Restructuring United Nations Security Council

The manifest purposes of the Charter of the United Nations are to maintain international peace and security; to ensure respect for the principle of equal rights and self determination of peoples; to strengthen international cooperation to resolve economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems; and, to work for the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Over the last six decades, the UN has evolved into an extremely complex system and its membership has grown to 193 states. There have been sporadic, and less than successful, efforts to improve the functioning and the effectiveness of the United Nations in terms of its structure, maintenance of international peace and security, protection of human rights and the delivery of services to improve the socio-economic well-being of the people of the developing member states.

In recent years, the issue of reform has been brought into sharper focus because of the growing feeling among member states, particularly the weak and vulnerable among them, that the United Nations has lost its effectiveness, has been marginalised and has not been able to protect their interests in the face of the overbearing and unilateralist policies pursued by some major states, particularly in the field of international peace and security. This view has gained ground particularly after the collapse of the bipolar world and the emergence of the unipolar world. The Security Council has also been seen as encroaching on the functions of other UN bodies including the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

It is generally acknowledged that the Charter, drafted primarily by the victorious Allied Powers during the Second World War, contains certain built-in inequalities among the member states, particularly in the context of the UN Security Council (UNSC), whereby five member states have been given permanent seats and the power of veto.

However, amidst such discussion it must be acknowledged that the United Nations, despite its weaknesses and failures remains the only international forum with universal membership where the weaker nations of the world can hope for a fair hearing and can turn to for support, protection and justice for the maintenance of their independence and sovereignty.

There has been a growing demand for the restoration of the representative character of the UNSC by an increase in its membership to reflect the growth in UN membership since 1963, when the Security Council's membership was enhanced from 11 to 15. However, there is also a general recognition that the UNSC must not be enlarged to an extent that it becomes unwieldy and is unable to react quickly and effectively to situations of crisis.

In order to address the issue, the General Assembly decided in 1993 to establish an Open Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation and on the Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and other matters relating to the Security Council. The working group began its deliberations in 1994, focusing on two main clusters of issues:

Cluster-I: Issues regarding expansion in the membership and the question of Veto.
Cluster-II: Issues concerning transparency and working methods of the Security Council.

Some progress has been recorded on Cluster-II issues. However, a stalemate continues on Cluster-I matters because of lack of consensus on the composition and categories of expansion - permanent or non-permanent - and the criteria for the selection of new permanent members, should there be an agreement to create permanent seats.

In September 2008, with the General Assembly (GA)ís 62/557 decision, Member States agreed to move the fifteen -year-old deadlocked discussions on Security Council reform from the Open-ended Working Group1 to the Intergovernmental Negotiations in an informal plenary of the General Assembly. According to Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN and Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiations, the aim of this shift of negotiationsí framework was to bring the process closer to a form that could potentially lead to a decision on this issue, even without consensus. This change was fiercely opposed by the Uniting for Consensus (UfC) group that campaigned for the application of consensus as the decision-making procedure during intergovernmental negotiations. As a result, the issue regarding rules of procedure became a major divisive topic among UN members, inasmuch as different rules could imply different outcomes.

The negotiations regarding the increase in the membership have not led to a universally acceptable outcome because of the ambition of certain countries to occupy permanent seats on the Security Council, which would make the UNSC more undemocratic, oligarchic, and unaccountable to the wider membership of the United Nations and would deprive a large majority of the members of any reasonable expectation of serving on the Council. These countries include Brazil, Germany, India and Japan and are referred to as the G-4.

Pakistan and a number of other countries including Italy, Spain, South Korea, Mexico and others are not in favour of creating new centres of power in the United Nations and the UNSC. They established what has come to be known as the Coffee Club to coordinate their position so as to thwart the ambitions of the aspirants to permanent seats on the UNSC. The Coffee Club has been functioning in New York at the level of permanent Representatives. The members of the Coffee Club were able to have resolution 53/30 adopted by consensus in 1998 which imposed the condition of a 2/3 majority for any resolution on the expansion of the Security Council. The G-4 have been seeking to overcome this hurdle through manipulation, financial incentives, threats of aid cuts, etc.

The Coffee Club organised a Uniting For Consensus (UFC) meeting in New York on April 11, 2005. One hundred and nineteen delegations participated in the meeting including the US, Russia and China. Pakistan and Italy played a pivotal role in organising the meeting. It was agreed that there should be no artificial deadlines and that efforts to build a consensus must be followed vigorously. The meeting agreed upon a core follow up mechanism to lobby support for its position.

The positions of various groups and power players as they have emerged to date are given below:

The G-4 (Brazil, Germany, India and Japan) draft Framework resolution was formally tabled in the General Assembly on July 11, 2005. It proposes an increase in the SC membership from 15 to 25, by adding six permanent (two from Africa, two from Asia, one from Latin American and Caribbean States and one from European and other states) and four non-permanent members (one each from Africa, Asia, East European States, Latin American and Caribbean states). Fourteen affirmative votes would be required for the passage of any resolution. The resolution proposes an arcane election procedure for new permanent members at a later date. All states interested in permanent membership would have to present their candidatures by a cutoff date and the new permanent members would be elected from among those states only by a 2/3 majority in a secret ballot. In the final phase, after the elections of the new permanent members the General Assembly would adopt another resolution for the required amendments to the Charter containing the names of the new permanent members.

The Uniting for Consensus group responded by sending written comments on the draft to the G-4 with copies to the UNGA President, the UNSG (UN Secretary General) and all member states. These comments pointed out the problems inherent in the G-4 text in the following areas;

Permanent Membership
Creating new permanent members would be contrary to the UN Charter's principle of sovereign equality.
It would provide permanent seats to 11 states while the remaining 180 states will have to compete for 14 seats only.

The proposal would change the ratio of permanent and non- permanent members from 1:2 to almost 1:1, thus reducing, not enhancing, the representative nature of the Council.
It will inevitably concentrate power in the hands of 11 permanent members and marginalise the rest of the UN membership.

The SC reform must enhance and not reduce the accountability of its members to the general membership. The G-4 proposal would mean reduced accountability since half of the membership will no longer be accountable to the GA by virtue of permanent membership.

The need to reconcile the national interests of 11 rather than five permanent members would reduce the Council's ability to act quickly.

The draft contained a demand for Veto, which was neither feasible nor desirable.

Cascade Effect
New permanent members would demand the same privileges as the older permanent members including membership of the General Committee, de facto right to have a judge on the International Court of Justice and elections to other bodies of the UN almost as a matter of right etc. This was unacceptable.

Offering permanent privileges to an additional six countries while excluding other equally qualified member states would aggravate the already inequitable situation created in 1945 for specific historic reasons. If this divisive proposal was brought to a vote it would erode universal support for the UN, and adversely impact its credibility and legitimacy.

Legal perspective
The three-phase approach outlined in the G-4 draft raised issues regarding its legality, particularly the concept of electing members against legally non-existing seats.
The G-4 group, however, showed no inclination to engage with the UFC in a meaningful manner to find a universally accepted solution.

Uniting For Consensus
The Uniting for Consensus (UFC) core group, after intensive consultations among its members, instead of offering amendments to the draft prepared by the G-4, decided to offer its own ideas in the form of Elements for a decision on Security Council Reform to be included in the final outcome document of the Summit. The proposal was prepared by Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Algeria, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Costa Rica. The counter proposal of the UFC group has the following elements:

A twenty-five member Security Council with twenty non- permanent seats.
The distribution of the non permanent seats would be: six for Africa, five for Asia, four for Latin America and Caribbean States, three for Western Europe and other states and two for East European states.

The proposal was flexible about the term of non-permanent members and the term could be extended to three years in the interest of achieving a consensus.

Each regional group would prepare its own criteria for the optimal use of its allocated seats including arrangements for reelection and rotation and equitable sub-regional representation as appropriate.

The majority required for the adoption of resolutions would be 15.

According to the UFC group their proposal has the following advantages:
It is equitable and fair. It does not discriminate between UN member states. All are eligible for election/reelection in accordance with the principle of sovereign equality.

It is representative and will enhance the ratio of non-permanent to permanent members from 2:1 to 4:1, and it increases the opportunity for larger representation of the developing countries.

It is flexible. It allows the regional groups to determine their own specific arrangements for their representation on the Council. Each regional group could decide whether it wants to be represented continuously, frequently or periodically by certain member states. Groups like the CARICOM, the Arab group and others could work out their own arrangements as sub-regional groups within the larger groups.

It enhances accountability through the provision of election/re-election/rotation.

It is realistic and could secure the support of the vast majority of member states and also would stand a better chance of an early ratification of the Charter amendments.

It can evoke the broadest possible agreement and prevent a political division among member states on the issue of the expansion of the Security Council.

Finally, it is simple and envisages a direct approval of amendments to the Charter. There would be no need to go through a complex, uncertain and uncharted process of adopting a framework resolution, selecting new permanent members against non-existent seats and then approving a Charter amendment.

The resolution presented by UFC group also calls for more transparent, inclusive and accountable working methods for the Security Council, laying particular emphasis on restraint on the use of Veto, transparency in decision making, consultation, cooperation and greater exchange of information with the GA and the ECOSOC, access and better participation of non-member states in the work of the Council.

Position of the Regional Organisations:

African Union
The African Union, with 53 members demands at least two permanent seats, Veto power and an additional non-permanent seat. The African Union Summit held at Sirte in Libya on July 4-5, 2005, decided to support the enlargement of the Security Council both in permanent and non-permanent categories and demanded the same prerogatives and privileges for the new permanent members as enjoyed by the current permanent members including the right of Veto. It demanded two permanent and five non-permanent seats on a 26 member Security Council. In the division of the additional 11 seats, there would be two permanent members from Africa, two from Asia, one from Eastern European States and one from Latin American and Caribbean states. Of the five additional non-permanent members, two would be from Africa, one from Asia, one from Latin American and Caribbean states and one from East European states.

The African group tabled its own resolution at the General Assembly on July 13, 2005.

The Sirte Declaration also calls for strengthening the leadership of the UNGA to enable it to fully play its role as the most representative and democratic organ of the UN System; strengthening of the Secretariat; establishment of a Peace Building Commission; making ECOSOC the central coordinating mechanism in the economic, social and cultural domain; establishment of a new Human Rights body as a subsidiary organ of the UNGA; and the democratisation of the Bretton Woods Institutions.

In its resolution adopted in Sana'a on June 30, 2005, at the 32nd Session of the ICFM (Islamic Conference of Foreign Minsiters), the OIC reaffirmed that efforts at restructuring the Security Council should not be subject to any artificial deadlines and that a decision on this issue should be made by consensus. It stresses that the UNSC reform must be comprehensive and underlines the importance of enhancing the transparency, accountability and democratisation of the Security Council through improvement of its working methods and its decision making process.
OIC demands that the Islamic Ummah must have adequate representation in any category of membership in an expanded Security Council in proportion to their membership of the United Nations. It reaffirms that both reform and expansion of the Security Council, including the question of Veto, should be considered as integral parts of a common package, taking into account the principles of sovereign equality of States and equitable geographical distribution.

Arab League
The Arab League meeting in Algiers in 2005 indicated support for a permanent seat for Egypt 'in case of an expansion in the permanent category'.

The CARICOM (Caribbean Community) Heads of State have declared that the Security Council reform should not diminish the importance of the other aspects of the reform process such as the development agenda, revitalisation and strengthening of the General Assembly and the reform of ECOSOC. A significant number of its members are inclined to support the G-4 framework resolution contingent on strong support for their development agenda as small and vulnerable states, inclusion of the proposals of the African Union, and acceptance of the principle of rotation of membership on the Council.

Positions of the Permanent Members

United States
The US has stated that it is open to an enlargement plan based on a number of criteria which include GDP, military capacity, contributions to peace keeping, commitment to democracy and human rights, financial contributions to the United Nations, commitment to fight WMD proliferation and Terrorism.

The US supports Japan's bid for a permanent UNSC seat, but believes that the G-4 framework resolution is flawed for a number of reasons. The US believes that the G-4 text will be highly divisive since many influential and populous nations oppose it. Wide support for UNSC reform is critical if reform is to succeed in revitalising the United Nations. A Council of 25 members, as envisaged by the G-4 would slow down the Council's deliberations, damaging the Council's ability to address security threats in a timely manner.

The separation of decisions on the number and type of new seats and the names of countries which meet the appropriate criteria, as proposed by the G-4 is unacceptable. A divisive plan which does not have the support of all the permanent members of the Security Council is doomed to fail. US Senate would not approve Council expansion without significant reforms in other areas as well. Nor would any US Administration present Charter amendments for ratification to the Senate without such reforms in place.

China has expressed strong reservations on the G-4 draft and supports the position of the UFC. It has declared that there should be no artificial deadlines for the adoption of any resolution for the expansion of the UNSC and that the decision should be taken by consensus. It has stated that if the G-4 text is put to a vote China would vote against the resolution.

Russia has adopted an ambivalent position. It supports India for a permanent seat. But it has also called for consensus/broadest possible agreement and does not favour the setting of deadlines.
Thus three of the P-5 i.e. China, Russia and US have, inter-alia, called for consensus/broadest possible agreement and also spoken against the setting of any artificial deadlines.
Recently, in September 2015 Russia has vetoed a draft presented by France that call for expansion in UNSC.

France/United Kingdom
France has co-sponsored the G-4 draft. The G-4 also enjoys the support of the United Kingdom.

Pakistan's Stance

Pakistan's opposition to the expansion in the permanent category rests firmly on principles and extends to all aspirants. Pakistan believes that:

The objective of the reform and expansion of the SC should be to promote greater democracy, participation, transparency and accountability.

The United Nations was created on the basis of sovereign equality of states and the creation of new permanent seats would militate against that principle.

To those who point out that there are already five permanent members with the right of Veto, we respond that ideally there should be no permanent members and no right of Veto. However, most of the countries acceded to the Charter of the United Nations in its present form. We are faced with a situation whereby the status of the five permanent members or their Veto power cannot be altered unless they themselves agree to do so. We should not make a bad situation worse by adding more permanent members to the Security Council.

The world is moving towards greater democratisation but some countries are seeking to move the United Nation in the opposite direction by creating an oligarchy in the Security Council through the acquisition of permanent seats.

The principle of accountability demands that the members of the Security Council should present themselves before UNGA for election if they wish to serve on the Council. If some are made permanent members they will not be accountable for their actions.

The fundamental principle behind the demand for the expansion of the Security Council was the desire of a large number of countries to get a better chance of serving on the Council. By creating new permanent seats the very purpose of reform would be undermined and defeated.

There is no agreement within any regional group on the creation of permanent seats, or if they were to be created, the countries which should occupy them. In Europe, apart from Germany, Italy and Spain feel that they have an equally strong case to be represented at the Council on a regular or permanent basis. In Latin America, countries like Argentina, Mexico and Chile would feel discriminated against if Brazil were to become a permanent member. In Africa, apart from Nigeria and South Africa which are seeking permanent seats, countries like Egypt (representing North Africa), Kenya (representing East Africa), Senegal (representing Francophone Africa) feel strongly that they have a case as well. In Asia, apart from Japan and India which have thrown their hats in the ring, Indonesia, South Korea and Pakistan have strong credentials as well.

The OIC, a grouping of 57 states has demanded appropriate representation on the Council. CARICOM, a grouping of 14 states feels left out as well. Model-A has been designed to satisfy the ambition of a small group of countries and would run contrary to the interests of the vast majority of the membership of the United Nations. Thus, the idea of creating permanent seats is extremely divisive.

If a number of large and middle sized countries feel discriminated against and marginalised while their regional rivals and competitors are represented permanently on the SC, they are bound to be frustrated and unhappy. This could create tensions within regions and the Security Council could lose its authority and effectiveness. This would be a most undesirable outcome of the exercise of the reform of the United Nations.

Recent Developments

After the presentations of draft resolutions by the G-4, The African Union and the Uniting for Consensus group, the G-4 made concerted efforts to persuade the African group to join them and to drop the demand for Veto power and an additional non-permanent seat. The African group in New York could not change the position adopted by the Sirte African Union Summit and referred the matter back to their leaders. A hastily convened Summit was held at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on August 4, and it was decided to maintain the decision taken at the Sirte Summit. Faced with this situation, the G-4 concluded that there was no chance for the adoption of their text and did not press for a vote on their text. It is unlikely that the matter would now be put to a vote before the UN Summit to be held on September 14-16, 2005. However, the G-4 countries are not likely to give up the pursuit of their ambition and despite the setback are determined to continue their efforts to occupy permanent seats on the UN Security Council at the forthcoming regular session of the UNGA.


It is clear from the foregoing narration that the idea of creating new permanent seats is extremely divisive and if pushed, will lead to long term damage to the United Nations as an organisation. Surely, that cannot be the objective of the reform of the UN.

The issue needs to be looked at dispassionately. The implications of the demand for new permanent seats are stark. The proposal shows a complete lack of respect not merely for the principle of sovereign equality but equally importantly for 180 large, medium sized and small, poor and developing, weak and vulnerable countries of the world. They are being asked to support the subversion of the basic principle of equality of all sovereign states, large or small, and to sanctify the pernicious and unacceptable principle of inequality of states in order to satisfy the ambitions of a small coterie of countries. The aspirants to permanent seats are telling the rest of world in no uncertain terms that the 180 countries comprising the rest of the membership of the United Nations are not their equals and should accept and endorse an inferior status for themselves. They want the rest of the humanity to be subservient to them. They are willing to undermine or even destroy the fundamental principles of the Charter and international law so as to promote their overweening and arrogant self-image of being great powers.

The world is being asked to accept that might is right, that some bigger, richer, or militarily powerful nations should not be accountable to the membership of the United Nations through the democratic process of periodic elections. I believe that we must oppose this most vehemently. The UN was created with the ideal of equality. Equality of all human beings and equality of all states large or small. We may never achieve that ideal in all its fullness. But we must never allow that ideal to be destroyed at the altar of the ambitions of a few.

So far as, seemingly, the best option for the international community would be to adopt the resolution proposed by the UFC group. This would also be in accord with the NAM Summit decision to enlarge the Security Council only in the non-permanent category in the absence of a consensus on any other formula.

Moreover, reforms are needed to improve management, strengthen the protection of human rights, and hold UN officials accountable for their actions. Action on these reforms should not be delayed by a protracted debate on Security Council reform. The members of the UN should focus on the totality of reforms and avoid a rapid vote on the UNSC expansion.

Source: From the work of Mr Inam ul Haq- former Foreign Minister