According to the United Nations, the UN Security Council was designed “for the maintenance of international peace and security. It has 15 Members, and each Member has one vote. Under the Charter, all Member States are obligated to comply with Council decisions.” Of the 15 Security Council members, only 5 are permanent members: these nations are the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia. These 5 members have veto power, allowing them to veto any resolution with which they disagree. The remaining 10 nations are elected for two-year-terms, primarily based on region: Africa has 3 seats, the Asia-Pacific region has 2 seats, Latin America and the Caribbean area have 2 seats, Eastern Europe has 1 seat, and Western Europe/“Others” have 2 seats. The 10 non-permanent members for 2018 are Bolivia, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, and Sweden. The presidency of the Security Council rotates between the different members, changing each month.
Why does the UN Security Council (UNSC) matter? Here are a few reasons:
1. The Security Council’s word is final on international matters. This means that, theoretically, a nation must comply with the UNSC’s resolutions.
2. The UNSC recommends the appointment of a new UN Secretary General to the General Assembly. Therefore, the selection of any UN Secretary General can be vetoed by a nation holding veto power.
3. The UNSC can authorize military action against a state if deemed necessary, but any action must be taken by the military forces of national governments because the UN only has peacekeeping forces.
What are some of the criticisms of the UNSC?
1. Having nations with veto powers in the council makes it difficult to pass resolutions. In 2017, the UNSC was unable to pass a resolution to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria because Russia used its veto. The representative of Liechtenstein also voiced his disapproval of the UNSC’s inability to pass a resolution to quell the conflict in Aleppo, Syria.
2. The UNSC is not geographically inclusive. For example, none of the 5 permanent members (who hold veto power) are from the continents of South America or Africa.
Currently, due to these criticisms, several proposals to improve the UNSC are being discussed. The most prominent is the expansion of the UNSC to include more permanent members, along with potentially expanding the non-permanent seats so that the whole Security Council would include 25 member states. Reflecting how much the world has changed in the decades following the UNSC’s formation, the four nations pushing the most for permanent seats are Japan, India, Brazil, and Germany. Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil all have top 10 economies according to GDP, demonstrating that they have become powerful nations since the end of World War II. These four countries, known as the G4, support one another; however, they face great opposition from neighbors and veto-holding UNSC members. Only the UK, France, and Russia support the G4’s ascension into the UNSC. The USA, on the other hand, has changed its views throughout the years. The Clinton administration supported Germany and Japan becoming permanent UNSC members while the Bush administration supported only Japan’s ascension to the UNSC. Both nations are allies of the USA, voting along with the USA in most cases. Since the USA’s views on UNSC expansion change with each administration, however, it becomes difficult to determine the nation’s true views. Another potential way to change the UNSC is to require multiple (at least two) vetoes in order to reject a resolution.
Some critics argue that the expansion of the UNSC is not in the USA’s favor because it greatly reduces the power the USA has. A UNSC resolution needs a ⅔ majority to pass. Some argue the following: if more nations join the UNSC, the USA’s vote loses influence because the USA would only have 1/25 votes (roughly 4% of the vote) instead of its regular 1/15 votes (roughly 6.67%). They argue that an expansion of the UNSC is detrimental to the USA’s influence on foreign affairs because it might make it more difficult to pass resolutions in the USA’s favor, since the USA would need more votes to support its endeavors. Due to this, the USA would not favor requiring multiple vetoes because it would become difficult to reject any resolutions it does not agree with. As long as the USA retains its veto, it must find a balance between promoting international security while maintaining a positive world public opinion and also keeping national interest in mind.
Former UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki-Moon, voiced his approval for the expansion of the Security Council, stating “on Security Council reform, I think I have always favoured expanding the Security Council in order to make it more broadly representative and democratic and transparent.” With the world changing at a rapid rate, it is imperative that the UN discuss the potential expansion of the UNSC.
First Published by Citizens for Global Solution