Whither UN reform? India warns of 'anachronistic’ UNSC, as calls for reforms echo - with exceptions

Pakistan’s Permanent Representative Munir Akram struck a discordant note by opposing the addition of permanent members to the Council.  China's Permanent Representative Zhang Jun supported calls for reforming international financial institutions but was silent on the Council -- opposing it would have roiled the African nations that form the largest group at the UN.

Arul Louis Apr 25, 2023
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, speaks at the Security Council on Monday, April 24, 2023, saying most countries support reforms; Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who presided over the session is at right. (Photo Source: UN)

Perpetuating a United Nations Security Council built on an “anachronistic mindset” will also mean the continuing loss of faith in the world organisation, India has said as resounding calls from all sides for reform echoed in its chamber.

India’s Permanent Representative Ruchira Kamboj said on Monday that to preserve the UN’s effectiveness and credibility there has to be “widening the representation of this core institution, the Security Council to more developing countries”.

“If we continue to perpetuate the 1945 anachronistic mindset (of the post-World War II era), we will continue to lose the faith our people have in the United Nations”, she said.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and several countries stressed the need to reform the Council – and even the main antagonists, Russia and the United States, agreed on that.

Speaking at the meeting of the Council on  “Effective Multilateralism”, Guterres said, “A majority now acknowledge that the Security Council itself would benefit from reforms that reflect today’s geopolitical reality”.  

That is also true of the international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, he said.

While countries from around the world backed him up with the demands for reform, the African nations were the most vociferous, warning that they were running out of patience.

Gabon’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hermann Immongault said, “It is patently clear that Africa will not wait forever for the vicissitudes of the Inter-Governmental reform process (for Council reforms) to pass”, and added, “in the eyes of our people that process is simply an interminable distraction”.

Illustrating the moribund state of the UN when it comes to the Security Council, Kamboj took a dig at the UN Charter document which still gives permanent seats to the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” that no longer exists and the seat has been held by the Russian Federation since 1991, and to the “Republic of China”, the official name of Taiwan, although the seat was transferred to the Peoples Republic of China in 1971.

“When we see the world’s largest democracy, along with entire continents of Africa and Latin America, being kept out of global decision-making, we rightly call for a major course correction”, she said.

A positive development, she said, was the recommendation of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism which called for a renewed effort for reforms.

The panel's report submitted last week said the UN’s Summit of the Future scheduled for next year “ is an opportunity to reaffirm our common commitment to the UN Charter and announce a Charter Review conference focused on Security Council reform”, she said.

“Multilateral institutions rarely die”, she warned, “they simply fade into irrelevance”.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Permanent Representative Linda Thomas-Greenfield in their caustic exchanges had one point of unanimity: The need to reform the Council.

Lavrov said the Council had to be reformed to enhance the representation of Asian, African and Latin American countries.

Thomas-Greenfield said, “The Council must better reflect today’s global realities and find viable paths for the twenty-first century”. 

Brazil’s Deputy Permanent Representative Joao Genesio De Almeida Filho contrasted the efficacy of the broadly representative G20 with the Council with its unrepresentative character of the Council.

He said that despite deficiencies like the limited representation of African countries, the G20 has “come to be one of the most representative bodies in the international community” and “proved to be a valuable framework for addressing new economic and financial challenges”, he said.

But the current composition of the Council. “which reflects the balance of power in 1945 is not compatible with the current geopolitical realities”, he added. 

Brazil is a member of the G4, a group that includes India, Japan and Germany, that lobbies for Council reforms and also mutually support each other for permanent seats.

India is currently the president of the G20, the group of developed and emerging countries, where it seeks to project the voices of the Global South.

Pressing for reforms, United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khalifa Shaheen Al Marar said, “Status quo structures will not move us beyond the status quo”.

“From the Security Council to institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, multilateral mechanisms must be reformed to improve their legitimacy and representation”, he said. 

Ghana’s Deputy Foreign Minister Thomas Mbomba said that the injustice to Africa is a weakness of the multilateral structure and nations should “turbocharge” action to rectify it.

Egypt’s Permanent Representative Osama Abdel Khalek said that the exclusion of the Arab and African nations from permanent seats demands immediate reform.

Pakistan’s Permanent Representative Munir Akram struck a discordant note by opposing the addition of permanent members to the Council.

China's Permanent Representative Zhang Jun supported calls for reforming international financial institutions but was silent on the Council -- opposing it would have roiled the African nations that form the largest group at the UN.

In his speech, Guterres forthrightly criticised Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a violation of international law and the UN Charter.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in violation of the United Nations Charter and international law, is causing massive suffering and devastation to the country and its people, and adding to the global economic dislocation triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic”, he said.

Multilateral cooperation is the “beating heart” but at a time when “we face unprecedented and interlocking crises”, he said, “the multilateral system is under greater strain than at any time since the creation of the United Nations”.  

With “tensions between major powers are at a historic high”, he warned,” the risks of conflict, through misadventure or miscalculation”.

Lavrov said that the world has reached a “dangerous threshold” that is “possibly even more dangerous” than during the Cold War.

He said that the loss of trust in multilateralism has made the situation worse.

Thomas-Greenfield accused Lavrov of hypocrisy and said that Russia has “struck at the heart of the UN Charter” through its “war of aggression and territorial conquest”.

While Lavrov complained about the US refusal of visas to Russian journalists to cover the Council meeting, Thomas-Greenfield countered that Moscow was detaining Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a “barbaric practice” in violation of international law.


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