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

Posted on October 16, 2013 in GlobeScope

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.