UNSC Reform : Need And Challenges

Context: India has been at the forefront of efforts at the UN to push for an urgent long-pending reform of the Security Council, emphasizing that it rightly deserves a place at the UN high table as a permanent member.

About UNSC

  • The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations.
  • Like the UN as a whole, the Security Council was created following World War II to address the failings of a previous international organization, the League of Nations, in maintaining world peace.
  • The Security Council held its first session on 17 January 1946.

Key Issues Encompassing Reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)

  • Categories of membership,
  • The question of the veto held by the five permanent members,
  • Regional representation,
  • The size of an enlarged Council and its working methods, and
  • The Security Council-General Assembly relationship. 

Any reform of the Security Council would require the agreement of at least two-thirds of UN member states in a vote in the General Assembly, and must be ratified by two thirds of Member States. All of the permanent members of the UNSC (which have veto rights) must also agree.

Role and Powers

  • The Security Council is the United Nations’ most powerful body, with “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.
  • Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions.
  • It is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states.
  • Under the UN Charter, all Member States are obligated to comply with Council s decisions.

Membership

  • It has 15 Members, and each member has one vote.
  • The council has five permanent members (P-5) United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France. These permanent members can veto any substantive Security Council resolution, including those on the admission of new member states or candidates for Secretary-General.
  • The Security Council also has 10 non-permanent members, elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. The body’s presidency rotates monthly among its members. These ten non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms.

Note: India has been elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for seven terms (a total of 14 years).

Why is there a need for UNSC reform?

  • The debate about reforming the UN Security Council is about as old as the UN itself.
  • One of the most contested issues under this debate has been the veto power of P-5 which they assigned to themselves under UN charter.
  • Over time the chorus for UNSC reform has grown significantly and at present, it includes various other aspects besides veto power such as regional representation, membership reform, procedural reforms etc.

Progress in the Reform so far

  • In 1965, the number of elected, non-permanent seats without veto power was extended from six to ten, bringing the Council up to its current configuration. This remains the only Security Council reform since its formation.
  • In 2015 UNGA adopted a framework text for further discussion on UNSC reform by means of an Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN).
  • This indicates most of the members support the restructuring of UNSC.

Arguments in Favour Of UNSC Reform

Regional Representation
  • Supporters of UNSC reform claim that there is a huge European bias in P-5 due to the presence of the United Kingdom and France including Russia.
  • While regions like Latin America, Caribbean group, Arabs and Africa do not have a single permanent member.
  • Similarly, there is a western bias in UNSC.
  • As China is the only Asian country among the five permanent members of UNSC.
  • Thus a large chunk of the population and many different regions of the world remain unrepresented in the permanent membership of UNSC.
  • It seems highly unfair that the whole continent of Africa does not have a single member in P-5 despite the fact that most of the affairs of the body concern this part of the globe only.
  • So regions like Africa and Latin America and others will have to be accommodated in the reformed UNSC.
Changing Geopolitics
  • The victors of World War II shaped the United Nations Charter in their national interests, dividing the permanent seats, and associated veto power, among themselves.
  • It has been 72 years since the foundation of UNSC. During this period, the geopolitical realities have changed drastically, but the Council has changed very little.
  • How can we have a Security Council in 2015 which still reflects the geopolitical architecture of 1945?
  • The rapidly changing world of the 21st century is characterised by a shifting influence and power from west to east and a gradual shift from unipolarity to multi-polarity.

The United States is no longer the dominant economic and political power it once was.

All G-4 nations are bigger economies than Russia, France and Britain.

They possibly have bigger global footprints.

Japan and Germany, the main defeated powers in WWII, are now the UN’s second- and third-largest funders respectively, while Brazil and India are two of the largest contributors of troops to UN-peace-keeping missions.

It is only appropriate that UNSC accommodate this changing geopolitics through reform in its membership to make this body more representative.

Question of Veto

All five permanent members of UNSC enjoy a veto power .

Veto is a kind of negative vote by a permanent member that prevents the adoption of a proposal, even if it has received the required overall votes by the members.

Sadly, veto power is grossly misused by the permanent members in their own national interest.

E.g. out of 24 vetoes over the last 20 years, 15 have been used by the United States to protect Israel.

This also badly affects the conduct of the business of UNSC as many important proposals involving substantive issues get blocked due to use of veto by any of the five permanent members.

Clearly, the use of the veto itself must be reviewed. One nation alone must not be allowed to block the UNSC s consensus.

One of the demands by those calling for reforms is the elimination of veto .

There are also alternative suggestions like duel veto i.e.

veto will only be effective if it is used by two permanent members instead of just one.

Now, the time has come that a threshold of members to collectively enforce the veto is discussed.

Question of veto is also concerned with any future expansion of UNSC as veto power is jealously guarded by permanent members and they are averse to any sharing of veto power.

This has created a hurdle in membership reform in UNSC.

Transparency and Working Methods

While the expansion of the Security Council has been hotly debated across the world, debate on the working methods of the Council, an equally important aspect of reform to many member states, has attracted less attention.

It is true that UNSC has been functioning in the most non-transparent and non-consultative way.

The undemocratic nature of UNSC within the supposedly democratic UN has compromised the overall credibility of the United Nations.

G-4 and India’s  Quest For A Permanent Seat

In recent decades, India has been very vocal in demanding for a permanent seat in UNSC. It is also part of G-4, a group of 4 nations (India, Brazil, Germany and Japan) to lobby for permanent positions on the UNSC or at least to make the council more representative.

Many member-states have been pledging support for our aspiration for permanent membership.

Several P-5 countries have also announced their support.

At present, China is the only P-5 member opposing India s bid.

G-4 wants to expand the permanent seats in the UNSC to 10 to include 6 new members G-4 nations apart from one seat to Africa and one seat to Arabs.

Arguments in Favour Of India S Bid for a Permanent Seat

  • India is the 2nd most populous nation, the 3rd largest economy in PPP terms, a responsible nuclear power and the largest democracy in the world.
  • India is a founding member of the UN, and it has been the temporary member of the UNSC for 7 terms.
  • India has provided the 2nd largest number of troops in peacekeeping missions.
  • In Africa alone 6000 of our troops have been stationed under UN peacekeeping missions.
  • India has argued in UN that troops contributing nations should have greater say in UNSC.
  • India enjoys the backing of major powers including four permanent members other than China and those of African Union, Latin America, middle-eastern countries and other LDCs from different parts of the globe.
  • India has been a responsible power and it has contributed significantly in global peace efforts.
  • India rescued not only Indians but also many persons from other countries including Pakistan and USA from war ravaged Yemen and South Sudan under its operation Rahat and Sankat Mochan respectively.

Obstacles in UNSC reform

  • The P-5 will never agree to give up their veto right, nor will they agree to accord this right to any other country
  • United States and China are opposed to any major restructuring
  • France has reiterated India s view of vet for additional members
  • United Kingdom has supported G-4 as new permanent member without Veto power
  • Russia, while not opposing expansion has supported two or three classes of UNSC members. The G-5 with veto powers, G-4 permanent members without the veto and whoever else may be elected by the General Assembly.
  • There is lack of unity and difference of views in terms of reform agenda among G-4 members also their regional rivals are opposed to the G-4 becoming permanent members.
  • Any changes in the structure of UNSC will require amendment in the UN charter that will have to be signed and ratified by two third majority of UNGA membership and it will also require concurrence of current P-5 members. Veto of even one permanent member can do away with Indian dream.

Way Forward

In recent times the credibility of UNSC has suffered a severe blow as it has been ineffective and inefficient in tackling the conflicts in different parts of the world such as Syria, Ukraine etc.But, still the framework text for negotiation was a welcome step and it has set the reform negotiations on an irreversible path.G-4 has been very accommodative in its demands as it is willing to forego veto rights in near future..

Conclusion

No other multilateral body in the world is more in need of reform than the UNSC as it is still constituted in accordance with the geopolitical architecture of 1945. The debate on expansion of UNSC has been going on for quite some time now yet a consensus is still eluding the international community and permanent members. It is high time to transform words into action and take a decision on the way forward based on the wishes of majority of the UN membership.