International Affairs · Law · Politics · Strategy

Reforms of the Security Council: Lost in Translation?

The Security Council is realistically the most important organ in the United Nations. In addition to the primary responsibility of maintaining global peace and security, decisions made by the Security Council are binding on all Member States of the UN. At the same time however, with only five permanent seats with veto power and ten other countries represented at any given time, the council stands as one of the least representative bodies within the UN.

With the Russian Federation’s Ambassador to the UN stating that Russia would not put forth any initiative to facilitate reforms of the Security Council, the state of reforms remains stagnant. Vitaly Churkin was quoted as saying “If the truth be told, we like it the way it is today” when commenting on the UNSC reforms. Russia’s armed intervention in Ukraine however has proven the urgency for a representative and reformed council. Despite condemnation from various countries and the invasion seen as unlawful, international law mechanisms proved unsuccessful in preventing the same as Russia is one of the permanent members and enjoys the veto power. Used 83 times by the United States and 119 by the erstwhile Soviet Union (Russian Federation has voted a ‘no’ 10 times), the veto power effectively stops any resolution right in its tracks.

Since the establishment of the UN in 1945, there have been nation-states, pressure groups, academicians, and scholars calling for a more transparent, accountable, efficient and flexible UN working system. Reforms of the Security Council have focused on size, categories of membership, veto power, working methods and elections procedures for new members. The consistent and continuous divisiveness among member nations on the issue of reforms have made it difficult for a consensus as each country is guided by different interests.

Arguments for reforms began as early as the 1950s following a host of newly independent and decolonized Asian and African nations becoming members of the UN. In 1965, with resolution 1991 A (XVIII), the number of non-permanent members was increased from a mere six to ten members. That however remains the only impactful change to the structure and working of the UNSC till date despite resolutions on working methods being passed.

With Japan and Germany advocating for permanent seats in the 1990’s, countries such as Italy, Brazil, South Africa, India, Egypt, and Nigeria also began their campaigns to advocate for permanent seats on the basis of population, economic status, military prowess, contribution to UN projects and forces etc. Major discussion on reforms and increased rallying for permanent seats saw three main bloc formations on the issue of reforms; the first were known as the ‘Coffee Club’ (later changed to ‘Uniting for Consensus) with Italy, Canada,  Spain, Pakistan etc as its members, the G4 with India, Germany, Japan, Brazil, and the African Union. Broadly, the Coffee Club pushed for creation of more non-permanent seats and a strong resistance to new permanent seats while the G4 and nations that supported them argued for the creation of new permanent seats (on different individual basis). The African Union consistently rallied for two permanent seats as Africa remains the only continent permanently unrepresented in the Security Council. This was based on the Ezulwini Consensus which called for countries to be appointed and chosen by members of the African Union.

Substantial action on reforms and a possible consensus on this issue almost became a reality during the period leading up to the 2005 World Summit. With a clear vision to achieve a solution for the myriad of discussions, then Secretary General Kofi Annan called on all Member States to arrive at a consensus and appointed the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change to aid in the same. In addition to the Panel’s recommendations, each bloc came up with their proposal and attempted to convince fellow member nations so as to get a majority during the voting on resolutions. However, despite concerted efforts, all three resolutions lapsed as each bloc remained adamant on their demands and attempts at compromise failed.

An article published in The Hindu dated 10th May 2014, stated the position of the G4 bloc of Brazil, Germany, India and Japan that delays in implementing the UNSC reforms would diminish the relevance of the United Nations. The G4 issued a joint statement at the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council Reform, stating there could be no progress in the reform process until there was a concrete text as a basis on which the UN member states could embark on a genuine give and take negotiation process.

The issue of reforms seems to be one that has no perceivable solution since there will always be a fundamental clash of interests between the permanent members and the call for reforms, at least in the case of increasing the number of permanent seats. Using the theory of realism of international relations, any reform or step that may be seen as a dilution of the power of permanent seat-holding nations would be easily vetoed. The fact of the matter is, any resolution that could alter the structure of the UNSC substantially will require all permanent members to vote ‘yes’. However, the need for reforms cannot be emphasised enough in an increasingly dynamic international world order.

About the Author


Anushka Kaushik is currently pursuing Journalism from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University and strongly believes in the power of the media to influence change in matter of public policy. She is of the opinion however that consuming media content is as important as having media awareness. Her interest and professional goal lies in the study of international relations and eventually reporting in such matters for print media.  She is currently pursuing her internship with Alexis Centre for Public Policy and International Relations.

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