Reforming the UN Security Council

The United Nations Security Council arguably comes closer to serving as a global governing body than any other organization in modern times.  Charged with the maintenance of international peace, the UNSC possesses the power to establish international sanctions, to authorize military action and issue binding resolutions which all nations signatory to the UN Charter must follow. With such great power, however, comes great responsibility and, naturally, copious amounts of criticism.  Much in the same vein as criticisms about the United Nations in general, the Security Council has been accused of being ineffective, prone to inaction and unrepresentative of modern geopolitical realities.

What many people on the Tufts campus are unaware of is that proposals for UN Security Council reform have been put forth so that the body may reflect 21st century realities.  Professor Ian Johnstone, from the Fletcher School of International Law and Diplomacy, elucidated on various proposals and his own suggestions for the best course of reform, in a talk given to celebrate UN Day at Tufts.  According to the Professor, each proposal focuses on expanding the membership of the Security Council but varies on the number of permanent seats, which countries should hold these permanent spots and the issue of the veto.

Currently the Security Council consists of fifteen members; five permanent seats wielding veto-powers and ten non-permanent members who rotate every two years by election from the General Assembly.  The current permanent members are the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China and each country has the power to veto a Security Council Resolution with just their vote alone.  Usage of the veto-power has historically led to inaction and deadlock on the Security Council on certain issues; a situation which has caused much frustration among other member states, especially those who are viewed as rising powers.

In 2005, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called upon the UN to reach a consensus on the issue of Security Council Reform.  Among the ideas put forth was a proposal which would expand the permanent membership of the Security Council to reflect changing geopolitics.  Countries typically discussed for these new positions are Brazil, Germany, Japan, India, and South Africa since they are seen as rising powers and large contributors to UN efforts.  Professor Johnstone also argued the case for including Egypt in this list, as the Security Council would lose legitimacy in the Arab or Muslim world without a country from the Arab League or Muslim world on the UNSC.

This proposal, however, has stalled due to counter-efforts by regional rivals of the potential candidates listed above. Argentina, Italy, Canada, Colombia and Pakistan have formed the Uniting for Consensus group, which proposes adding only non-permanent members to the Security Council. Their concerns gained support from the current Security Council when China declared that it would never vote to put Japan on the UNSC, thus halting the process of reform.  Even today, efforts at the UN have produced no substantive results on the topic.

Professor Johnstone concluded his remarks with some sound advice for President Obama about UN Security Council reform.  Citing classic international relations theory, Johnstone suggested that the United States push reform of the Security Council now to institutionalize its power in this body before its world power has declined too far.  Such reform is also necessary, in my opinion, to ensure the survival of the Security Council as an internationally legitimate and meaningful organization.

This post was written by Quinn Connors, a senior at Tufts University majoring in International Relations.


About unagbtufts

Quinn Connors is a senior at Tufts University majoring in International Relations and concentrating on the Middle East. Seoho Lee is a senior majoring in Political Science and International Relations concentrating on East and Southeast Asia. They are currently serving as Student Ambassadors for the United Nations Association of Greater Boston.
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