The UN Security Council was established in 1945 to preserve world peace. Today, that objective is still relevant but bureaucracy, complicated processes and lack of democratic decision-making are affecting its effectiveness. That is why The Elders have come up with four recommendations to enable the Security Council to continue to play a meaningful role in the future.
The Elders can be regarded as a sort of ‘council of village elders’, a group of public figures that is firmly committed to a better world. The Elders came into existence in 2007 on the initiative of Richard Branson and Nelson Mandela among others. In particular, The Elders see the veto rights of the permanent members of the Security Council as a thorn in the side.
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The Security Council consists of fifteen members, five of whom are permanent (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States). The UN General Assembly chooses the other members for a period of two years. Security Council decisions on all substantive matters require the affirmative votes of nine members. A negative vote or "veto" by a permanent member prevents adoption of a proposal, even if it has received the required votes.
It is not surprising that this not very democratic procedure significantly slows down the decision-making process at times. That was the case during the Cold War and the major powers still regularly have differing opinions. This results in militant groups having unnecessary space, as in Syria. Applying their power of veto, Russia and China have made resolutions impossible on a number of occasions, resulting in a passive Security Council.
Under the chairmanship of Desmond Tutu The Elders have now presented four recommendations for a more democratic and effective Security Council:
- A new type of membership. Various countries would like a permanent seat in the Security Council: Brazil, Germany, India and Japan for example. The current permanent members are open to that, but cannot reach a consensus on the execution. Therefore, The Elders suggests that the non-permanent members should be appointed for a longer term, so that they have more influence. They should be directly re-appointable after their term, giving them more or less a permanent status. More democracy, which would benefit the decision-making and the credibility of the Council.
- A plea for commonality. National interests often drive a veto. The Security Council should be above that. So The Elders have appealed to the permanent members to always strive for common standards and values such as peace, security and human rights. If a veto is still pronounced, then this should be accompanied by a public explanation and an alternative plan based on the common standards and values.
- The voice of the citizen. UN resolutions have a direct effect on people’s lives. To give them a voice, informal meetings are organized where citizens can speak out. A good initiative, but it is unfortunately mostly junior officials who attend these ‘Arria-Formula meetings’. The Elders propose that the permanent members also attend these meetings, so that citizens’ voices are really heard.
- A more independent Secretary General. The Secretary General is regarded as the Head of the UN. In turn, every continent may delegate someone, who is subsequently appointed for five years, often extended to 10 years. It is not exactly clear how the recruitment and selection process for a new Secretary General is carried out. The Elders therefore call for more transparency and the nomination of several candidates. Race, ethnicity and gender are not relevant: all that matters is qualification. In addition, The Elders want the Secretary General to be appointed for only one seven-year term, instead of two five-year terms. In this way, the Secretary General will be more independent, not hindered by any electoral considerations during the term of office.
Learning from history
The UN is regarded as the successor to the League of Nations (1919-1946). It lost all its legitimacy by a lack of any transparency, democracy and therefore credibility. Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself.