Is it time to reform the United Nations Security Council?

A UN peacekeeper

The United Nations Security Council is a pivotal instrument in maintenance of security and promotion of human rights throughout the world. However, its structure is no longer suitable for effective resolutions of these issues, as demonstrated its failures in Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, Syria, CAR, and Sudan. But how can the Security Council be reformed?

Firstly, reform has to target the use of veto. Historically, the decision to allow the veto use was dictated by a willingness to avoid potential disputes between the UN founders. Yet in modern world, the use of veto becomes an obstacle, rather than a solution to the world problems-the fact that approximately 257 vetoes were applied between 1946 and 2004 means that there were over 200 resolutions, which were either paralysed or blocked at early conflict stages.

However, the possibility that P5 members will completely abandon the use of veto remains low, considering the fact that such right is considered as a privilege and instrument for avoiding the ‘’tyranny of majority’’ within Security Council.

Under those circumstances, two proposals can improve current situation. On the one hand, the use of veto could be restricted to certain areas, such as security maintenance and peace enforcement, simultaneously limiting its use in other areas, particularly over the peacekeeping (Article 6 of UN Charter), human rights and accession of the new members within the Security Council. On the other hand, there has been an interesting proposal put forward by Colombia and Uruguay which involves leaving the use of veto largely untouched, but directing certain issues to the General Assembly vote, and in cases, where the majority of Assembly vote in favour of resolution, to override any vetoes imposed by the Permanent 5 members.

These changes can help foster the process of democratisation of the UN institutions generally and would demonstrate that changes can still be made to the world’s most important decision-making body, despite the continuous anachronisms.

Secondly, the reform should also focus on issue of representation. Despite the fact that UN membership quadrupled over the past 70 years, its ultimate authority still rests with the same old permanent 5 members. The current Council composition represents only 29% of world populations and fails to provide any representation of many world regions, such as Africa, the Islamic world or Latin America.

However, the current P5 members, rhetorically supportive of the greater representation, in practice are either reluctant or unwilling to reform the organisation. For instance, China voted against the possibility of Japan permanent membership and later made it clear that it would not support similar status for Germany or India.

A solution to the problem can be two-fold. On the one hand, a wide range of actors, including NGOs, advocacy groups, influential leaders of Global South, and key UN personnel should emphasise the importance and inevitability of UN reform for pressurising the P5 members into action.

On the other hand, a possible option is increasing the size of the Security Council in order to include representatives from regions which currently have no permanent representation. The rise of disputes regarding a particular candidate can be avoided if the inclusion of the new members could be established on the rotating basis (4 -6 years) and could be determined by the regional IGOs. For instance, African Union could nominate African states, EU would nominate EU members, the Arab League could nominate Arab states and so forth.

To conclude, the international community should utilise this year productively and reform the structure of the Security Council. Certainly, the suggestions in this article neither provide a comprehensive list of any possible reforms, nor do they represent the ‘’absolute must’’, which once applied rigidly, would certainly lead us to an effective and representative Security Council. Instead, they can be used as a starting point for either reform or critical intellectual discussion, which once pursued consistently and thoroughly could improve Council’s work in the long-term perspective.

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