Security Council: Topic 2 – briefing pack

Topic 2 – The Question of Security Council Reform: Should the Security Council Be Reformed, and How?

There are two main aspects to the debate of Security Council reform:

  • Should the structure of the Security Council be reformed, and if so, how?
  • Is the Security Council effective enough and can something be done to improve this?

The two questions are perhaps intertwined, in that if the Security Council is structured as well as possible, it may be able to function better. A good resolution should attempt to tackle both of these questions.

Current Structure of the Security Council

The Security Council is the most powerful body of the United Nations and consists of 15 members in total. Five of these members are France, China, Russia, the UK and the USA, also known as the P5, which have additional power in that they have permanent seats in the council and each have veto power to overrule the passing of a resolution should they so desire. The remaining ten non-permanent members are elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly.

Criticism of the Security Council

The membership of the Security Council has changed very little since its inception in 1945, even though the number of UN member states has almost quadrupled since then and the relative power of member states has changed significantly. The differences between permanent and non-permanent seats produce a highly unequal and inefficient Security Council. The former Ambassador of New Zealand Colin Keating has explained that the non-permanent members have essentially been relegated to a role of expressing their stances on decisions made by the P5 or choosing between their contending positions.

Sierra Leone’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, highlighted that most issues discussed by the Security Council are related to his continent, therefore its 54 nations must be involved in decisions concerning its own people. Widespread support from Member States for this position means that it is time to ‘redress the historical injustice of not being represented in the permanent category’. The P5 (and G4) countries are also among those with the highest GDPs in the world, raising questions of elitism and bias within the Council.

Moreover, the P5 have on many occasions have arguably abused their veto powers. Another important issue regarding the veto is that the decision probability in the Security Council remains very low. Although the formal, public use of the veto has decreased in the last few decades, this has mostly been caused by moving the activities of the Security Council behind closed doors where threats of veto are made in private. In addition, the P5 have given themselves the authority to be the only States legally allowed to possess nuclear weapons, making them a bigger threat and global power.

With regard to its actions, the performance of the Security Council in maintaining international peace and security has been deemed poor; it is said to have failed in its actions in Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda. In Somalia, the choice of strategy was counterproductive and Washington’s political timetable for the mission too arbitrary. In Bosnia, the operation was severely undermanned and the Security Council failed to provide adequate protection for the UN safe areas, resulting in the Srebrenica Massacre. In Rwanda, an insufficient mandate and the Council’s refusal to strengthen the peacekeeping force once the genocide began doomed the operation. Britain, the United States and France all actively avoided using the term “genocide” to escape their responsibility to intervene. France actually supported the Rwandan government and provided it with arms and ammunition even during the genocide. Interventions in Iraq (2003) and Kosovo (1999) proceeded without Security Council approval.

As a result of its many shortcomings, reform of the Security Council has been deemed vitally necessary.

Potential Solutions and their Accompanying Problems

Since the composition of the Security Council in 1945, geopolitical realities have changed drastically, but the Council itself has changed very little. 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. Any reform of the Security Council would require an amendment to the Charter. Article 108 of the Charter states:

‘Amendments to the present Charter shall come into force for all Members of the United Nations when they have been adopted by a vote of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly and ratified in accordance with their respective constitutional processes by two thirds of the Members of the United Nations, including all the permanent members of the Security Council.’

The underlying problem with any action being made to reform this body is that if a resolution were to be presented to the Security Council that aimed to remove the power of the P5, it would be vetoed immediately. Even in the General Assembly, the power and influence of the Permanent 5 members would most likely be too strong for a two-thirds majority of countries to pass such a resolution due to hopes of maintaining strategic alliances with the P5 countries.

However, movements have already been made towards giving permanent seats to States outside of this ‘club’ known as the G4: India, Germany, Japan and Brazil. Others have suggested a more equal rotation in which all 15 seats are occupied by countries elected randomly ‘out of a hat’, provided they match certain criteria such as having a democratic government and positive human rights record. Each of these suggestions, however, has its flaws and may not lead to a complete balance. At the same time, countries must consider whether full equality can ever be attained in this situation, or whether a compromise must be reached.

Questions to ask when writing a resolution:

  • Does having veto power work in favour of your country?
  • What are the message is implied by the Security Council’s structure and does this fall in line with that which the UN hopes to project?
  • Are there any specific cases where the structure of the SC has helped or hindered action on a topic?
  • How likely is your country to become a part of the G4 or an equivalent group?
  • Should the P5 be abolished, increased, or remain the same?
  • What approach can you take to changing the power structure of the SC so that a resolution proposing this will be passed and not vetoed?

Useful Resources!/file/paper_2016009.pdf