SA’s UN seats hold no sway

G5 na­tions still rule with veto rights

Finweek English Edition - - Economic trends & analysis - BY HOWARD PREECE howardp@fin­

SOUTH AFRICA now holds two of the world’s seem­ingly most im­por­tant of­fices. • On the global eco­nomic/fi­nan­cial front it has taken over the chair of the Group of 20 na­tions. The G20, which has its roots in the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund, com­prises the G7 (the tra­di­tional lead­ing in­dus­trial na­tions) and a spread of other ma­jor de­vel­oped and emerg­ing mar­ket economies.

The G20 was formed in 1999, es­sen­tially in the wake of the “Asian con­ta­gion” eco­nomic cri­sis.

The group has been chaired by Canada, In­dia, Mex­ico, Ger­many, China and Aus­tralia be­fore SA’s ac­ces­sion to that seat in Novem­ber 2006.

Next up will be Brazil. • On the po­lit­i­cal front, SA this year be­came a mem­ber of the “in­ner cir­cle” of the United Na­tions – the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. So this coun­try sits at the top ta­bles in­ter­na­tion­ally.

But how much, ul­ti­mately, do th­ese ap­par­ently im­pres­sive ku­dos of of­fice mat­ter to South Africa?

Does SA’s role at the G20 prom­ise any di­rect or in­di­rect ben­e­fits?

Will SA be able to ex­er­cise any real in­flu­ence over the ac­tiv­i­ties and or­gan­i­sa­tion of the world econ­omy? Short an­swer is “no”. And po­lit­i­cally, just what gen­uine power – if any – comes with a seat on the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil? For SA, vir­tu­ally none. Start with the G20. Fi­nance Min­is­ter Trevor Manuel is cur­rently in the chair, but he will ro­tate the po­si­tion with Re­serve Bank Gov­er­nor Tito Mboweni dur­ing SA’s year of of­fice.

Manuel has al­ready made plenty of head­lines.

But, as with the UN, it’s cru­cial to dis­tin­guish be­tween what gets said and what gets done.

Manuel has called – as he has been do­ing for many years, way be­fore he sat in the G20 chair – for ma­jor re­forms at both the IMF and the World Bank.

He has long urged a re­duced vot­ing role for the United States and much more say for poorer na­tions.

Well, he has some lim­ited agree­ment from the US – but not ex­actly on the lines Manuel wants.

Steven Wise­man re­ported last year in the New York Times that the Bush Ad­min­is­tra­tion strongly favoured a shake-up of vot­ing rights in the IMF.

But what the US specif­i­cally called for was big­ger roles for China, South Korea, Turkey and Mex­ico, among oth­ers.

Im­plic­itly, the other side of the equa­tion the US favoured was a re­duc­tion in the rights of Bri­tain and France.

In other words, the IMF should mir­ror more closely the mod­ern world, not that of its found­ing in Bret­ton Woods just be­fore the end of the Sec­ond World War in 1945.

The US is, arith­meti­cally any­way, much closer to the right lines than Manuel, who is nat­u­rally keen to press hard­est for Africa’s case.

How­ever, Africa’s share of the world econ­omy has gone nowhere – but Asia’s con­tri­bu­tion has grown im­mensely, though only back to where it was some 200 years ago.

In other words, Manuel will get plenty of me­dia cov­er­age from his time in the chair of the G20 – Mboweni less so, be­cause good cen­tral bankers work that way – but will surely have lit­tle or noth­ing in the end to show for it.

There will be no im­me­di­ate prac­ti­cal re­wards for South Africa. But, vi­tally, the more this coun­try is seen be­ing the states­man on the big stage, the more op­por­tu­ni­ties it has in­di­rectly to at­tract for­eign fi­nan­cial and busi­ness con­fi­dence.

And what about the place on the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil? Don’t get car­ried away by this. It gives SA at least one fac­tor in com­mon with Al­ge­ria, Be­larus, Bul­garia, Hon­duras and Ye­men, among many other coun­tries.

Th­ese na­tions all have past or present mem­ber­ship of the Coun­cil.

SA’s am­bas­sador to the UN is Du­misani Ku­malo.

So far all the at­ten­tion he has won is con­dem­na­tion for fol­low­ing China and Rus­sia to keep the UN from “in­ter­fer­ing in the in­ter­nal af­fairs” of the bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ship con­trol­ling Myan­mar (Burma).

In any case, in the Coun­cil it’s the five per­ma­nent mem­ber na­tions that re­ally count.

They are the United States, Rus­sia, Bri­tain, France and China.

Th­ese are the na­tions that have veto rights.

As with the IMF, the spe­cial po­si­tion of the US and the “big five” gen­er­ally re­lates to the per­ceived global power struc­ture when the UN was founded in 1945.

Well over half the 192 mem­bers of the UN have held, and/or are now hold­ing, one of the seats on the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. It’s hardly, there­fore, an exclusive club. The cru­cial and ob­vi­ously con­tentious veto power of the “big five” does mat­ter, not tem­po­rary mem­ber­ship of the full Coun­cil.

Bot­tom line is that al­though mem­ber­ship of the Coun­cil might seem a ma­jor coup for SA, it re­ally doesn’t mean much.

Does any­one re­mem­ber, for in­stance, Zam­bia’s three times in of­fice (1969-70, 1979-80 and 1987-88) or that Zim­babwe has twice sat on the Coun­cil, in 1983-84 and 1991-92?

Con­demned for his stance on Burma. Du­misani Ku­malo

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