The Security Council: reform or… die?

Por: Eduardo Turati

“I firmly believe that the council should be reformed: it cannot continue as it is. The world has changed and the UN should change and adapt. If we don’t change the council, we risk a situation where the primacy of the council may be challenged by some of the new emerging countries.” said Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, in an interview with The Guardian in 2015. He is right, and he is not the only one that thinks this way. This ‘institution’ or ‘committee’ is not a satisfying portrayal or representation of the world powers today.

“The security council is the UN’s most powerful body, the only one with the authority to issue legally binding resolutions that can be backed up by sanctions, blue-helmeted peacekeepers or by force of arms.” (The Guardian, 2015) Since this organism was created it has had 5 permanent members with a ‘veto right’ (US, UK, France, Russia, China), and 10 other non-permanent members who are elected for a two-year term by the General Assembly. The SC has been reformed plenty of times in procedure matters and amount of members allowedin order of making it more representative to the political world order; nonetheless it has been widely criticized lately due to several issues.

As Sonia Rothwell claims: “The major criticism of the five permanent members (or P5) is that the panel lacks representation from Africa and Latin America, provides a platform for waning rather than rising powers and does not have a place for economically powerful nations such as India or Germany.” (Rothwell, 2013) It is true that having 5 permanent members with the rights they have is unfair and unrepresentative, but moreover it is its failure to solve critical problems. “The Security Council has been criticised for its failure to deal with crisis such as the wars in Syria and Ukraine, and for its impotence in longer term issues, including the situation in the Middle East and the banning of landmines.” (Grant, 2015) Additionally, the ‘veto right’ has taken the world powers to be “states that can act with impunity [and] comprise the P5” (Cristol, 2015).

One of the arguments against its reform is that “States support particular reforms either because those reforms are in their national interest, because they know they won’t happen, or because they value diversity and transparency over functionality and efficacy.” (Cristol, 2015) But, is the UNSC really efficient? It has been stopped for months when crisis such as the Arab-Israeli or the Syrian war emerge, and has had no resolution to the bigger problems in this world concerning problems such as atomic security. Those issues which involve the remnants of the Cold War, which still confront the world powers (P5) between themselves, are the more critic ones and the less solved. In summary, the SC is not efficient, nor representative, nor balanced nowadays.

Three of the reforms which have more support are the following: The inclusion of four new permanent members who will have no ‘veto right’, therefore the expansion of the UNSC membership to 20, instead of 15 (adding an extra non-permanent member), and the banning of the ‘veto right’ the P5 currently possess. I would rather recommend the restriction of the P5 right to certain matters (hoping for its eventual disappearance), and the expansion of the membership periods for non-permanent members as it is really inefficient for both the General Assembly and the UNSC to vote each year for 5 new non-permanent members. It could be a period of 4 years each, with a broader invitation to observers when needed because of urgent world problems that concern a non-member.

The SC has to do a thorough analysis of its relevance in the world, and how to improve it. It needs a realistic historical view on the broader problems it hasn’t been able to solve, and especially it needs a reform. It needs to evolve just as the world does it, or face the fate of the League of Nations.