AS EXPECTED, SA has again won a seat on the United Nations Security Council. With a security council almost unprecedented in its heavyweight make-up, the potential for major, innovative reform exists, and not only of the institution but also its approach to the critical issues that pack the global agenda. Still, there is the almost equal risk that such heavyweight composition may see a return to the incapacitated, paralysed council of the Cold War years.
S A , if it seeks to lead among these leaders, will need a plan. With two-thirds of the security council’s time taken up with Africa-related issues, S A , by dint only of its regional position, is in the relatively favourable position of likely having its voice heard and some deference given.
But does S A have any plan to leverage its seat to enhance its facilitation role in Zimbabwe, where a proposed referendum on a new constitution and elections are likely to coincide with the term of SA’s seat and come up for council deliberation?
Or will we see a reprise of the 2008 position, when S A seemed intent only on ring-fencing Zimbabwe from security council scrutiny?
And what of South Sudan’s referendum on secession set for January? If Khartoum aborts or delays it, as seems possible, experts predict a return to full-blown conflict. Even if Khartoum honours its commitments, there is the possibility that it will, as in 2004, regard the focus on North-South peace as an opportunity to inflame violence in Darfur. Will S A be looking to deftly co-ordinate UN and African Union (AU) approaches, averting blind spots and delivering complementary, not competitive, approaches?
How will S A square its refusal to contribute troops to the AU’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia with an ascendant role in the security council seized with this issue? Then there are impending elections, potential fire- starters, in trouble spots such as Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
On issues of nuclear proliferation, and with increasing concern about the threats posed by Iran and North Korea, will SA , as the only state to have renounced its nuclear capacity voluntarily, have anything to say? Brazil’s and Turkey’s attempt earlier this year to win agreement for a deal that would lift sanctions on Iran ultimately failed at the security council, with even Russia and China voting for renewed sanctions. But it did point towards a role for emerging powers as potentially innovative global leaders.
It is an example on which S A might reflect. Its previous tenure on the security council was controversial for its votes preventing condemnation of Myanmar and Zimbabwe. This time S A might look to formulate alternative proposals, putting draft resolutions on the table knowing they’ll be defeated but requiring established powers to do so publicly and face the fallout.
A good place to start might be the International Criminal Court. Many African states are incensed at what they perceive to be an anti-African bias. If S A is to safeguard the court against this opposition it might think of trying to use the security council’s powers of referral to the court to place other compelling situations — the West Bank, Iraq or Afghanistan — before the court.
Finally, S A doesn’t want to appear expedient on human rights issues, as it sometimes did during its previous term. Its claim to participation at the global helm rests not on it being an economic powerhouse or among the most populous nations. Rather it relies on regional representivity and on its diminishing, but still existent, moral authority.
Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s former foreign minister, writing in the influential Foreign Affairs magazine, suggests S A ’s moral authority may mean that it, more than any other emerging power, undercuts universal norms and values when it fails to uphold them.
This is part of his broader argument that the inclusion of emerging powers at the helm will hurt global governance as these states more or less explicitly oppose the idea of a strong international regime governing issues like human rights, collective defence of democracy, the environment and global health. Will S A prove him wrong? The next few years will tell.
– Fritz is the director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.