Aditya Khurana, Dublin City University

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was formed in 1945 and is one of the six main organs of the United Nations. It is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security as directed under Article 24 of the UN Charter. The Security Council makes legally binding decisions for issues relating to armaments, sanctions, international peace and security. Presently, the Security Council comprises fifteen members i.e., five permanent and ten non-permanent members elected for two years, and each member has one vote.

Unsurprisingly, the realities of 1945, the basis of the formation of the Security Council no longer aptly define the current international ‘global’ challenges faced by the world. Hence, reforming the institution is necessary. A reform would entail change in composition or working methods of the council to improve its effectiveness. While there is a consensus that the Security Council reform is required, the extent and nature of such reforms are widely contested and a thorny issue.

BlockReform Proposal
G4 (Japan, Germany, India and Brazil)The G4 calls for a 25 member council, including six new permanent members (Brazil, Japan, Germany, India and two African countries) and an additional three elected seats.
United for Consensus (UfC)UfC (formerly ‘Coffee Club’ ) calls for a 25-member Council, without adding permanent members to the Council, but creating new permanent seats in each region awarded on the discretion of local members
Ezulwini ConsensusThe Ezulwini Consensus represents the Africa bloc and proposes two permanent seats and two additional elected seats for Africa.
Table 1: Major Blocks

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Anan stated that: “No reform of the UN would be complete without reform of the Security Council.” There is also a general framework for the reforms. Based on the UNGA Decision 62/557, there are five attributes for reforming the Security Council and they include: type of membership, veto power, regional representation, size and working methods of the Council, and the relationship of the Council with the UN member States. Major plans for reform proliferated as blocks after years of debate on this issue (See Table 1).

Why should the UN Security Council implement a meaningful reform process?

First, the issue of representation. When the UN was established in 1945, 11 of 51 members were a part of the Security Council, in other words, around 21.6 % of the member states were represented. Decolonization process increased membership of new states in the UN four-fold (i.e. to 195), yet the Security Council remained fixed for only 15 members i.e. 8% of the membership. Given that the percentage of membership represented in the council is significantly lower both in proportion and absolute numbers, many states do not feel adequately represented in the UNSC. There is also the issue of the share of representation. Europe, which accounts for barely ten per cent of the world’s population, still controls sixty per cent of the permanent members of the Security Council seats and at least thirty-three per cent of total seats in the council in any given year.

Second, the issue of legitimacy. The current structure of the Security Council is based on the political power and international order around the end of World War II, which today is simply not representative of the world the UN aims to serve. After 76 years of the end of WWII, the veto is still prevalent and exercised by the then superpowers, and in most cases seems to protect or advance their national interests. Furthermore, the privilege of having a veto by the virtue of winning a war 76 years ago is unjust for other member states of the UN who have grown significantly in terms of economic, political and military power, compared to some of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

Third, the issue of responsibility in maintaining international peace and security needs to be considered as well. Some of the largest contributors to the United Nations both in terms of finances as well as peacekeepers do not have permanent membership at the UN Security Council. For instance, Bangladesh, Rwanda and Ethiopia, among others, are considered to have the highest number of deployed peacekeepers and other personnel with the UN missions. This implies that the countries who are sharing the largest portion of responsibility in dealing on the ground with the challenges of peacekeeping are not part of the key decision-makers concerning threats to international peace and security.

Expanding the members with the veto power in the UN Security Council might not be the only solution, however, there are important options that should be considered. One of these options might include the procedures concerning the use of the veto powers by the permanent members. In “Global Governance and the UN: An Unfinished Journey” Thomas G. Weiss argues that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P-5) can voluntarily restrain their veto powers and restrict them to matters of humanitarian intervention. Recently it has become transparently and abundantly clear that the P-5 has no normative framework or value-based criteria to determine the use of the veto power. In 2017, Russia and China used their veto against draft resolution that would have helped ensure accountability for the use and production of chemical weapons by all parties to the conflict in Syria which shows blatant disregard for Syrian citizens lives. One of the most important responsibilities of the UN is to serve as a global moral compass, a conviction that drove its creation in the aftermath of WWII. Furthermore, we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Hence, the organization needs to rapidly adapt itself to the realities of the current world. Else, it will keep failing on its fundamental mission to stand-up to atrocities against humanity, the sole reason for its justified existence.

The author is a post-graduate student in the Erasmus Mundus International Masters in Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies. This article draws on the author’s research paper for the Politics of the United Nations (LG-5042) module.

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