Security Council Reform: How and When?

October 8, 2003

Security Council Reform: How and When?

There is today a widespread consensus that the UN Security Council urgently needs to be reformed.

There is today a widespread consensus that the UN Security Council urgently needs to be reformed. Two factors are specifically being mentioned as undermining the Council's legitimacy: first, its biased composition, second the veto-wielding power of its five permanent members (P-5).

To start with the first: the present membership of the P-5 reflects the post-World War II situation, in which France, Britain and Russia were still global powers. This is, however, no longer the case today. New powers have emerged and are asking for their rightful place in the Security Council. Two solutions are suggested:

  1. to bring in the ‘losers' of 1945 by making Germany and Japan permanent members.
  1. to ‘rebalance' the Security Council further by enlarging the circle of permanent members with representatives of the Southern hemisphere - mostly developing countries.

For the second group the U.S. has proposed a ‘regional' representation in which one country represents a continent. This would mean that Brazil could be the permanent member for Latin America, Nigeria for Africa, etc. This has, however, immediately lead to negative reactions from jealous regional competitors. Argentina contests any claim made by Brazil, South Africa and Egypt compete with Nigeria for the African seat, Pakistan is not ready to accept the permanent membership of India, and, in Europe, it is Berlusconi's Italy that is unwilling to support Germany's claim.


Rotation might be the solution. Several countries could alternatively occupy one seat for several years. In regards to the German claim, rotation is a solution to stop the European Union from being over-represented with three permanent members. France, Britain and Germany could rotate the two seats presently held by Britain and France. The question is whether France and Britain be prepared to share their seat with Germany in the name of European solidarity.

Abolishing the Right of Veto?


A second question is whether the new permanent members should obtain a right of veto. It is clear that an extension of the Security Council with more veto-wielding members would risk paralyzing the Council, perhaps even more so than during the Cold War. New members, therefore, should not obtain the right of veto. In order to avoid that the new power structure in an enlarged Security Council remains biased in favour of the P-5, they too should give up their veto right. Given the fact that it is more difficult to give up something right now than at some point in the future, the permanent members of the Security Council should decide to give up their right of veto on January, 1st, 2010.


At the same time, they should immediately start to use this right in a more restrictive way, reserving their veto for circumstances in which their national interest is really at stake. A delay of six years to give up this no longer defendable privilege would give them enough time to prepare for a more genuine multilateral and multipolar world.


It would be a good test case for France to take the lead. One might have some doubts, however, if Chirac's neo-Gaullist France - although it considers itself as a champion of a multipolar world - has the will and the courage to do so and to promote a genuine multipolar Security Council in which the P-5, including France itself,  have given up their veto rights. Despite their recent struggles in the Council, France and the U.S. might find themselves, therefore, in the end on the same side of the table: as close allies defending the status quo against the newcomers.


Marcel H. van Herpen is director of the Cicero Foundation, a Pro-EU Think Tank.