Kenya won a seat on the UN Security Council on 18 June during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The seat is one of the three non-permanent seats allocated to Africa. David Monda, a scholar at the City University of New York, argues that there is nothing to celebrate over Kenya’s victory
June 18, 2020 is heralded among diplomatic circles in Nairobi and the rest of Africa as a successful day because of Kenya’s victory in its quest for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council of the United Nations. However, on closer analysis, it is clear that Kenya’s non-permanent seat is meaningless without UN reform. This reform needs to come within the framework of two key bodies. The General Assembly and the Security Council.
The Security Council requires expansion to cater for Africa and Latin America. These are two regions of the world that were ignored when the Security Council was created on 24 October 1945. Latin America was perceived to be within the sphere of influence of the United States. From the historical precedent of the Monroe Doctrine, it was assumed that Latin America’s interests would be handled by the United States in the UN.
Africa, on its part, was assumed to have its interests covered mainly by the United Kingdom and France. These were the two major powers with vast control over the continent in 1945. The contemporary global order in 2020 has changed. There is a pressing need to have at least two permanent seats on the Security Council for Africa and two permanent seats for Latin America.
The second reform also revolves around the Security Council. The veto power of the permanent members of the Security Council enables them to individually cripple the ability of the UN to enforce its Charter. Specifically, Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to tackle threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression. A veto from any permanent member of Security Council, will block the adoption of a draft resolution.
Expansion of the number of permanent seats on the Security Council, coupled with a simple majority vote of the council on a draft resolution, will allow the organisation to have the bite required to handle the plethora of global issues facing the international community.
Currently, the population of all five permanent members on the Security Council is just over 2 billion. One country, China, makes up almost 70% of the 2 billion population of all five permanent members. Two billion represents less than 30% of the global population of 7 billion. Yet this minority of 2 billion uses the UN to dictate international policy to 70% of the rest of the world. This is undemocratic and against the tenets of fairness and international justice.
The Security Council needs to be democratised to accommodate a majority of the world that is still peripheralised in the decision making of the Security Council.
Lastly, in relation to the General Assembly, the resolutions passed by this arm, which includes a majority of the world’s nations, need to be binding. Currently, General Assembly resolutions are considered recommendations. In contrast, resolutions adopted by the Security Council under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, are binding.
The General Assembly not only represents the majority of the world’s population, but also represents majority world opinion on major international issues. As it stands, the General Assembly can only make recommendations to the Security Council which can easily be vetoed or disregarded by any permanent member of the Security Council.
Currently, non-permanent rotating membership seats on the Security Council are provided to developing nations like Kenya. This comes across as contemptuous tokenism. It does not afford the weaker nations of the world an avenue to advance their interests. Developing nations are played off against each other by major powers based on the allure of an ineffective non-permanent seat. There is nothing to celebrate over a non-permanent seat on the Security Council under the current UN structure.
June 18 might be a celebratory day for members of Kenya and Africa’s diplomatic community. However, for the vast majority of Kenyans, Africans and people of the developing world, the UN will remain a forum for empty speeches by heads of state that are turgid and needlessly self-congratulatory. The time for UN reform is now.