A New Age for the United Nations Security Council

Debate has been going on for several years now about the issue of expanding the membership of the United Nations Security Council in order to reflect the changing polarity of the international system; a system where, seemingly, power is being diffused amongst many actors and centralized in several different regions. The dilemma faced is the question of which nations have amassed enough global influence to be considered candidates for permanent membership to the Security Council and the delicate political process that such an expansion would obviously necessitate. Also in question is the issue of whether an expansion of the Council would lend further legitimacy to the UNSC (and by consequence, the United Nations as a whole) or cause the institution to become even more inefficient than it already is. With so many divergent viewpoints represented on the Council, would the outcome be consensus or chaos?

The major candidates being flouted as potential members of the UNSC are India, Brazil, Japan, Germany, and South Africa. Notably, Brazil, India, and South Africa are members of an informal coalition known as the BRICS, a group of rising economic powers whose other two members (Russia and China) already hold seats on the Security Council. While no one can deny that these nations have indeed been accumulating large amounts of political and economic clout over the last two decades, the problem with their inclusion into the UNSC is the balancing of interests between the Western coalition of powers (France, the UK, and the US) and the non-Western coalition (Russia and China). India, Japan, and Germany are all unquestionably allied to the Western powers as liberal, free market democracies. Their inclusion on the Council would cause Russia and China to feel outnumbered in their opposition to what they see as an aggressive expansion of liberal interventionism in internal affairs and a disregard for state sovereignty.

The Council is structured in such a way that every permanent member has veto power over any individual resolution, meaning that resolutions that are not unanimously agreed upon will be unfruitful. A plethora of opinions on the Council could very well lead to a breakdown in what little efficiency the organization is seen as having. In addition, the inclusion of certain nations into the Council would cause specific tensions with others based on their historic relations, most notably China and Japan or India and Pakistan. If efficiency of process is the most valued element of the UNSC, the inclusion of these members does not make sense and would be regressive.

However, the United Nations has not been typically seen as an institution valued for its hard power or efficiency, but rather as a forum (the only truly global forum, in fact) where issues that require the attention of the entire global community are addressed that would not otherwise be mentioned. While the General Assembly represents the purist form of the mandate of the United Nations, the truly consequential dialogue mostly occurs in the upper echelons of the organization, namely the Security Council, which has more unofficial power than even the Office of the Secretary-General. As stated earlier, there is not denying that Brazil, India, Japan, Germany, and the other candidates being talked about as potential members of the UNSC are amassing power at a significant rate and that they will soon emerge as major players in the international system regardless of their inclusion or exclusion from the Security Council. With this in mind, it is most judicious to include these countries in the most authoritative body in the United Nations for practical reasons, as it will lend legitimacy to the already existing system and discourage these new powers from acting unilaterally on issues of global importance. If the UN is to survive and grow in its governance capacity, it is vital that it begin the process of adapting to a new global century.

3 thoughts on “A New Age for the United Nations Security Council

  1. Nice writing you have here. UNSC expansion and reform is long overdue. It’s time for the P5 to give way to additional permanent and non-permanent members, especially since Japan and Germany are getting more powerful and deserving for permanent seats. However, I’m also thinking of only expanding non-permanent seats. They might not have veto powers, but they still represent voices from different regions. In addition, should there be additional permanent members in SC, there will be more decisions and negotiations that will be delayed and/or put into stalemate due to a larger number of countries that must approve and/or agree to gain consensus.

    1. What regions where you thinking as candidates for non-permanent members? Certainly regions such as Africa, Southeast Asia, or South America are typically underrepresented in these sorts of organizations and decision-making processes.

      1. I am from Southeast Asia and I feel like we are under-represented. Those you have mentioned are also good, especially Africa. I would also like to include Arab countries as well. I’ve been living under the rock lately, and I just came across the news that France now holds the presidency for UNSC starting this month. Hmm. The president has lots in hands, what with Syria, Mali, Lebanon and Somalia issues.

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