The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, charged with the maintenance of international peace and security as well as accepting new members to the United Nation and approving any changes to its United Nations Charter.
Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions; it is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states. The Security Council held its first session on 17 January 1946.
Like the UN as a whole, the Security Council was created following World War II to address the failings of a previous international organization, the League of Nations, in maintaining world peace.
The Security Council consists of fifteen members.
The great powers that were the victors of World War II—the Soviet Union (now represented by the Russian Federation), the United Kingdom, France, Republic of China (now represented by the People’s Republic of China), and the United States—serve as the body’s five permanent members. These permanent members can veto any substantive Security Council resolution, including those on the admission of new member states or candidates for Secretary-General. The Security Council also has 10 non-permanent members, elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. The body’s presidency rotates monthly among its members.
WHY DOES UNSC NEED REFORMS?
For years, the process of UNSC reforms has remained stalled.
New emergent powers who have joined hands as G-4 (India, Brazil, Japan and Germany) or the Club of Four have been pressing for permanent seats on the Council. All of them deserve permanent seats based on the size of their economies and other objective criteria.
Their candidature, however, is actively opposed by their regional rivals and those countries (known as ‘Coffee Club’ countries such as Italy, Spain, Turkey, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, South Korea and Indonesia). They have lobbied hard to block any progress in the matter.
Global politics has changed a lot – as regards its power, structure, rules, and norms since the formation of the UN. The world has witnessed a redistribution of power and emergence of new power centres, along with a transformation from the era of colonialism to that of post-colonial independent states. Existing membership and functioning of the UNSC reflects the realities of a bygone era.
As a global institution to promote international peace and security, the UNSC is not responding to changes taking place in the world. The only change hitherto has been an increase in the number of non-permanent members in the UNSC from six to ten, that too as far back as 1965.
Another criticism is that that the permanent panel in UNSC lacks representation from Africa and Latin America.
In 1992, a promising reform move was initiated in the form of a General Assembly Resolution, which highlighted the three major criticisms raised as regards the Council — lack of equitable representation, unresponsiveness towards new political realities and domination of Western states.
In 1993, a General Assembly resolution established an Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) to discuss SC reform. Most reform proposals revolved around the five core issues of “membership categories, the question of the veto held by the five permanent members, regional representation, the size of an enlarged Council, and Council working methods.
However, even after negotiations for more than two decades, there exists a huge difference of opinion among members on these issues.
Demands by various groups across the world:
Groups have formed to lobby for permanent positions on the UNSC or at least to make the council more representative.
The G4—Brazil, Germany, India and Japan—want to expand the Security Council to 25 members, which would comprise an extra six permanent and four non-permanent members. The new permanent seats would guarantee two places for Africa, two for Asia, one for Latin America and the Caribbean (GULAC), and one for western Europe and other states.
The L.69 (Group of 42 developing countries) comprises 42 countries from Africa, Asia, Caribbean, South America and Pacific — and includes three of the four G-4 members (Brazil, India and South Africa). Similar to the G-4, L.69 also argues for reform as a way towards greater accountability, transparency, representation and legitimacy.
The African Group, comprising 54 states from five regions of the continent, is another prominent advocate of reform. The coalition reflects the Ezulwini Consensus, the official position of the African Union, which demands two permanent seats with veto power for the African continent.
Why it is difficult to reform UNSC?
- The UN’s rules state that changing the composition of the P5 involves changing the UN’s charter—making this, and other similar moves, difficult. To succeed, it would also require the backing of two-thirds of the General Assembly – including the current P5 and, as we have seen, this in itself is a huge hurdle.
- The organisation has, in terms of participation, been a huge success and its involvement in international affairs does carry significant weight. But the divide between the General Assembly and the Security Council is marked. GA delegates complain of a lack of transparency in the Security Council and even the non-permanent members can find themselves literally locked out when the P5 wishes to discuss matters alone.
- Political will among the more senior states is also delaying the advancement of any of these plans and problems unrelated to UN reform continue to cause friction among the rest of the UN’s members.
- Three among the five permanent members of the Security Council are still against Council reform that would entail a change in their present status. The possibility of changes in the positions of the US and Russia are unlikely since they are in a state of relative decline. Since it is their current status in the Council that provides them pre-eminence on issues related to international peace and security, they are not expected to support any move that reduces their say in global politics.
- It is also unrealistic to think that China would give up its present privileged status in the UN, even as it seeks greater influence and presence in global politics as a rising power.
India and the UNSC:
The UNSC, created in the post-War context, doesn’t actually reflect the changes that have occurred in the international system after the end of the Cold War. In a quarter century, the global economic architecture has undergone massive changes.
The developing nations, including India, now play a bigger role in international affairs. But within the UN, the five permanent veto-wielding members still effectively take all the crucial decisions.
The Indian position is that this “democracy deficit in the UN prevents effective multilateralism” in the global arena. The way the UNSC handled — or failed to handle — some of the recent crises would underscore the soundness of the Indian position.
Take the examples of Libya and Syria. While the western nations are accused of distorting the UNSC mandate in Libya, the Security Council failed to reach a consensus on how the Syrian crisis may be resolved. This clearly points to a worsening institutional crisis within the UNSC.
Why India should be given a permanent seat in the council?
- India’s demand for a permanent seat has to be looked into, duly considering the merits of the case.
It is the world’s largest democracy and Asia’s third largest economy.
- The Indian Army is the largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping mission since the inception of the mission.
- India’s foreign policy has historically been aligned with world peace, and not with conflicts.
- As a permanent member of the UNSC it will be able to play a larger role concerning pressing international issues.
Overall global influence is now pivoting towards Asia and away from the West, meaning the composition of the UN Security Council reflects a post-World War II colonial system that is woefully outdated but still powerful. If states do not see their grievances addressed, they may be minded to take their quest for justice to their regional representatives. Should this happen, then the pressure to reform the UNSC may decrease but such an eventuality could arguably diminish the status of the body too. Perhaps this vista is what may herald a change. Meaningful reform of the Council to make it more representative and democratic would strengthen the UN to address the challenges of a changing world more effectively.