It is often stated that the United Nations Security Council requires reform due to its lack of effectiveness and relevance in the modern geopolitical climate. This in turn has resulted in other nations of the United Nations General Assembly to pursue agendas with minimal consultation or even without the Security Council. This waning effectiveness and relevance stems from the many criticisms directed towards the Security Council and how it functions. The Council has been criticised for its small size and exclusive nature, its relations with the General Assembly, its working methods, and its undemocratic structure. (Okhovat, 2012: 3). Since the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council in 1945, the number of states in the United Nations surged from 52 to 193 today. (McDonald & Patrick, 2010: 5). Thus, the distribution of global power has shifted dramatically, and in response to this, the sole reform of the Security Council in its history occurred in 1965. Here, the number of non-permanent seats on the Council was raised from six to ten. (UN Foundation, 2012: 1). Those states that occupied permanent seats and the overall structure and procedures have not changed at all since 1945. This essay will argue that the above statement is accurate as it reflects the desperate need for reform within the United Nations Security Council. The primary reason for this reform is that the Security Council’s current membership and means of operation are anachronistic and that it does not properly reflect the geopolitical environment of today.
The Security Council is one of six main organs of the United Nations. It is charged with maintaining international peace and security, and may meet whenever peace is threatened. (UNSC, 2016: 1). The Security Council was established like the United Nations in general, in response to a horrifying conflict and the failure of another international organisation, being the League of Nations. There are permanent seats on the Council and they have remained the same during its duration. They seats are occupied by the victorious powers following the Second World War. They include: the Soviet Union (now represented by the Russian Federation); the United Kingdom; France; the Republic of China (now represented by the People’s Republic of China); and the United States. (UN Charter, 1945: Article 23). As amended in 1965, ten non-permanent members are elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. Under Article 27 of the United Nations Charter, any permanent member can ‘veto’ any decision proposed by the Council, even if it has received the required votes to pass. (UN Charter, 1945: Article 27). The allowance for the permanent members to veto any decision is regarded by critics as undemocratic and disruptive. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace stated in 1964, that, “The veto … is essentially negative. Its effect is not to foster co-operation; it is to prevent action”. (Barnaby, 1991: 240). This negative perspective on veto power is a significant reason as to why the Security Council is losing its effectiveness and relevance.
The possession of the veto vote by the permanent members of the Security Council is regarded by many other nations and scholars as a fundamental problem with the Security Council. (Paul, 1995: 6). The veto vote is considered anachronistic and not representative of the collective international interest, causing other nations and groups to condemn the veto and look for ways to avoid its use. From its inception the use of veto power was condemned by many theorists, with it being labelled as “fundamentally undemocratic,” in one example. (Wilcox, 1945: 947-948). The power to veto has also been noted as being incompatible and a violation of Article 2 (1) of the United Nations Charter. (Archibuigi, 1993: 311). This Article details the promise to the right to equal sovereignty to all nations. (UN Charter, 1945: Article 2). Thus, the power to veto by the permanent members is considered oppressive to and incompatible with the rest of the nations in the General Assembly. Iranian writer Kourosh Ziabari stated that the veto is, “a discriminatory and biased privilege given to five countries to dictate their own will to some 200 countries as they wish”. (Ziabri, 2011: 1). A major concern is that one country’s objection can override the opinions of a majority of countries. This in turn may severely hinder any possible armed or diplomatic response to a crisis. In addition, critics have noticed that these few nations merely represent their own interests rather than those of the General Assembly, and that they use the veto power to act on those interests. The 33 Security Council decisions condemning the state of Israel vetoed by the United States since 1982 indicates this.. (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2006: 31). In addition, the recent veto by both Russia and China in 2014 for the Security Council to denounce the state of Syria caused Amnesty International to regard the veto vote as a threat to human rights. (AI, 2014: 1). These criticisms essentially regard the use of veto power to be fundamentally at odds with the philosophy of the General Assembly. Its use by the selected five nations of whom three are Western indicates the lack of geopolitical representation within the Security Council. In turn, shifting its relevance and efficiency away from the Council and towards other means.
Unlike the General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council does not have true international representation. Instead, the permanent five members are all the key victors of the Second World War and are also nuclear powers. The exclusiveness of the Security Council has alienated and frustrated many of the other nations of the General Assembly. Irish theorist Erskine Childers stated that, “the vast majority of members…have made very clear…their distaste for the way three Western powers behave in the Council, like a private club of hereditary elite-members who secretly come to decisions and then emerge to tell the grubby elected members that they may now rubber-stamp those decisions”. (Childers, 1994: 1). This unchecked international influence possessed by these few nations has had severe ramifications for certain nations that do not align with their interests. For example, the Security Council acted significantly quickly to protect the oil-rich Kuwait in its invasion struggle against Iraq in 1991. However, they were not quick to respond to the humanitarian crisis that occurred years later in the resource poor Rwanda. (Rajan, 2006: 3.) In addition, since three out of the five permanent members are European and four out the five are predominately white majority nations, the Security Council does not truly represent the world geopolitically, instead it can be seen as a pillar of ‘global apartheid’ as dubbed by theorist Titus Alexander. (Alexander, 1996: 158-160). This accusation of the Security Council not being globally representative has caused for much of the action to take place outside of the Council.
The Security Council’s lack of response and even refusal to accept major reform another factor that supports this statement. The first and only reform of the Security Council occurred in 1965 when the number of non-permanent members increased from six to ten. The fundamental reason for this change was that the number of the Member States within the United Nations General Assembly had more than doubled since its inception, from 51 to 114. This was primarily due to the process of decolonisation. (Meisler, 1995: 339.) However, since 1965 that number has almost doubled again to 193 as of 2016. As stated before, the notion that the General Assembly is essentially being ‘ruled over’ by the five permanent members has triggered the push for greater geographical representation within the Security Council. Both Africa and South America, in addition with the Sub-Continent and South-East Asia/Oceania do not have any influence upon the Security Council outside of their rotating, non-permanent seats. Countries from these continents are heavily critical because of their lack of voice, stating that incidents are more likely to be acted on if it occurred in Europe, North America or the Middle East rather than in their own geographical region. (Weiss, 2005: 10.) Thus, many nations have called for an increase in the number of permanent Security Council seats, demonstrating further how action is progressively taking place outside of the Security Council.
The international forums of the G4 and the Uniting for Consensus are two examples of an attempt to shift action away from the influence of the Security Council. Ever since 1945, the Security Council has excluded major funders to the United Nations like Japan and Germany. Being the losing powers of the Second World War, those nations were obviously not considered for Security Council membership in 1945. However, both nations are supremely powerful economically and have pushed consistently for a review into permanent membership. The fact that Germany and Japan have been barred from joining the Security Council on a permanent basis so far, demonstrates how anachronistic the Security Council is compared to the modern geopolitical landscape. This sentiment is reflected by Australian Representative to the United Nations Richard Butler who stated in 1995, “It is absolutely clear that the Security Council we have today is yesterday’s Security Council. It cannot do the job we need done today and will certainly need in the future”. (Bosco, 2009: 203.) Germany and Japan, together with the emerging global economic powers of India and Brazil, formed the G4 nations forum. This group aims to gain permanent membership onto the United Nations Security Council, and mutually supports each other to achieve this. This group has also received some support from the permanent nations. The United Kingdom and France have supported all four nations’ bid for membership; while Japan has received support from the United States, and China has stated that it would back India, regarding that India retracted its support for Japan. (Krishnan, 2011: 1). This movement has been successful in influencing and enacting legislation outside of the Security Council. In 2015 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited the leaders of the G4 for a summit following the adoption of UN General Assembly Decision 69/560, which allowed for further discussions into reforms to the Security Council. (Sharma, 2015: 1). The G4’s efforts got this decision moving, furthering the agenda for reform and proving that action is taking place outside of the Security Council.
The Uniting for Consensus movement is another forum that seeks to reform the Security Council and influence its own action outside of the permanent five. However, it was developed in the 1990s in opposition to the possible expansion of permanent seats on the Security Council, especially if those seats were to go to any of the G4 members. (Pirozzi & Ronzitti, 2011: 1). The Uniting for Consensus was formed primarily to oppose any gain of political power by a regional rival within the G4. The movement is made up by the states: Italy, Pakistan, South Korea, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Turkey, Canada, and Malta. This movement is essentially motivated by political rivalry as it is evident when it is considered that Pakistan does not want India to get a permanent seat, and the same can be stated regarding Argentina and Mexico, who are against Brazil’s permanent membership. Although the Uniting for Consensus can be somewhat discredited through this point, the group has succeeded in its promotion of the removal of permanent seats all together, thereby ‘democratising the Security Council.’ (Rock, 2005: 1). Groups like the G4 and Uniting for Consensus are examples of how the action is now taking place outside of the United Nations Security Council.
The distribution of global power has shifted dramatically since the development of the United Nations and the Security Council at the conclusion of the Second World War. The lack of change in membership numbers and controversial processes like the veto vote has left the Security Council as anachronistic and ineffective within the modern geopolitical landscape. Action is now taking place outside of the Security Council. This is due to the outcry by many other nations and groups concerning the status of the permanent five members of the Council and their use of the veto vote and overall influence in order to further their international interests. This has caused the establishment of groups like the G4 and the Uniting for Consensus. These groups have pushed for major reforms regarding membership of the Security Council in order to make it more geographically representative. Although steps have been taken in discussing proposed reforms, if this is not followed promptly, the Security Council will suffer complete illegitimacy, as all the action will take place without their influence or support.
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