‘Little may come out of SA’s elevation to Security Council’

Only weeks after South Africa’s election to the Security Council, scepticism has started to fly over what the country would be able to achieve during its two-year stint as a non-permanent member of the world organisation’s most powerful body.

Observers note that, despite having been elected to the Security Council ‘ which is tasked with maintaining peace and security among nations and has the power to make decisions which member governments must carry out under the UN Charter ‘ by a landmark number of votes, South Africa’s newly-acquired status may not allow it to make the difference it aspires to.

President Thabo Mbeki’s government has attracted massive attention after its election to the seat, promising to use the position to push for Africa’s cause on the Security Council’s hefty agenda.

But analysts say they doubt the seat would bring a much-desired shift of the continent’s fortunes, amid persistent debate over a “possible” reform of the UN to try and balance the powers of all members.

Dr Adekeye Adebajo, head of Cape Town University’s Centre for Conflict Resolution, said South Africa was unlikely to have the clout to achieve most of its ambitions on the Security Council.

He said non-permanent members of the grouping were vested with limited powers, and had little say in the final decisions of the league.

“The Security Council’s arcane rules of procedure have remained ‘provisional’ for 60 years, to the advantage of its five permanent members (the P-5), which have sometimes referred disparagingly to the elected 10 members as ‘tourists’.

“With many decisions based on legal precedents, permanence of membership confers great advantage.

“The 10 elected members are sometimes excluded from decision-making on strategic issues such as Iraq, where informal meetings of the permanent members are often used to make decisions that other members are expected to rubber-stamp,” Adebajo wrote in a local weekly.

Government officials in Pretoria have reportedly been “preparing for months” in anticipation of the country’s election, which has been hailed by some as South Africa’s “real” entrance onto the world stage.

Presenting a lecture at the London School of Economics two weeks ago, South African Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma outlined the country’s ambitions during its impending two-year tenure.

She said South Africa would enhance peacekeeping and conflict resolution in Africa while serving on the Security Council, and that the country would try and use its position to create synergies between the African Union and the UN to prevent conflicts on the continent.

South Africa’s recent election has overshadowed the presence of two other African countries that are already non-permanent members of the Security Council.

Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who will both be serving their second and final year as temporary members beginning in January, have made very, little if any, significant impact since their elevation to the body last year.

“It is very difficult for non-permanent members, and even some permanent members, to put issues on the Security Council’s agenda. It is possibly the UN’s most powerful organisation and they constantly have pressing matters to deal with so to get issues to be discussed they really have to be very high priority matters,” a UN political affairs officer and Wits University fellow said.

Since 1966, UN regulations stipulate that the 10 elected members of the Security Council should be made up of three African countries, two Asian countries, two Latin American and Caribbean countries, two Western European countries and one Eastern European country.

The five permanent members of the organ are the United States, United Kingdom, China, France and Russia .

November 2006
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