General Assembly Adopts, without Vote, ‘Landmark’ Decision on Advancing Efforts to Reform, Increase Membership of Security Council

14 September 2015
GA/11679

General Assembly Adopts, without Vote, ‘Landmark’ Decision on Advancing Efforts to Reform, Increase Membership of Security Council

Sixty-ninth Session,
104th Meeting (AM)

To a burst of applause, the General Assembly this morning adopted, without a vote, a text that sets the stage for negotiations on the long-pending issue of Security Council reform during the world body’s seventieth session, with some hailing it as a “landmark” decision, and others calling it technical rather than substantive progress on an issue that most agreed must urgently be resolved.

In a draft decision submitted by Assembly President Sam Kutesa (Uganda) (document A/69/L.92), the body decided to reaffirm its central role on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other related matters.

As such, it decided to immediately continue intergovernmental negotiations on Council reform in informal plenary sessions at its seventieth session, as mandated by decisions adopted since 2008, and building on work undertaken during the sixty-ninth session, as well as positions and proposals reflected in the text and annex of a 31 July letter circulated by the Assembly President.

The Assembly, by the text, decided it would convene the Open-ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters related to the Security Council during the seventieth session, if Member States so decided.

Welcoming the adoption, Mr. Kutesa said the United Nations today — with 193 Member States — was “vastly” different from what it had been at its founding 70 years ago, with only 51 Member States.  Achieving the noble objectives enshrined in the United Nations Charter required bold steps to transform the Council in a way that reflected today’s geopolitical realities.

“Today’s decision is an important step towards that ultimate objective,” he said, stressing that past negotiations had been characterized by a repetition of well-known positions and statements.  He welcomed that a platform had emerged, in the current session, to exchange ideas on positions and proposals.  Most States had further populated the “framework document”, which had culminated in a text and its annex, circulated in his 31 July letter.

Ensuring that work on Council reform was conducted in an open, transparent manner had been a cornerstone of his efforts, he said.  For the first time since intergovernmental negotiations had begun, all letters and documents arising from such work had been posted on his Office’s website.  In building on work carried out during the current session, the Assembly would contribute to the ultimate goal of reforming the Security Council, as agreed by world leaders in 2005.

Speaking in explanation of position after the action, dozens of delegates took the floor to air their views, with many welcoming the decision as a “path-breaking” development that for the first time placed the intergovernmental negotiation process on an “irreversible, text-based” road.  They praised the Assembly President’s pursuit — in the face of stiff opposition — of a topic that had sat on the agenda for 23 years.  Today’s decision, several said, offered an opportunity to deliver results on a unanimous mandate within a “realistic” timeline.

The delegate from Saint Lucia, speaking for the L.69 Group of Developing Countries, welcomed the “landmark” decision, saying that the Assembly had made a “game-changing development in the shadow-boxing” that had thus far taken place behind the scenes.  Today’s collective achievement would provide a firm footing for the Organization’s ongoing journey.

Japan’s representative, speaking for the “G4” Group (Brazil, Germany, India and Japan) and echoing the comments of many speakers, welcomed the fact that the text had been reached by consensus.  For the first time, a decision on reform had been contained in an official United Nations document.

The speaker from Sierra Leone thanked, on behalf of African States, members for the flexibility and maturity that had led to today’s decision.  He anticipated a more forward-looking process in the next session and would work to promote a unity of purpose.  The battle would continue as strong differences persisted, but they were worthy of discussion.

Other speakers — including from Argentina, Spain and Turkey and Permanent Council members China and France — called the decision a technical rollover of the reform agenda item to the next session, as had been done in previous years.

In that context, Italy’s representative, speaking for the Uniting for Consensus Group, supported the text as an orderly transition to the seventieth session.  However, the reference to the 31 July letter could not be interpreted as an endorsement “in substance or procedure”, as Member States had not been given a chance to discuss their reservations to it.  The reform process was “about substance and serious dialogue, not theory and proclamations”, he added.

Pakistan’s delegate cited the President’s inability to acknowledge that a “limited” dialogue had substituted for an intergovernmental process in 2015.  That “flawed” process had been marked by arbitrary actions by the Chair and no attempts to reflect or bridge divergent views.  Further, the decision did not acknowledge the need to build on documents given to the President by the Chair.  Pakistan expected more consideration of its views, as outlined in the 11 September letter.  Those who had sought to use procedural manoeuvers to advance efforts would not succeed.

While noting that his Government was not against the negotiating text, the speaker from the Russian Federation outlined that it could only be drafted by Member States and not by the coordinator or Assembly President.  Imposing a text that did not reflect the entire membership risked reversing the process.  Negotiations should be conducted in an inclusive manner without artificial timelines.

Along similar lines, China’s delegate said the framework document had “cut into pieces” the integrity of the membership and spirit of earlier decisions.  Many Member States were against creating a framework document.  It had caused serious contention during the current session.  Rather than being constructive, the interactive dialogue had deepened differences.

Also speaking this morning were representatives of Kuwait (for the Arab Group), Finland (for Nordic Countries), Guyana, South Africa, India, Namibia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Brazil, Germany, Poland, Equatorial Guinea, Chile, Egypt, Ecuador, Viet Nam, United Republic of Tanzania, Mexico, El Salvador, Suriname, Rwanda, Mauritius, Bhutan, Philippines and Panama.

Statements

In explanation of position after the decision’s adoption, the representative of Saint Lucia, speaking on behalf of the L.69 Group of Developing Countries, which consisted of 42 countries from around the world, said the Group had aimed to achieve comprehensive and lasting reform of the Council.  Calling the decision a landmark text that would set the United Nations on a text-based negotiation path, she added that by unanimously recognizing it, the Assembly had made a “game-changing development in the shadow-boxing” that had thus far taken place behind the scenes.  Today’s collective achievement would provide a firm footing for the Organization’s ongoing journey.

Italy’s delegate, speaking for the Uniting for Consensus Group, expressed support for the text because they were convinced that, at this stage, an orderly transition to the seventieth session must be a collective priority.  Recalling the Uniting for Consensus letter, he stressed that the reference to the circulated text could not be interpreted as an endorsement in substance or procedure.  Member States had not been duly consulted on that text and the membership as a whole had not been given an opportunity to discuss the text or their reservations on it.  The reform process had been “about substance and serious dialogue, not theory and proclamations”, he added.  His Group was willing to engage in the next round of negotiations to seek an agreement on the underlying principles of the reform process, including procedural principles.

The speaker from Kuwait, on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the full support of regional groups was necessary to advance the intergovernmental process.  Anything else would undermine the coherence of the General Assembly and the credibility of intergovernmental negotiations.  The Group had supported the decision in order to give further opportunity for the pursuit of intergovernmental negotiations and to address differences between all groups regarding the future of the reform process.  In order to achieve the largest amount of clarity and transparency, it was vital to reach an agreement on the principles and procedures governing the reform process before proceeding to substantive issues.

The representative of Japan, speaking for the “G4” Group (Brazil, Germany, India and Japan), welcomed the adoption of a “landmark” decision that was not another “business-as-usual” text, as it carried forward the reform process in an anniversary year.  It was the first such decision contained in an official United Nations document.  Most importantly, the text had been reached by consensus and he urged all States to join it.  Thanking the Assembly President for fulfilling his pledge to advance the process to text-based negotiations, he lamented that the Assembly had failed to move to such negotiations in the current session.  Today’s text had set the discussions on an irreversible path.  To comments made by Italy’s delegate, he did not agree that negotiations had been non-transparent.  All delegations had agreed on language contained in “L.92”.

Finland’s delegate, speaking for the Nordic countries, welcomed the decision, saying, “we think this is a good compromise on how to take this process forward.”  Talks had been held in fair, transparent and inclusive manner and the work accomplished thus far offered a “firm basis” on which States could now negotiate.

The representative of Sierra Leone, speaking for the African States, thanked members for the flexibility and maturity that had led to today’s decision.  “We have stayed true to the United Nations’ principles,” he said.  Africa would continue to enhance dialogue with all States with a view towards equitable Council representation and an expansion in permanent and non-permanent categories.  The Council’s legitimacy would be enhanced through reform.  He anticipated a more forward-looking process in the next session and would work to promote a unity of purpose.  Today’s action was an unequivocal reflection of work by the Assembly President.  The battle would continue, as strong differences persisted, but they were worthy of discussion.  Today’s achievement might come to be known as “the Kutesa consensus”.

The speaker from Guyana, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), welcomed the consensus adoption of the decision, expressing steadfast support for Security Council reform.  Despite acknowledged differences, the decision had brought the General Assembly together in a positive response on a subject that was important to the Organization.  Whatever the positions on the substance of the reform, the decision was a positive signal.  Further, Guyana believed that the text on which Ambassador Courtney of Jamaica had laboured so ably in full consultation with the General Assembly membership would serve the body well in its new session.

China’s delegate said that the Assembly had just adopted a technical decision to move forward the question of Council reform to the next session.  The General Assembly had adopted similar texts every year in order to move judiciously towards Council reform.  China believed that the framework document “cut into pieces” the integrity of the membership and the spirit of earlier decisions.  Many Member States were against creating a framework document.  It had caused serious contention during the current session of the Assembly.  The mechanism had organized only one interactive dialogue and conducted no real intergovernmental negotiations.  Instead of being constructive, the interactive dialogue had deepened the differences between Member States.  According to General Assembly decision 62/557, intergovernmental negotiations must follow the principle of leadership by Member States.  China hoped that a new page would be turned during the next session of the General Assembly.  The mistakes that the mechanism had made during the current session should be avoided.

The representative of South Africa, aligning with the statements delivered by the delegates of Sierra Leone and Saint Lucia, said it was crucial to ensure that the Organization reflected the geopolitical realities of the twenty-first century.  The responsibility for maintaining world peace and security could no longer be held in the hands of an elite few.  Welcoming the consensus adoption and calling on the Assembly to “no longer procrastinate and dither”, he added that the negotiations must build upon and recognize the progress achieved in the General Assembly’s sixty-ninth session.

India’s speaker, associating with the “L.69” and “G4” groups, said the Assembly President had delivered a truly historic initiative, considering the “stiff” challenges he had encountered to step back from an issue that had been on the agenda for 23 years.  “This is not a technical or rollover decision,” he said. Rather, it was highly substantive, as for the first time, a decision on reform had been adopted through an official “L document”.  Thus far, “we’ve only been able to make statements in the air or at each other,” he said.  The text had set negotiations on an irreversible, text-based path, meeting the twin goals of preserving work done in sixty-ninth session and carrying it forward.  Most important was the reference to the 31 July letter, which would be the guiding basis for deliberations.  That letter stated that the text represented a sound basis on which States could engage in text-based talks in the next negotiation phase.  India had been among the first to seek an end to the process in seventieth session.  If the Council continued to be ineffective, the flow of trade investment and technology would be jeopardized.

The delegate from France hailed the Assembly President’s leadership, saying that with today’s decision, the Assembly had rolled over its work accomplished on Security Council reform.  He expressed hope that that work would serve as a basis for the next negotiation cycle during the seventieth session, and to finally begin text-based negotiations.  Council reform was much needed, he said, adding that it must more greatly reflect today’s world and enhance its capacity to shoulder its peacekeeping and security responsibilities.

Namibia’s representative, associating with the African Group, said Council reform was of paramount importance to the wider United Nations reform agenda.  Today’s text would allow for fulfilling what had been agreed in the 2005 World Summit outcome document.  Reform would not be achieved without political will.  Namibia would continue to point out the urgent need for reform that encompassed five facets:  membership categories, the veto question, regional representation, the size of an enlarged Council and working methods and the relationship between the Council and the Assembly.  He thanked the Assembly President for having made reform a priority, and the representative of Jamaica, who had chaired the process.  Africa was the only continent not represented in a permanent category, making it crucial to correct that historical injustice.

The speaker from the Russian Federation stated that his country had supported the draft because it was convinced that Security Council reform must absolutely be based on consensus.  However the negotiations had shown that “we are very far from developing a universal formula” for the expansion, he added.  The situation had not changed during the sixty-ninth session.  The root of the problem was not in the negotiations methodologies, but in principled disagreements on key issues of reform.  Regarding the preparation of a short negotiating text, the Russian Federation was not against the text, but believed that it could only be drafted by Member States and not by the coordinator of the negotiations or the President of the Assembly.  Imposing a text that did not reflect the entire membership risked moving the process backwards.  The negotiations should be carried out in an inclusive manner without artificial timelines.

The delegate from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, aligning with CARICOM and the “L.69” Group, quoted Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor William Isaacs, saying that dialogue was the art of thinking together.  “We discuss, we debate, but we do not dialogue,” she added.  Therefore, the consultative manner in which Ambassador Courtney Rattray had facilitated the dialogue was one of the most important achievements of the negotiations.  Concurring with the General Assembly President, she stressed that the world body now had a sound basis for the next phase of the negotiations.  That was a fitting accomplishment for a historic session.

Brazil’s representative, aligning with the “L.69” and “G4” groups, said that in the past year, there had been a new dynamic in the intergovernmental negotiations.  Brazil was confident that the next round of the intergovernmental negotiations would build on Ambassador Rattray’s text, which was a sound basis for text-based negotiations.  Achieving early reform of the Council was a pressing matter.  The United Nations system was making ambitious changes and Agenda 2030 would reflect a new common vision for international cooperation in social and developmental issues.  However, when it came to peace and security, the international community needed to update its current structure.  The reform of the Council was the fundamental unfinished item on the Organization’s agenda.  The anachronistic structure of the Council must adapt to new geopolitical realities.

Germany’s speaker welcomed the adoption, which marked a milestone in negotiations on Council reform, by and for all States that favoured progress.  The President and the Chair had steered States through “lively” discussions, especially on 14 and 15 May.  He expected that the Chair would continue his unbiased work, based on the positions forwarded by States, as compiled in the framework document, circulated in the 31 July letter.  It was standard practice to have a facilitator to coordinate positions in a membership-driven process, he said, adding that all States would be served by that idea through today’s decision.  He welcomed that more than 120 States had contributed to the framework document, a text that would form the basis for intergovernmental negotiations on Council reform.

The delegate from Poland welcomed today’s decision, which built on work carried out in past months.  It was pivotal that the text had been adopted by consensus, which showed the Assembly’s ability to overcome differences.  In the current session, important steps had been taken to accelerate negotiations.  Poland was committed to Council reform and would contribute to discussions, he said, reiterating that its position on the need to grant a non-permanent seat to the Eastern European Group remained valid.  He looked forward to continued negotiations in a positive spirit.

Pakistan’s representative, aligning with the Uniting for Consensus Group, supported the oral decision to continue with Council reform.  Today’s decision was a technical rollover for a continuation in the process, she said, citing the President’s inability to say that a “limited” dialogue had substituted for an intergovernmental process in 2015.  Reform could be achieved only with a genuine consensus.  The agreed objective of intergovernmental negotiations was a negotiated solution with the widest possible political acceptance.  This year had seen a “flawed” process, she said, adding that the Chair’s actions were arbitrary and no attempt had been made to reflect or bridge divergent views.  The process had been marked by confrontation and could not provide the basis for a negotiated solution.  However, the oral decision did acknowledge the need to build on documents given to the President by the Chair.  Pakistan expected more consideration of its views, as outlined in the 11 September letter.  Those who had sought to use procedural manoeuvers to advance efforts would not succeed; that was different than agreeing on substance.  She praised discussion at the Rome meeting as the one bright spot this year, as it outlined that Council reform required compromise.  For its part, Pakistan would draw on the spirit of that meeting to revive the process in the next session.

The speaker from Spain said the Assembly had just adopted its annual technical rollover decision on the subject of Council membership.  Spain had joined consensus in order to participate constructively in the work of the Assembly, but his delegation did not support the content of the decision in full.  There were procedural shortcomings in the text as it was submitted in too much hurry without a full consultation.  There were also serious problems with the content.  The decision overlooked the contributions of the previous sessions of the General Assembly, which had spent more than 20 years discussing the reform issue.  To say that the process was only beginning now was adolescent behaviour.  Spain hoped that the upcoming period of the Assembly would bring forth a constructive negotiation process.

Equatorial Guinea’s delegate, aligning with the African Group, said that the “vast harvest” of resolutions adopted during the sixty-ninth session had reflected the excellent work of the General Assembly President Kutesa.  The current decision was the fruit of the arduous work spearheaded by him and Ambassador Rattray.  Thanking all members for their willingness to listen, he added that the new session would give the international community an opportunity to continue negotiations, building on the legacy of the current decision.  It was a matter of urgent concern to deal with Council reform.  Africa needed to be duly represented with permanent membership in that body, with all the associated privileges.

Chile’s representative stated that the decision just adopted would contribute to finding an appropriate solution to the challenges facing the United Nations.

Egypt’s speaker, aligning with the African and Arab groups, said to sustain the progress achieved by the intergovernmental negotiations process, the process needed to refocus on equitable representation and membership.  The widest political agreement was the best safeguard for advancing the process.  The following phase should aim at solidifying common ground on process and procedures.  Egypt was committed to a membership-driven process that would make the Council more representative while preserving the founding principles of the United Nations.

Turkey’s delegate, associating with the Uniting for Consensus Group, said his Government had always advocated for a more accountable, transparent and effective Council.  Turkey had joined consensus on the oral decision, bearing in mind the text’s technical nature and considering it to be a technical rollover.  Its flexibility in joining consensus did not imply an endorsement of the 31 July letter referenced in the decision, as States had not been consulted before its circulation.  His Government would contribute constructively to negotiations with the expectation that they would be conducted in consultation with all Member States.  A solution was possible and Turkey would continue to work towards a reliable outcome.

The representative of Ecuador said intergovernmental negotiations must continue on the basis of consensus and he welcomed today’s adoption in that context.  The best way to ensure the greatest convergence of positions was for the process to be consensus-driven.  States must bear in mind the positions of all countries in a spirit of mutual respect.

The speaker from Viet Nam welcomed today’s adoption by consensus, an important step mandating the Assembly to advance the reform process.  She applauded the President’s leadership, which had fostered much-needed momentum, and the Chair’s efforts.  During the United Nations’ seventieth anniversary, it was high time to take decisions that would substantively reform the Council.  In that context, she underlined the need to consider each State’s views to ensure that negotiations were structured in an open and transparent manner.

The delegate from the United Republic of Tanzania, associating with the African Group, said while today’s decision represented a collective commitment to Council reform, there were broad differences to resolve before significant progress could be claimed.  He praised the Chair for his commitment to the process.  Statements that had just been delivered had revealed the extent of what remained to be accomplished.  Nonetheless, today’s decision was an important, albeit small, step mandating continued informal meetings.  He praised the Assembly President for achieving the “Kutesa consensus”.

The representative of Mexico, aligning with the Uniting for Consensus Group, said that his country was fully committed to Security Council reform.  In order to make headway, it was necessary that the international community shared a common position.  The reform must be guided by all Member States and not spearheaded by a handful.  Mexico and the Uniting for Consensus Group were not seeking to impose their vision on other members.  Instead, what was necessary was a compromise solution that would bring together the entire membership.  Regretting that some of those who were paying lip service to the reform had not shown any flexibility, he expressed hope that the President of the seventieth Assembly session and the future coordinator of the intergovernmental negotiations would heed to lessons learned thus far.  Impartiality and lack of bias were crucial virtues for those positions.

El Salvador’s speaker said that the reform of the Council was half-synonymous with Greek myth of Sisyphus, who had been condemned to spend his life pushing a rock to the top of the mountain only to find that the rock would fall.  Year after year, those who had worked on the Council reform had found themselves in the same position.  The draft decision adopted today was important because it would provide a structural idea about how to move negotiations forward.  The General Assembly had ownership of the reform process because the world body had pre-eminence over the Council.  The decision contained an appeal to the five permanent Council members to work transparently during the reform process.

Suriname’s delegate said that, in the light of the Organization’s seventieth anniversary, her country reiterated its commitment to the Council reform process, which should be inclusive and balanced and take into account the interests of both developed and developing countries.  While a base document had been presented, it could not be considered to be exclusive and the negotiation process must remain open.  The Council must reflect the contemporary realities of the world and Suriname would participate in that process constructively.

The representative of Argentina, associating with the Uniting for Consensus Group, said his Government would continue to contribute to Council reform and had supported the decision in that context.  It was a technical decision that needed to close off debate on Council reform at the Assembly’s seventieth session.  Indeed, the Assembly had to ensure discussions rolled over to the seventieth session.  That the decision had been adopted by consensus did not reflect unanimous support for all aspects of Council reform or the content of documents mentioned, including the 31 July letter.  In Rome earlier in the year, States had held an “appropriate” discussion of Council reform, in which all States had expressed their views.  He hoped the next intergovernmental negotiations would allow for working on the basis of documents that constituted the “core” of such work, particularly Assembly decision 62/557, which referred to the five aspects of reform.  Discussions must be held in a transparent framework with the goal of achieving consensus.  Argentina would work towards an effective, transparent Council that would take timely decisions.

Rwanda’s speaker, associating with the “L.69” and African groups, praised the Assembly President’s commitment throughout the sixty-ninth session, especially the achievement on Council reform reflected in a formal “L” document.  Today’s decision reflected the efforts by more than 120 States that had worked in tandem to advance the reform process.

The representative of Mauritius, praising the Assembly President for moving negotiations to a text-based process, aligned with both the “L.69” and African groups.  The 31 July letter had been a sound basis for continued intergovernmental negotiations, as it reflected the submissions of more than 120 States.  It should be considered, along with its annex, as a comprehensive whole.  It was crucial to start the text-based negotiation process as soon as possible.

Bhutan’s representative, aligning with statements delivered on behalf of the “L.69” Group, said that the decision adopted today stood in testimony to the priority and importance attached by the international community to Council reform.  It provided a sound basis for the intergovernmental negotiations and was a noteworthy development that put the reform process on an irreversible path.  His country would engage constructively with other delegations in the negotiations.

The speaker from the Philippines said that the year 2015 had witnessed a jump-start on the Security Council reform process.  The unanimously adopted decision was a sound basis for the future work of the intergovernmental negotiations.  The United Nations must reform itself or risk being irrelevant.  The rules that had worked for several decades needed to be more responsive to the challenges of the twenty-first century.  The Philippines supported dialogue and reforms to make the Council more democratic and accountable.

Panama’s delegate, thanking President Kutesa and Ambassador Rattray for making the process consultative and inclusive, recalled her country’s 2007-2008 membership in the Council.  Panama had proposed that, by the year 2045, the Council must consist of 24 members, all of equal standing.  The world deserved a Council that kept it safe by responding swiftly to emerging crises.  Stressing that the status quo was unsustainable and damaging to the credibility of the Organization, she called for creativity, compromise and courage, qualities reflected in the current decision.  Further, the intergovernmental negotiations were the appropriate forum for the process.

For information media. Not an official record.