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UN Security Council Enlargement And U.S. Interests (12/6)

Speakers: Kara C. McDonald, Foreign Service Officer, State Department, and Stewart M. Patrick, Senior Fellow, Director, Program on International Institutions and Global Governance, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Bruce Jones, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; Director, Center on International Cooperation, New York University
December 6, 2010
Council on Foreign Relations


MR. JONES: My name is Bruce Jones. I'm a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the director of the Center on International Cooperation at NYU. And it's my privilege this morning to chair this session.

I want to start with a couple of housekeeping points: First, to note that this session is on the record. Most council sessions are off the record, so I just wanted to stress that, in case you're tempted to slag-off various people that you don't think are listening. (Laughter.) This is an on-the-record session.

The other housekeeping point to make is that Kara McDonald will be speaking in a personal capacity. She currently serves at the State Department, but her remarks here are in the context of the report that she's written with Stewart Patrick, and her remarks will be in a personal capacity.

I'm delighted to chair this session which will launch this report, which you all have in front of you, put together by two authors who know a great deal about the topic, and advised by a very substantial advisory board led by Nick Burns, former undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department.

I think it's a model think-tank report. It's brief, it's accessible, it's readable, it's authoritative -- it's even accurate. (Laughter.) Better, it's timely. I don't know whether Stewart and Kara lobbied particularly to get Obama to make the announcement he did in India about U.S. support for an Indian permanent seat, but it certainly sets a good backdrop for the launch of the report.

Mostly, I'm happy to chair it because I'm extremely happy about the fact that Kara and Stewart put their minds to this topic and reached the conclusion that they do: that this is a problem and a topic that the United States should not stand on the sidelines on, should not be daunted by, but should come to terms with, grapple with and try to lead. I personally am of the view that that's precisely the right conclusion. It's a controversial one. I think it's an important one. And I'm delighted to help them make that argument this morning.

I think if we look back on the last two to three years, of the tail-end of the last administration and certainly in the beginning of this administration, we've seen an important process of bedding down the emerging powers into the global financial architecture. In the G-20, now with the agreements on IMF reform and on World Bank reform, we've seen the kind of bedding down of the global financial architecture to accommodate the rise of the emerging powers. We see a slightly more tentative arrangement of that type in the terrain of climate negotiations with the relationship between the MEFs and the UNFCCC.

What we have not yet seen, we have not yet begun to see, is how we're going to deal with the emerging powers on the peace and security issues, where we have real challenges, but also very substantial common interests on a number of fronts. And I think that the question of how the emerging powers are incorporated into the broader global security architecture is a central question for foreign policy at this moment in time. And I think Stewart and Kara's report do a very good job of addressing perhaps the central question of that; namely, Security Council reform.

Stewart Patrick has the very great distinction of being an alumni of the NYU Center on International Cooperation -- (laughter) -- and the only slightly lesser distinction of having served on the State Department policy planning staff during the Bush administration, where he was responsible for a number of things: helping to establish the State Department's stabilization, coordination and reconstruction -- is that what it's called? Stabilization --

MR. PATRICK: Office of the Coordinator of Reconstruction and Stabilization.

MR. JONES: Something with an impossible acronym. (Laughs, laughter.) And has a very long intellectual history of grappling with the question of how U.S. national interest intersects with the international security architecture, from his Ph.D. thesis, through his work at NYU, to his present work at the Council on Foreign Affairs -- Foreign Relations.

Kara McDonald has a -- an illuminary career at the National Security Council, at the State Department, dealing with international organizations on multilateral issues; was a special assistant to Nick Burns; has dealt with the U.N. in a number of different guises, including in her present position as deputy coordinator for Haiti at State Department, where she deals with the consequences of the council's decisions on a day-to-day basis.

So we couldn't be in better hands to hear about this issue, and let me turn it over to them.

MR. PATRICK: Thank you very much, Bruce. And thank you all very much for coming. It's a -- it's a great honor to be able to speak here before you. It's also spectacular to have somebody who's so knowledgeable, like Bruce Jones, and also a very good friend, to be able to chair this session.

It was also a great honor and privilege to be able to work with somebody who is so knowledgeable and has so much practical experience about multilateral affairs as Kara McDonald, who is amongst the most talented foreign service officers of her generation. And I speculate we will be hearing from her for quite some time.

What I'm going to do is provide a brief overview of the report. I know many of you may have had a chance to download it, or at least glance at it. I'd like to cover some of the pro and con arguments that we make with respect to enlargement, to try to summarize a little bit of the negotiating landscape, and then look at U.S. interests in council enlargement. Kara is then going to take over, and she'll lay out an approach to expansion focused on responsibilities, and outline some recommendations for how the U.S., we believe, could actually move this process forward.

Just to touch very briefly on the basic argument, we believe that the United States, the Obama administration, should propose a modest expansion of U.N. -- of the U.N. Security Council, which is -- would be designed to incorporate critical rising, but also established, powers as new permanent members.

For any such enlargement to be in U.S. national interests, however, one has to be confident that those countries that would actually -- those aspirant countries that would aspire to Security Council membership would -- if they became permanent members, would actually assume the weighty obligations that are entailed. You don't want to buy a pig in a poke, basically.

To that end, we call on the president to offer a long-term road map for enlargement based on agreed membership criteria. We believe that by shifting the debate from a question of entitlement, which has been very acrimonious within the United Nations context, to one of responsibilities, the United States is going to be in a better position to ensure that there's an enlargement that's in U.S. national interests.

We are not Pollyannaish about the relative benefits and costs of enlargement, or the ease of bringing this about. But on this -- on the other hand, we don't believe that the current stalemate is indefinitely sustainable. We believe long-term interests of the United States, much less of the international community, require that the most important organ for international peace and security actually reflect global power realities: the world of 2010, as opposed to the world of 1945. We also believe that determined U.S. leadership could help break the logjam.

We also, importantly, note that U.S. advocacy of this position could bring diplomatic benefits -- diplomatic dividends -- whether or not the actual enlargement occurs.

Now, until the president's surprise announcement of India, and then about four days later his reaffirmation of Japan's candidate -- candidacy for permanent membership, the administration had been largely silent on the topic. And you know, at first glance, this seems a little bit ironic, since a major theme of the Obama administration, and indeed of the national security strategy, had been that -- the need to integrate rising powers in reformed international institutions. And as Bruce mentioned, the administration has shown great leadership in shifting the premier steering group for global economic coordination to the G-20, in addition to sort of rectifying some of the "chairs and shares" disputes in the international financial institutions.

On the other hand, you know, at closer inspection, obviously there are some good reasons for the administration's ambivalence. I think that many U.S. officials are aware, or believe that international power trends have accelerated a lot faster than institutional reform when it comes to the U.N. Security Council, to say the least. But I think that there are major questions and doubts about whether any plausible enlargement scenario would actually improve the effectiveness and the ability of the council to actually do its -- to go about its daily business; and even if it is possible that a -- there's a plausible scenario, whether or not it would be possible for the United States to actually effectuate this change in any way that meets U.S. parameters, given the -- obviously, the high hurdles for any charter revision.

We try to offer a -- what we think is a sober analysis of the major arguments for and against enlargement. And we find that not all of the arguments that are often offered for U.N. Security Council enlargement are particularly plausible. Proponents of expansion typically claim that the council is increasingly illegitimate and ineffective, given its inequitable geographic composition and its declining -- and it is of declining relevance to the international community. We take those on. We actually challenge the question of legitimacy -- illegitimacy of the council, because it's usually couched in the perspective of geographic representation. But as we note, permanent membership in the Security Council, as opposed to elected membership, is not supposed to be about equitable geographic representation. That phrase -- or that concept is included with respect to elected members. Permanent members are to be guarantors of international peace and security. And presumably, any additional permanent members should meet that criteria.

We also take issue with the notion that the -- that the council is -- somehow lacks credibility, or is increasingly irrelevant in the calculations of states. We think that when push comes to shove, most of the major issues on the international agenda that are really critical end up -- end up at the door of the Security Council.

In addition, arguments that implementation is suffering because of a lack of representation or a lack of Security Council enlargement don't really seem to be borne out when one looks more closely. We believe that, in fact, there may be implementation problems, but they're not necessarily related to the composition.

The council, then, faces no immediate crisis, but we also believe that there are practical grounds for the United States to support a modest enlargement of its permanent membership. The practical argument is that the U.N. -- the Security Council needs to be able to draw on the capabilities and diplomatic support of its most important players. And by not integrating these countries, it's sacrificing that ability.

The other -- there's also a geopolitical -- a related geopolitical argument, which is sort of a more termed -- long-term -- more of a long-term national-interest calculation, and that is the observation that world politics is particularly unstable historically in situations where international institutions have not kept up with dramatic shifts in the distribution of power. And we're not -- we don't anticipate the darkest scenario. We don't believe that there's going to be some counter-hegemonic coalition, that we're going to go back to the 1930s, et cetera, when, you know, countries are taking matters into their own hands in a -- in an extremely bellicose way. But we do believe that the international order will be less stable and the U.N. Security Council will be able to draw on fewer resources to actually provide global public goods and preserve international security without the need -- without the contributions of major powers.

We believe the United States, as the world's -- still the world's most influential nation, has a window of opportunity here to try to galvanize reform. Now, obviously, any reform effort is going to be difficult, but it's only going to get harder as power diffuses. One doesn't have to say the United States is in decline to recognize that power is diffusing to other parts of the world. And in -- by investing in -- or I would say by coopting and integrating important countries into the system, the United States can, in a sense, make an investment in long-term stability of the -- of the system. And this is a case of enlightened self-interest.

Now, even if change is desirable, one wonders whether or not the United States can actually bring it about with like-minded -- like-minded countries in this complicated diplomatic landscape. The charter has only been revised three times in its history, including in the 1965 enlargement that brought in four elected members. Now -- and also, there's a major hurdle for U.S. Senate ratification, which, as we know historically, has often been an obstacle.

Now, two years ago, there -- a little fluidity came into -- a little bit of fluidity came into multilateral negotiations at the United States with the creation of the intergovernmental negotiations. After years of the aptly named "open-ended working group" discussions on this topic, the several rounds of negotiations that have occurred suggest that the diplomatic landscape still remains stalemated in New York, with the divisions amongst the so-called Group of Four, the -- (inaudible) -- consensus group and the African Union. So there hasn't really been much forward movement.

Now, pivotal, of course, is going to be the attitudes of the permanent members. We briefly survey the permanent members. Obviously, amongst those -- amongst the P-5, the most forward-leaning have been Britain and France, who proposed an interesting potential compromise interim solution in which you'd have longer-term reelectable seats, which could conceivably then have their final status determined in a -- in a conference.

The Russians and the Chinese we assess as being extremely skeptical of any permanent members. However, at the end of the day, we don't believe that they will want to be perceived as blocking a reform that's in the -- in the -- in the -- in the interest, or that has the support of a -- of a General Assembly consensus, or at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.

Now, the -- we go through the Obama administration's position, which interestingly has not differed that much from its predecessor. And in our view, this suggests a common assessment of some of the risks and rewards of actual enlargement. The only thing that really has been different was -- there are a couple of things that have been different. The Obama administration has decoupled any question of enlargement from the notion of management reform of the United Nations. And it's also endorsed India in addition to, now, Japan as well. But beyond those parameters there's been no major -- there's been no major study -- interagency study, and there's been no endorsement, obviously, of any specific proposals.

From a U.S. perspective, just very briefly before I turn things over to Kara, the most -- the most optimistic scenario might be simply incorporating the G-4 countries of Germany, Japan, Brazil and India, which would give you at least two almost sure votes in most situations and two votes in a lot of other situations. The difficulty, of course, is that that wouldn't really stand much of a chance in the current U.N. General Assembly debate.

The question -- the broader question is, what impact would council enlargement have on the actual effectiveness of the United Nations? Now, there's no question that enlargement would hinder the efficiency -- or it's likely that it would hinder the efficiency just in terms of decision-making. The question about its effect on overall -- its impact on overall effectiveness is a little bit hard to answer.

There are two -- there are two issues here. One is related to the size of the council. If the enlargement is big, it will be particularly difficult for the United States to formulate or to create the winning coalitions and blocking coalitions to -- within the council. And you could even get a situation where a number of elected members had an effective veto on council decision-making. That is a big deal. But we also -- so we -- and obviously the United States would want to limit any expansion to a lower -- a much lower number than many of the members of the U.N. General Assembly would like.

But the other point that we make is it's extraordinarily important what countries are around the table, particularly as permanent members. That question is essential. And the issue there is, what could we expect of the behavior of the major aspirant states? And we -- in the back of the -- of the -- of the report we actually run through some strengths and weaknesses of the major aspirant states.

You know, an optimist would predict that major countries like India, Brazil and South Africa, which are democracies, would actually line up with the United States on a regular basis because of that. Now, a skeptical take -- and we probably veer a little bit towards the skeptical take in our analysis here -- would suggest that, at least on recent performance, there's a major discontinuity between countries like these that often have a very close bilateral relationship with the United States, but then you get them into multilateral fora and, because of G-77 sympathies or solidarities, they have a tendency to play to the galleries.

So the key here is to try to ensure that there's an enlargement that would maximize the chance that countries behave in what the United States would consider a responsible fashion. So that's where we get to at this stage of the report. And then Kara will explain how we actually ensure that. I'm sorry I've gone on a bit, but I wanted to do some justice. Thanks.

MS. MCDONALD: No, that's good. It's all great. It's all good.

Thank you, Stewart. First I want to thank all of you for coming out on a Monday morning to talk about this topic. I think this is a topic that I've been mired in for a number of years, both professionally and personally, so it was a -- it was a bit hard in coming, I would say. It's been a little bit of a difficult birth.

But I want to thank in particular Stewart, my co-drafter, who was instrumen

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