progressed, despite the risks of fatigue, or even, failure of the collective security system.
Many participants expressed concern about the fact that, as it is now composed, mainly because of the imbalance in its decision-making core, the Security Council is out of step with legitimate aspirations for an international order that is more inclusive and sensitive to the needs and interests not only of the UN Member States, but also of their civil societies.
Some of those involved spoke about the evolution of the negotiation process of UNSC reform, the different proposals already submitted and the different interest groups participating in the process. A common point in the interventions was the recognition that there is consensus among UN Member States on the need to reform the Council, despite diverging views on how this reform should be implemented. One participant pointed out that there has been no progress in the matter due to a lack of political leadership. Another attributed the paralysis of the process to the lack of political will of various governments. There were also those who indicated the power struggle among States as the main obstacle for the reform to be implemented.
The debate continued with its focus set on the effects of the Council's structure on its ability to meet the current challenges to international peace and security. One participant asked what would be the real added value of adding new permanent members. In response, several participants mentioned the gains of representativeness, legitimacy and effectiveness of a reformed UNSC. As an example, the composition of the Council in the biennium 2010/2011 was mentioned, the period in which Brazil held a non-permanent seat alongside the other members of the G-4 and IBSA. It was stressed that the presence of these countries attenuated the Council polarization and enabled the search for creative solutions in times of impasse.
It was also noted that new permanent members to the Council would bring along a differentiated set of values and experiences arising from their own histories. Thus, it was argued that an increase in permanent seats would not only change the Council's configuration, but also have implications on its agenda, the content of the debates there held and the way in the way it operates overall.
Some participants raised doubts about the real efficiency gains in an enlarged Council, arguing that there exists a logical relationship between an increase in the number of actors and the consequently greater potential for conflict among them. This logic was refuted by many, using the hypothesis of a Council with only five members in total, or even a single member, whose actions, though more easily agreed upon, would be lacking in efficiency in terms of implementation when compared to those of a more representative Council.
In the second session, several participants underlined the unprecedented and auspicious character promoted by the seminar's initiative. They recognized the efforts made by the Ministry of External Relations of Brazil to strengthen the dialogue with civil society and engage with it on foreign policy discussions. In this regard, one of the participants mentioned, as an example, the consultation process with civil society conducted by Itamaraty to guide the positioning of Brazil in regard to the Inter-American Human Rights System reform. It was suggested that the same procedure should be adopted in the UNSC reform process.
In order to highlight the importance of this kind of exercise, one participant recalled that the first formal proposals to reform the Security Council (the Razali Proposal and the Report of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, "A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility") – which influenced several others – resulted from extensive consultations with members of civil society and academia.
Another participant said that the reform of the Security Council will only be completed when the societies of the main "spoiler" countries are made aware of the real implications the reform of the Council would have for all countries and for ordinary people worldwide, as opposed to the currently prevalent view of the process as one centered in the exclusive defense of national interests, or in the struggle for power among States, or yet merely a campaign for international prestige.
At this point, several participants pointed out that the actions of the Council directly affect the lives of millions around the world. It was argued that the reform of the organ could not be regarded as an inscrutable issue to be discussed only by diplomats locked away in Conference rooms, but an urgent debate to be had in parliaments, classrooms, newspapers and NGOs.
Some participants acknowledged that the issue of the UNSC reform does not appear, with reasonable frequency and emphasis, in the headlines of major international newspapers, academic theses or research papers, nor in the reports of major NGOs worldwide. Given the paramount importance of the topic to the international peace and security agenda, they considered that it would be convenient if public opinion turned its attention to this debate, based on a comprehensive and sensitive approach, which takes into account the inter-relationships between institutional structures, their mode of operation and their capacity to overcome challenges.
In this context, it was noted that the theme of the seminar was in line with civil society's growing interest on issues related to global governance, such as the discussions on financial governance with the creation of the G-20, and on environmental governance in the context of Rio+20.
Some participants noted that, in view of the changes taking place in North Africa and the Middle East, international peace and security issues –such as the focus on conflict and challenges regarding the protection of civilians (as in Libya, Syria and Mali, among other countries) – are at the core of the most current media and academic debates. Therefore, they argued, the question of updating global governance mechanisms should gain more prominence in those discussions. Some participants cautioned that international peace and security issues still receive little public attention in Brazil.
At the end of the second session, one participant recalled that the defense of peaceful settlement of conflicts would be the true added value that Brazil could offer to the Security Council. The intervention pointed out that the Country's history added legitimacy to its defense of such value in the Council. As examples, the country's impeccable credentials on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons were mentioned, as well as its' history of carefully constructed peaceful relations with Argentina on this subject. The participant concluded his remarks by arguing that civil society could help the Brazilian government to promote such value in the Council.
In the third session, government representatives shared with the other participants news on the recent developments in the intergovernmental negotiations on UNSC reform underway in the General Assembly. They highlighted recent events that have contributed to foster discussion, as the process of convergence between L.69 (group of developing countries that advocate the expansion of the Council in both categories of membership) and the African group, and the recent leading role played by CARICOM.
Despite general consensus on the anachronistic character of the composition of the Security Council, out of step with contemporary geopolitical reality, there were different opinions about the prospects for achieving reform. Many participants argued in favor of the need to agree on a document that could provide a basis for real negotiations.
In this context, different perspectives of agents regarding the proper handling of the negotiating process became apparent, with some defending greater flexibility for the Chair of the intergovernmental process, while others advocated a State-led approach.
It was noted that very often the process in New York is erroneously seen as isolated and independent, when it should be understood as the reflex of the debates held outside of New York, in Capitals, where the national positions are defined. Accordingly, the involvement of civil society, academia, the media and society at large in the debates over the reform should be seen as crucial for the evolution of national positions and, consequently, to the progress of the negotiating process.
Participants also discussed the unique situation of Africa. They noted not only that the Continent is excluded from the Council's decision-making core (a characteristic shared by Latin America), but also that Africa is the only region with a common position on the subject, which, paradoxically, has served as a barrier to the process's progress.
One participant pointed out that the crucial aspect for understanding the difficulties associated with the implementation of the reform of the Security Council is the balance of power. He argued that the reluctance of some countries to allow the reform process to advance is explained, ultimately, by the general resistance to changes in the distribution of power within the international system.
The precedent of the reform of the Council's composition in 1963-65 (which expanded the number of non-permanent seats from 6 to 10) was cited by some as an evidence of the fact that the opposition of powerful States is not an unavoidable hindrance. It was recalled that the opposition of 4 of the 5 permanent members to the reform proposal, including the dissenting votes of two of them, did not prevent them all from ratifying the amendment to the Charter within two years of the approval of the proposal by the General Assembly. At the time, the permanent members realized the high political costs of preventing the entry into force of an amendment approved by the majority of Member States and intended to increase the legitimacy of the Council.
In conclusion, it can be stated that the seminar has contributed to raise awareness on the discussions about the urgency and inevitability of the reform of global institutions responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, stimulating greater involvement of civil society and bringing to this debate a renewed and more sensitive perspective, in tune with the reality prevailing outside the intergovernmental discussion fora.