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The UN General Assembly (UNGA) has just concluded its annual General Assembly in a fractured world facing numerous headwinds-multiplied by conflicts-coups, inflation and debt, climate change, inequality, and gender inequality. Ashraf Patel investigates…

This year, UN Secretary-General (UNSG) António Guterres grouped the war on Ukraine with other conflicts (Niger, Gabon, Sudan, Myanmar) and the climate crises and inequality took centre stage. President Lula of Brazil has emerged as the champion of fighting hunger and inequality and has made innovative proposals in fighting hunger and committed Brazil to this objective.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has also put in a ‘big push for Africa’ and articulated the need for peace, gender equity, and an emphasis that Africa needs to ensure its resources are invested in national industrial development to develop its new common market, the AFCFTA.

Several weeks ago, the G20 as well as BRICS Plus nations also concluded their summits, with core themes from these various global platforms is the realisation of the need for cohesion and an inclusive Multilateralism.

UN Security Council reform faces multiple complexities in its quest for sustainable peace.

There has also been calls for UN Security council reform, viewing it as the ‘holy grail of reform’ in the world order.

The first problem would be the kind of mechanisms required for UNSC reform and how would it work. In a world riddled with geopolitical contestations, just the process of introducing new permanent members of the UNSC will amplify the current fissures in the global system driven along ideological-economic-technological geopolitical tensions. As we saw in the UN General Assembly votes at the UN in the past two years re the Ukraine-Russia conflict, we have a world divided. Will all new nations of a proposed permanent UN Security Council have full veto powers? Is it viable? If so, how will it work? Hence, the calls for UN Security Council reform in this context is misplaced. The call for such reforms, while important for global equity, will face institutional and, above all, realpolitik challenges.

However, the real challenge for the world order is in the ‘real development’ domains such as the need for fair trade (WTO reform), climate change and loss and damage funds, employment and skills development, the mega African debt crisis, and youth and mainstreaming gender. It is here that the best of multilateralism co-operation in the world is required. And resources are short, as under-development and structural poverty, and exclusion generally leads to conflict.

Take a hypothetical scenario where a country such as Morocco is given UNSC veto. If the occupation of Western Sahara issue comes up at the UNSC, and Morocco has a veto power, it could simply block any discussion on this pertinent conflict in its sphere of influence. Many other such scenarios with almost any potential new UNSC nation would face similar challenges at the UNSC. Hence introducing new members of the UNSC is premature and will merely amplify and deepen the existing geo-political and geo-regional contestations and chaos.

When the stakes are high, large powers (the P5) have shown to spend considerable economic, political, and diplomatic-developmental resources to bring to bear on the Developing South and Africa to take certain positions. So, one can infer that when the possibility of permanent new UNSC reform presents itself, there would be a hyper lobbying of this or that nation states being primed for UNSC inclusion further create unfavourable and lopsided incentives to nations, and also ignoring nations most in need.

Another more challenging issue would arise. What criteria should be used to select permanent members of the UN? This question alone will lead to very high contestations in the diplomatic arena, at a time when the real challenge is for nations to prioritise the Development agenda and meeting the UN SDGs. This will have the unintended negative consequences, as many would become engaged in a high level diplomatic contest in lobbying for UNSC membership. One viable mechanism would be to invite regional bodies as well as regional security formations such as the AU, ASEAN, Mercusor, Arab League, Shanghai Co-operation Organisation SCO, etc. to have ‘permanent observer’ status at the UNSC.

Real peace and security is essentially anchored in sustainable development. The core priority for the Global South should be a big push for global multilateralism reforms. Firstly, the IMF, World Bank, and commercial banks need to come up with a ‘new deal’ regarding the debt crisis. The WTO is in dire need of updated rules and a genuinely fair trade regime—especially in agriculture, trade, fisheries, and Intellectual Property. Finally, there is a dire need for the UN COP 28 to agree on actual Climate Change Loss and Damage Funds. These resources will go a long way in assisting the most vulnerable nations and regions in the Global South-North to invest in systems and projects to mitigate climate change and developing disaster management systems.

Finally, it is sad and sobering moment for Africa. When the UN Millennium Development Goals MDGs were announced by the UN in 2000 with much fanfare, it was a time of hope and vision. Today, most African nations have not even met the original UN MDGs, and in many cases are backsliding on core indicators. The AU needs to invest considerable resources in the Development Agenda and implement the AU 2063 vision and take seriously the AU’s ‘Silencing the Guns’ agenda. Local elites, regional formations, corporations, DFIs, and civil society need to connect with the masses and with the UN system to resolve the multitude conflicts and coups. Working with various platforms G20, BRICS Plus can ensure a solid, sustainable green industrialisation pathways that can ensure Africa gets back on track in meeting the basic UN MDGs and SDGs. Time is running out.

Ashraf Patel is research associate at IGD specialising in areas of digital economy, trade, and development justice in the global south.

By Editor