Reforming the United Nations Security Council
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 05 Nov , 2014

(d) The new threats

The international community is facing new and dangerous threats, stemming from international terrorism, WMD proliferation and failed States. Nuclear proliferation has required action by the SC vis-à-vis those States that have withdrawn from the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or have been accused of failing to comply with the obligation to produce fissile material only for peaceful purposes. North Korea and Iran are cases in point. North Korea and the sanctions policy show how the freedom of States to withdraw from the NPT has been curtailed and the principle of consent to enter into international obligations have been reduced.

The G4 are a group of countries who have rapidly growing economies and share the common interest of staking a permanent seat at the UNSC.

(e) The use of force by States

According to the Charter, States are allowed to use armed force only in self-defence. The principle is enshrined in Article 51 and the main moot point is whether anticipatory self- defence is lawful or, on the contrary, may only be exercised after an armed attack has occurred. Contemporary international law doctrine has construed Chapter VII as giving the SC the power to authorize States to resort to armed force whenever a threat to peace occurs. For instance, States may be authorised to use force to prevent or put an end to genocide or to meet a latent threat stemming from an accumulation of WMD.

Current Scenario

The current strength of the council stands at 15 with the bifurcation of non- permanent countries as follows: 3 from Africa, 2 members each from Asia, Western Europe and Latin America & 1 from Eastern Europe, whereas the Permanent 5 are the United States of America, People’s Republic of China, France, the Russian Federation & Great Britain. The non-permanent members are chosen for a 2 year term. Due to growing imbalance and mistrust many reforms have been suggested the three most popular reforms proposed to date are as follows:

G4 Reforms: The G4 are a group of countries who have rapidly growing economies and share the common interest of staking a permanent seat at the UNSC. They comprise of India, Brazil, Japan and Germany. These nations have rapidly growing economies and are large contributors to the United Nations. G4 Countries These nations have proposed the following for restructuring the Security Council: a) 6 more permanent members (4 seats go to the G4 and 2 to African countries) b) The current 10 non-permanent seats expanded to 14 seats.

Uniting for Consensus Reforms: This group of countries also known as ‘Coffee Club’ came together to stop the G4 from getting the permanent seats, they propose the addition of non-permanent members in existence to the current members. This 19-member group comprises of Spain, Italy, Argentina, Mexico & Pakistan amongst others. Their main motto is to ensure that there is regional balance amongst different regions across the world.

The UN now counts 192 members. A situation quite different from its foundation and from that existing in 1963 when the Council was expanded from 11 to 15 members.

African Union (AU) Reforms: The main aim of the 53 country strong African Union is to increase its representation in the Security Council. They have proposed the following changes: a) 6 new permanent members out of which two should go to African nations b) 5 new non-permanent members out of which two would be AU countries.

Is a reform of the SC really necessary and/or feasible?

There are a number of reasons for reforming the SC. First of all, its expansion in membership. The UN now counts 192 members. A situation quite different from its foundation and from that existing in 1963 when the Council was expanded from 11 to 15 members. There are several reasons for reforming the SC. The main ones, which have often been pointed out, are its:

  • Insufficient geographical representation
  • lack of democracy
  • lack of legitimacy for ensuring global governance
  • Poor representation of the international community if compared with its increased powers.

Are there reasons that militate against a reform of the SC? If so, they are difficult to find. The main such reason is that a streamlined SC functions better than a large, expanded body. This is particularly true when important decisions must be taken, involving a long process of consultations among its members. But experience proves that even a lean SC is often stalemated when it has to respond to major crises.

The conclusion must be that the reasons in favour of a SC reform outweigh those against.

Whether a real reform is feasible is quite another question. The reform should involve not only the SC members, but also the right of veto. Other “reforms” may be achieved through day-to-day practice, without amending the Charter. At most, one may conceive of one or more amendments to the Council’s rules of procedure, for instance regarding its working methods. As Jacobs Silas Lund pointed out, “allowing things to remain as they are […] may be a much more realistic option than one might assume”. He points out, mentioning an insider’s opinion, that even the G4 countries fear that the non expansion option might be a possible outcome of the current negotiating effort. Nor is the reform of the right of veto gaining currency. On the other hand it is almost impossible to circumvent the amendment formal procedure by having recourse to a kind of customary amendment through practice. This would be impossible for reforming UN organs. The conclusion is very pessimistic, since “some of the P5 countries are more than happy to see reform moving at near-zero-velocity speed”.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anant Mishra

is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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