Reforming the United Nations Security Council H.L.I.T.
UN Security Council room

The recent crisis in Syria has once again outlined a severe problem that hinders any swift political or humanitarian response to a crisis affecting a country in need. This issue refers to the inability of the United Nations Security Council to reach an expeditious agreement on how to deal with a certain matter and take action accordingly, within a reasonable time frame.

During this crisis, we witnessed how the Security Council was split, with two of its members opposing the initial response proposed by the remaining nations. But how can we expect this to be avoided when the United Nations, and especially the Security Council, are anachronistic, reflecting and representing a state of affairs that will soon belong to the past.

The current membership of the Security Council was established in the aftermath of the Second World War, composed by the main players that came out as victors. It represents the great powers of the post-war period, and the two blocs of the Cold War. If we insist in maintaining the current U.N. structure, and particularly the Security Council membership composition, as it is, then the organization will no longer be representative of the prevailing political reality nor of the changes that our world is, currently, going through.

There are 15 members in the Security Council. These include five veto-wielding permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. There are also 10 non-permanent members, with five elected each year to serve a two-year term. This basic structure is set out in Chapter V of the U.N. Charter. The current non-permanent members are Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Luxembourg, Morocco, Pakistan, Rwanda, South Korea and Togo.

What we immediately observe is that these non-permanent members are not representative of the developing and rising economic powers of the world, some of which are included in the famous "BRICS" acronym ("Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa"). Countries such as Luxembourg, Guatemala, Azerbaijan, Rwanda and Togo struggle to have an impact on the Council's decision-making process and there are others whose positions are too close to the permanent members' (such as the case of Australia vis-à-vis the United Kingdom).

The very existence of the Security Council is not without controversy, as it establishes an elite group of nations, with more saying than the others in global affairs. And even within the Council, the veto is a power granted only to the five permanent members, symbolizing the difference in power and status between permanent and non-permanent members.

If there were to be a reform in the Security Council membership, each country that falls under the "BRICS" category should be granted a permanent seat, starting with Brazil, India and South Africa. Furthermore, Japan, Germany and Indonesia should become permanent members as well, improving the Council's representativeness of the new international political reality. A more globalized world, with a diversity of emerging blocs and other countries deserving a greater saying in international politics.

Such new reality would not only reflect more accurately the shift in the distribution of world power, but it would also contribute in putting an end to the monopoly of power exercised by the same set of countries since 1946, effectively "ruling" the world.

As it is, the U.N. system currently acts more as a bloc that supports the old status quo. It does not represent all regions of the world fairly; it is rather an organization with a limited authority, and whichever authority it can muster has been ignored by the global powers whenever they deem suitable. A typical example of this situation is the behaviour of the United States of America, which has repeatedly ignored the U.N. decision-making process and enacted wars without an international mandate from the organization.

An option would be to eliminate the Security Council altogether and give an equal voice to all U.N. members. But such a project would thwart the expectations of decision-making by unanimity, which would be almost impossible to obtain. So, in order to guarantee an effective system of decision-making and regulation within the organization, the Security Council's existence is non-negotiable, unlike its membership composition, responsibilities and functions.

Apart from the proposed expansion of the Council's membership, another solution would be to implement a system of full rotating seats. There would be no permanent members: even the U.S.A, Russia and China would have to lose their membership, for a set period of time until their following term. This might contribute to curbing their influence over the U.N. and the world, in general.

Another scenario is for the permanent European members, France and the United Kingdom, to lose their seats in the Council, in favour of one permanent seat for the European Union, which would allow the EU to address the world with one voice. The United Kingdom and France would retain their representations in the remaining U.N bodies, except the Security Council. This project, of course, can only be achieved, if the European Union ever succeeds in officially implementing a truly common foreign policy.

The reform of the Security Council's membership has been one of the most voiced criticisms to the working of the U.N. system, in order to promote a greater degree of equality among nations. The United States of America and the remaining great powers (the power of some of which seems to be mostly frozen in the past) should stop acting as the policemen of the world and having an absolute saying on world affairs. U.N recomendations and decisions should be universally respected and swiftly implemented.

For that to happen, we need to entrust greater powers and authority to the U.N., limiting the influence of the U.S.A and the Security Council, or diversifying its membership, responsibilities and functions. The organization should become more active and effective in implementing its actions. Even the location of its headquarters should be reconsidered, if the U.S.A persists in ignoring U.N.'s decisions. A more suitable new location might be somewhere away from the old powers, in one of the emerging countries, such as Brazil or India. 

We need to promote a more politically and economically diversified world, that will not perpetuate the old traditional cleavages between East and West, North and South. And for that to be achieved, we need to embrace the rising of new world powers, effectively granting them a stronger voice, within international institutions such as the U.N, to counterbalance the already established world powers. It is in the interest of all of us to curb the monopoly detained by the victors of the Second World War, promoting a more multipolar and increasingly equal world. 

Edited by: Margarida Hourmat
Photo credits: H.L.I.T. via Flickr