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Reform Proposals I – Enlargement and Composition

June 23rd, 2015

By Michelle McKenna – Senior Fellow

Negotiations for reforming the Security Council have been on the cards since the Nineties, but there has been a lack of coherent structure for advancing these negotiations. At the World Summit in 2005 leaders agreed to reform the Security Council and in February 2007 the President of the General Assembly established five tracks for discussion: membership, veto power, regional representation, the size of an enlarged Council and working methods of the Council, incorporating its relationship with the General Assembly. Intergovernmental negotiations have been ongoing since then, with other proposals for reform also coming to light, such as increased cooperation with regional organisations, increased jurisprudence of the Council, including review by the International Court of Justice, and improving the efficiency of Council mandates.

This article will be the first of three looking at concrete proposals for Security Council reforming, beginning with enlargement and composition.

Most states agree that the size of the Security Council needs to be enlarged in order for it to become more representative of the world today. The size of the Council has been enlarged once before therefore it would be legitimate to do so again bearing in mind how much the organisation has gown since the last reform. However, there is a lack of consensus over how many seats should be added, how these seats would be allocated and whether there should be an increase in permanent members.

The 2004 Report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change suggested two models for increasing membership of the Council, both of which proposed a regional allocation of seats between Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.[1] The first model proposed a total Security Council membership of 24, adding an additional 6 new permanent seats with no veto power and 3 2-year non-permanent seats. The second model would create no new permanent seats, but would create a new category of seats with 4-year renewable terms alongside a new 2-year non-renewable seat. The former would create 8 new places and the latter 1, again bringing the total membership to 24. These proposals were reiterated in the 2005 Secretary General Report In Larger Freedom.

In addition to proposals coming from within the UN itself, smaller intergovernmental groups have formed to propose suggestions for enlarging the Security Council. The most prominent of these are the Uniting for Consensus group, the Ezulwini Consensus of the African Union and the G4 group.

The Uniting for Consensus group was formed in opposition to reform of the United Nations. It has, however, put forward its own ideas of how the Council should be reformed. It proposes increasing membership to 20 with the addition of 5 new non-permanent members, without altering the current composition of the Council. This plan has been endorsed by China.

The Ezulwini Consensus of the African Union wants the Council to be increased by a minimum of 7 seats, 5 non-permanent and at least 2 permanent, including holding the veto power. Under this proposal, the African Union itself would be able to choose the African permanent seat, which would most likely go to a state such as Nigeria or South Africa.

The G4 – Japan, Germany, India and Brazil – is the group of states that are most legitimately vying for permanent seats on the Council, should more permanent seats be added. Germany and Japan are two of the highest contributors to the UN budget and along with Brazil have occupied seats on the Council more frequently than any other. India is also a strong contender due to its high population and number of troops it contributes to peacekeeping missions.[2] Each of these states support each others campaign for permanent membership, but they face regional opposition from states such as Pakistan and Argentina, and if new permanent seats were to be awarded to them then that would still leave Africa with no permanent seat. The G4 supports expanding the veto to the new permanent members, but not until a review of the plan has taken place after 15 years.

What can be garnered from the aforementioned proposals is that states generally appear to favour an increased membership of 20-24 seats, but there is little consensus over how many of these should become permanent, indeed if any. Permanent membership is one of the most controversial aspects of the Security Council, particularly because of the veto power. Putting the veto power aside for one moment, however, it is easy to see why this is. Permanent seats were awarded on the basis of the winners of the Second World War and this is no longer representative of the world today. The UK and France, once great powers, are no longer strong players in the international arena, and only retain that perceived status due to their permanent membership in the Council. It has been proposed that the UK and France should give up their seats and create one joint EU seat that would rotate between European member states. In the unlikely event that France and the UK were to agree to this, it would free up one permanent seat in the Council, provided the Council wasn’t to undergo a radical overhaul, a seat that would most legitimately have to go to an African state. Perhaps even a permanent African Union seat could be created, with membership rotating between states of the African Union. In order for the Security Council to be perceived to be legitimate, it would then only be fair that each permanent seat is allocated to a regional grouping, not an individual state, and the same for non-permanent seats as well. But some want to go as far as to abolish permanent membership altogether. Permanent membership creates an elite within the elite and adding more permanent seats would not resolve this. However, allocating permanent seats to regions would legitimise this elitism as it is not allocated to a single state and all UN member states would have the opportunity to become a permanent member at some point. This idea is what has become known as semi-permanent membership.

There are dangers with enlarging the size of the Security Council, however. When the United Nations was founded, it was intended to contain the elite powers and concentrate the power in the hands of a few, unlike the General Assembly. If membership was to become too large then the Council could become cumbersome and more ineffective. It is already challenging enough to get the Council to agree to take action with only 15 members: decisive action could be further reduced and working methods could slow down with the increase in seats. One, controversial, alternative to enlarging the Council would be to completely alter its composition through a system of weighted voting within the UN used to allocate members to the Security Council.[3] Each member state would be allocated a vote weighting allowance within the General Assembly based on its population and contribution to the UN budget. By way of example this would give the US a weighted vote of 9.1% and the UK 2.3%. Seats in the Council would then be allocated to those states with a percentage of 4 or more (of which there are few) and the remaining seats would be allocated based on blocks or voting in the Assembly. Based on a Council made up of 18 members, this would ensure, in theory, that 90% of the world’s population is represented at any one time. Whilst this seems to be the most representative option for allocating seats, it is dangerous as it reduces the sovereign equality of states enshrined in the Charter and would mean that small states have virtually no chance of being on the Council without the influence of bigger states.

One alternative to regional representation is to award seats based on the same criteria as they were awarded originally – military capability, economic ability to sustain peace enforcement and the will to perform such a duty.[4] Whilst undoubtedly states that are elected onto the Council will fulfil such criteria, these should not be the sole and decisive reasons for membership as it is not representative of how international opinion wants the Council to operate.

The next article in this series will examine the role of the veto power.

[1] High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, A More Secure World (2004), paragraphs 249-260

[2] For more information on India’s bid for Council membership, see Menezes, D. India’s Exclusion from Permanent Membership: The Strongest Case for UN Security Council Reform? (2013) http://www.humanitarianintervention.org/asia-and-pacific/indias-exclusion-from-permanent-membership-the-strongest-case-for-un-security-council-reform/

[3] Schwartzberg, J. Revitalizing the United Nations: Reform Through Weighted Voting (2004), available at https://globalsolutions.org/files/public/documents/Schwartzberg_Weighted_Voting.pdf

[4] Cox, B. United Nations Security Council Reform: Collected Proposals and Possible Consequences (2009), available at http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1035&context=scjilb

About Michelle McKenna

Michelle is a Senior Fellow at the HSC. Her research interests include military interventions in the Middle East and Africa, international development and the plight of small island states against climate change. She completed her final year thesis on the Responsibility to Protect in the context of the Libya conflict.