A gradual change, taking place i.a. through introducing semi-permanent membership and a code of conduct for the veto, could be a possible solution for reforming the United Nations Security Council. This is the conclusion by our guest writer Anna Bremer, who in her Master’s Thesis, submitted within the Master’s Program for Futures Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin, highlights certain aspects of UNSC reform, such as exercise of power and obstacles to political transformation. Having analyzed previous UNSC reform attempts, she has identified key issues that need to be applied for a future reform proposal that has a possibility of succeeding and that could enable the council to move beyond current blockages.
There is consensus that the United Nations Security Council is currently not only gridlocked in a number of issues, but also facing a general crisis regarding its future relevance. Changes in the international order, including changes in the global balance of power and the rise of emerging powers, have lead to greater demands for reforming the UNSC.
Since now more than half a century has passed since the foundation of the institution, there is widespread accordance that a cornerstone in reaching this representativeness is expanding the council. However, how such an expansion is to be designed is one of the most problematic issues for a UNSC reform. To date there is little consensus on what actors shall be granted what kind of membership (and – in extension – what rights). In addition, the consent of the five permanent members of the council, the P5, is crucial in order for a reform proposal to pass, since it requires amendments to the UN Charter.
To this day, there has only been one reform of the UNSC: In 1965 there was an extension to include ten non-permanent members instead of six. Since then, in total six reform proposals have been put forward, none of them having been put to a vote in the General Assembly.
Change as a gradual process
How is the global community to proceed with the seemingly impossible task of reforming the UN Security Council? A couple of suggested amendments to the UN Charter, as well as updates of the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council shall now be discussed.
It is quite apparent that the current status of the P5 within the council does not spur the willingness of changing current structures. However, also a slow process of dissolving current structures may actually accelerate change, as the current profitable situation of the P5 is not necessarily static. As previously mentioned, the UNSC needs to adjust to the current global political setting, in order to stay legitimate. And as the powerful status (i.e. gain) of the P5 becomes less certain, the aversion to transformation (i.e. what these actors consider a risk) might decrease. This is an argument that is discussed further within i.a. the field of behavioural economics.
A new category of membership
To this topic, introducing a new category of semi-permanent seats could lead to a gradual dissolving of the current structure. It would change the dynamics and decrease the power gap that might exist between permanent and non-permanent members: First and foremost, it might help bypass the issue of institutional memory, which increases this gap further. Therefore, a political formula for expanding the UNSC instead of increasing the number of permanent seats should include introducing semi-permanent seats, of a period of four years, with the possibility of immediate re-election. A suggestion would be to introduce four of these; making the total number of UNSC members 19. This also means the reform might have a greater chance of receiving support from permanent member US who has opposed an extensive increase of council members.
Immediate re-election for non-permanent members
Furthermore, instead of expanding the number of non-permanent seats, the institution could give aspiring countries the possibility of immediate re-election (if agreed on by their respective regional group). This would draw advantage from institutional memory, and hence, contribute to evening out the power balance within the UNSC. In addition, this might decrease eventual regional tensions concerning the aspiration on semi-permanent seats.
Changes in regional grouping
As part in the strive for a more equal Security Council, the number of non-permanent seats to the regions of Asia (the home of 60% of the world’s total population) and Africa needs to be increased. A suggestion would be to divide the regions into two individual groups, increasing their total number of non-permanent seats by one. The Eastern Europe and Western Europe/Others group might be merged into one, as suggested in the 2004 report A More Secure World – Our Shared Responsibility.
Improved working methods and limitations to the veto power
In order to represent a more representative, transparent and effective council, a suggested model for reforming the Security Council also needs to encompass improving its working methods. First, there needs to be a clarification on what constitutes a so-called procedural matter; these matters only requires the affirmative votes from nine members of the council to pass, with an eventual veto being irrelevant. This is a vital part in making the council more equal: Without absolute clarity on what matters the veto does apply to, the permanent members within the council might execute their power to a greater extent – especially since their eventual opponents are switched out every two years; this being another example of how P5 are able to take advantage of institutional memory.
Moreover, as brought foward by France in 2013, the permanent members should be called on to committ to a code of conduct for using the veto, limiting their right to veto a decision to cases that are not with regard to a mass crime. This categorization is to be made by the Secretary-General, after the request of at least 50 UN member states. This, however, excludes decisions where vital national interests of a permanent member are at risk,
As for more general changes of council working methods, the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the UNSC need to be adopted. These still being provisional entails a lack of predictability as well as transparency, which may constitute a great disadvantage for the non-permanent members.
In addition, and as mentioned in previous reform proposals, the UNSC needs to strive to increase the cooperation with external actors, i.a. through a more thorough cooperation with the International Court of Justice.
Lastly, in order for the UNSC to stay à jour with the future global political situation and maintain or strengthen its legitimacy, a reformation of the council needs to be followed by a review conference, preferably 15 years after the amendments have entered into force. Such a review could i.a. examine the continued role of the nation state in the UNSC, as well as the opportunities of reserving seats for international organizations.
For more information on the structure and procedures of the Security Council, please see: http://www.un.org/en/sc/
Anna Bremer is a graduate of the Master’s Program for Futures Studies to the Department of Education and Psychology of Freie Universität Berlin. She worked to “The Future United Nations Security Council. A Reform Proposal” and published this article as a excerpt of her thesis.