By Mike Trickey, National Post, Wednesday, September 29, 1999
United Nations - Canada's ambassador to the United Nations says Kofi Annan, the organization's secretary-general, and the five permanent members of the Security Council are increasingly excluding the other 10 members of the council from the decision-making process.
In a candid interview, Robert Fowler said the level of frustration Canada has experienced during the first nine months of its two-year term on the Security Council has exceeded expectations.
"I'm not surprised there are frustrations. We certainly knew there would be. Despite that, they have been more acute than we had anticipated."
Mr. Fowler said the five permanent members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - care more about protecting their privileged status than about relieving human suffering. He chided Mr. Annan for encouraging a two-tier Security Council.
Mr. Fowler's first experience with that came in February, while Canada was chair of the council and was excluded, along with the other nine rotating non-permanent members, from a meeting Mr. Annan convened in his chambers for representatives of the permanent members to discuss the weapons-inspection crisis in Iraq.
"I told him privately [afterward] that I thought this shouldn't be," Mr. Fowler said. "There are 15 members of the council. Admittedly there are five who are always there - but he has to treat us as equally important."
A couple of months later Mr. Annan again called the permanent members together, this time to discuss the crisis in Sierra Leone, and again Mr. Fowler objected.
Earlier this month, Mr. Annan did it again, convening the five prior to the arrival of Ali Alatas, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, to discuss strategy on deploying international troops into East Timor.
Mr. Fowler called him on it publicly during formal Security Council consultations.
"We just said we could not understand how this was conducive to the effective operation of the Security Council," he says.
"I've said to the secretary-general that who he decides to have over for cognac after dinner is none of my business, but summoning the five to his boardroom to ask, 'What will I say to Ali Alatas this afternoon about a peacekeeping operation in Timor?', when the 10 people who were elected to take those decisions are excluded, and only five people who have never been elected are included, it strikes me that something is wrong with the machinery."
Serving with Canada this year as non-permanent members of the council are Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Gabon, Gambia, Malaysia, Namibia, the Netherlands and Slovenia.
The Dutch and Slovenians are in virtual lock-step with Canada in their Human-security approach to foreign policy and in their frustration over the major powers' grip on council decision-making.
"Democracy has always had a limited place in the Security Council," says Danilo Turk, the Slovenian ambassador, who has been pushing for reforms to reduce the power of the five.
"It's not certain that the current permanent five would even succeed if they had to run for election today."
The five permanent members meet regularly, and formally enough that they have a rotating chair, to thrash out their differences in private and then take their agreed position back to the others as a fait accompli.
"This power of the permanent members is deeply, deeply entrenched," says Mr. Fowler. "There are huge differences among them, but the one binding, unifying similarity is that they all have enormous privilege to protect. Whatever their differences, and they are significant, this over-arching desire of preserving their specialness is ever-present."
The Canadian ambassador said he is also frustrated by the increasingly secretive nature of Security Council debate.
Rather than debating publicly around the horseshoe-shaped table in Security Council chambers, as was the norm up to a decade ago, the council now spends more than 80% of its meeting time in an adjoining anteroom that is off-limits to everyone not on the council.
"When I was here in the '70s, that room didn't exist," said Mr. Fowler, who added that behind closed doors, the power of the permanent five becomes even greater.
In Its 54 years of existence, the United Nations has never managed to formally adopt Security Council rules of procedure and still relies on "provisional" rules.
The permanent five will go through all sorts of contortions to keep items they object to off the agenda.
Superficially, it appears the majority could force the permanent five members to go along, at least in procedural discussions.
Their right to veto does not extend to procedural rules, and nine votes are all that is needed to approve a rule of procedure. However, before voting on a rule of procedure, the council must first vote to determine whether a particular issue is procedural, at which point any of the permanent five can claim that it is in fact political and veto its adoption.
"So," said Mr. Fowler with a resigned smile, "the rules are what they want them to be."
Another major point of frustration for Canada is the inability of the UN to rapidly respond to international crises, a failing exacerbated by a U.S. law that prohibits it from taking any decision on involvement in a UN intervention mission until Congress has had two weeks to approve it.
"We've been preaching rapid reaction for over five years now, and we're now faced with a situation where the council cannot react to anything without a 14-day delay," said Mr. Fowler, echoing a speech by Lloyd Axworthy, the Foreign Affairs Minister, to the UN General Assembly last week.
"A built-in 14-day fuse is not an ideal situation."
Mr. Fowler said the UN's current ad hoc and underfunded response is inadequate and says that situation could be improved if the U.S. would pay its nearly $2-billion in overdue arrears - a total that represents nearly 60% of all UN dues outstanding.
The UN's inability to pay in full for peacekeeping means Canada is owed about $30-million for its contributions.
It is understood that Mr. Axworthy shares the ambassador's frustrations with the permanent five and the UN process. Mr. Fowler, whose sister Diane is married to Romeo LeBlanc, the retiring Governor-General, is a sophisticated player in the Ottawa bureaucracy. He was deputy defence minister before moving to the UN. He is unlikely to have spoken so candidly without the approval of Mr. Axworthy.
Despite the frustrations, Mr. Fowler said it remains important that Canada continue to make its regular appearances on the Security Council (this is Canada's sixth two-year term) because it is able to effect positive change.
He pointed to the progress made in bringing Mr. Axworthy's human security campaign to the forefront of Security Council agenda and the positive response to two open Security Council debates that Canada convened on the issue in February.