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The United Nation Security Council Membership Reforms Will Reach A Deadlock Without Compromises: A Critique

By Antara Desai and Rohit Deshpande:

Since the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, UN member states and Secretary Generals have repeatedly attempted to reform the organization. The general trend has been that the members have considered new reform proposals every 5 to 10 years. The debate on the reform of the Security Council has largely revolved around increasing the membership of the Security Council (both permanent and non-permanent) to reflect the changing realities of the world.


In the decades of the 50s and the 60s, the time when the world was being decolonised, there was a steady influx of new member states into the United Nations General Assembly. The attempts to increase the membership of the Security Council were however rebuffed by the great powers. By 1963 though, the calls were two loud to ignore and in 1965 the UNGA resolution ‘1991 A (XVIII)’ was passed which increased the non permanent membership of the UNSC from six to ten.

By 1992, Germany and Japan had become the second and third largest financial contributors to the UN and were pressing for a permanent seat. This in addition to their contribution to the peacekeeping troops, especially in the Gulf war made them strong contenders. Other industrialised nations like Italy also felt that they deserved a permanent seat in the UNSC and opposed the proposals that pitched for Germany’s inclusion.

Within the Permanent five (p-5), the Chinese staunchly opposed the entry of Japan and were not in favour of expansion of the Council. Russia largely maintained a similar position. The United States supported the inclusion of Japan but was against a Council of more than 20 members. It opposed the inclusion of Germany.

The Razali plan was the first comprehensive reform plan suggested by ‘Razali Ismael’ a Malaysian. The plan proposed the addition of five permanent and four non permanent seats. One developing state from Africa, Latin America and Asia would get a new permanent seat. The remaining two permanent seats were to be filled by two leading/developed countries. The non permanent seats were to be filled by one state from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Africa.

The plan did not however eventually see the light of day and was shelved but it led to a resolution in the General Assembly which stipulated that any amendments with reference to expansion of the Security Council would need at least two thirds majority to pass.

Kofi Annan proposed another plan suggesting that the expansion of the Security Council should be based on two criteria: equitable geographical representativeness and the respective state’s contribution to the UN. His report had two models enshrined in it: Model A and Model B.

Model A proposed three new non permanent seats and six permanent seats. The six permanent seats would be divided as follows: two each to Africa and Asia Pacific, one each to Eastern Europe and Americas. Model B on the other hand proposed an entirely new type of seat altogether. This seat would entitle a member state to serve tenure of four years in the Council and the outgoing members would be allowed to be re elected. The plan talked about a new concept called as ‘indicative voting’ wherein there would be an informal vote on a given issue without Veto and then again a formal vote in the way it is done now. He was of the opinion that doing this would make the P-5 more accountable.

The four emerging powers, Japan, India, Germany and Brazil proposed the G — 4 plan. Japan and Germany were the second and third largest contributors to the UN by 1993 and they felt that getting a permanent seat in the council was necessary. India on the other hand had long had the reputation of a moral state and is one of the largest troop contributors to the UN. India has, in the first decade of the 21st century, seen a phenomenon growth in its economy and is the second largest economy in Asia (PPP terms). These four countries proposed a plan that included the creation of six new permanent and four non permanent seats. To be distributed equitably as suggested in Kofi Annan’s plan A and B.

The member states in the ‘Uniting for Consensus’ group have been opposed to the inclusion of the G-4 member states and they include the likes of France, Pakistan, (these two countries are the voice of the group), China etc. They advocate and rally behind a model akin to Kofi Annan’s model B which according to them would make the Council more democratic and would promote accountability. They were pushing for frequent rotation of the seats and for equitable representation. Their plan involved expansion of the council to 25 members. There would be no expansion in the number of permanent seats and the other 20 non permanent seats would be distributed as such: six for Africa, five from Asia, four from Latin America, three from Western Europe and two from Eastern Europe.

The African group is of the opinion that the present Council is largely undemocratic and Africa is under represented. They hope to address the issue of the gap and imbalance between the major powers, emerging powers and the lesser states- many of which are in Africa. Their plan increased the membership of the Council to 26 members. The seat distribution was as follows: two non permanent and permanent seats for Africa and Asia each. The African Union would decide who would be eligible and entitled to get the African seats. According to this plan, newly inducted members would enjoy full Veto rights.

The charter of the United Nations which basically outlines the character of the organisation is a product of some hard bargaining between the US, UK and the erstwhile Soviet Union. The representatives of these three countries brought three very contrasting positions to the table. The United States initially wanted a Council consisting of ‘Four Policemen- US, UK, Soviet Union and China’ who would be tasked with the responsibility of enforcing peace worldwide. A separate Executive Council consisting of the Four Policemen and six to seven other states would deal with non military matters. The British on the other hand envisaged a UN with regional councils for Asia, Europe and Americas where regional problems would be solved regionally and every country need not poke their nose in every other countries business. The Soviets preferred a direct alliance with the US and the UK.

The Razali plan, uniting for consensus, G4, Kofi Annan’s Model A and B, the Ezulwini consensus, Italy’s and Panama’s plan all call for equitable geographical distribution. All the above mentioned plans talk about increasing the membership either in the permanent or non-permanent category. One must understand that originally when the council was formed it wasn’t meant to be totally representative. It was meant to be a body of countries that had the economic and military muscle to enforce peace by any means necessary. It was never meant to be a democratic body based on the principles of equality. All the above mentioned plans talk about expansion based on fairness and egalitarian values. Ideally all the plans make valid points but ignore the original purpose for which the council was created.

One might argue that the council should have the geographically equitable representation to ensure that at least the voices of all regions are heard. This can be ensured by formation of recommendatory committees within the council akin to the standing committees in the Indian parliament which would serve as a guiding voice for the conscience of the decision makers. The problem of grid locking dominated the council’s discussions during the cold war era and adding another member with a veto rights can possibly make the situation worse.

Given all these considerations, the important fact remains that for any new country to become a permanent member of the UNSC, it requires the consent of the P — 5. If at all the P- 5 concede to allowing the admission of a new permanent member to the UNSC, it will be largely based on their own interest rather than the collective good. It may be more viable to look into reforming the expansion and tenures of the non permanent members to make the body as a whole, more democratic.

This process would take sufficient time and would require lots of negotiation and deliberation. Most importantly, inclusion of any country is likely to face opposition from some or the other front. Additionally, the groups pressing for their own inclusion or some reform in UNSC membership are themselves divided. Not all the countries within the group support the inclusion of the same country. The P-5 too is divided in their views on who should be given membership in the UNSC. For instance, while the USA is more inclined to support individual countries claims to membership such as India or Japan, other members of the P -5 are more supportive of group claims such as those of the Uniting for Consensus Group.

For any progress to take place with regard to UNSC membership reforms, the member countries, groups and individual countries contesting a seat will have to make compromises to reach a consensus. Without this, the debates on reform will reach a deadlock.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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