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Debate: Expansion of the UN Security Council

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Should the UN Security Council be expanded?

Background and context

The Security Council is the key organ of the United Nations with primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. Currently it consist of fifteen members, five of them (UK, USA, France, Russia and China) are permanent members that hold a special veto power over all non-procedural decisions in the Council. The other ten are elected for two-year terms. Directly after World War 2 the Security Council had eleven members; after the amendment of the UN Charter in 1963 the number of non-permanent members was increased from six to ten but no other substantial changes were made.
Since the first reform in the sixties no other reforms have been made, although the world today has changed drastically from the world just after Second World War. The question of equitable representation in the Security Council has been on the General Assembly agenda since 1979, when a number of mostly developing countries raised the issue of under-representation of developing and non-aligned countries in the Security Council. Although the topic of the reform of the Security Council was opened already in the late seventies there was no extensive debate until the 1990s. The 1980s were still an era marked by antagonism between East and West and due to the large economic problems of developing countries their influence and that of the non-aligned movement decreased. At that time there was no general support for major reform, since all the permanent members, except for China, opposed any expansion vigorously. While the 1980s were perhaps still an inconvenient time for the discussion, the atmosphere dramatically changed in the nineties. The Security Council has become much more active after the end of the Cold war and has therefore attracted more attention and consequently also criticism. Today it seems to be universally acknowledged that some sort of reform is needed and urgent but there is no consensus on what this reform should look like. There are several models debated, some of them propose expansion only in the non-permanent category, others a third category of members that would have longer terms but no veto power. The most supported models envisage increases in both the permanent and non-permanent categories. One of them is the so-called Razali proposal that adds 5 permanent (Germany, Japan, one from Africa, one from Asia, one from Latin America) and 4 non-permanent seats (one for Asia, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe) to the existing Council, increasing the total number of members to 24. This proposal enjoys the widest support, yet it has not gained the sufficient number of votes required by the UN Charter (two-thirds of UN members, including all five permanent members are needed for any Charter amendments). The arguments below discuss the pros and cons of a plan to expand membership in both permanent and non-permanent categories.
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Argument #1

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Yes

The current Security Council doesn’t reflect the economic reality of the 21st century. France and Great Britain have clearly lost their position among the most powerful nations and their role was long ago taken over by Germany and Japan. These two countries are the second and third largest contributors to the UN budget and deserve a permanent seat in the Council. Moreover, as permanent members pay an extra share for their seat, Japan and Germany’s contributions would bring considerable amounts to the UN budget.

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No

Giving Germany a permanent seat would hardly be a step forward in an endeavour for a more equitable distribution of seats in the Council. The UK and France hold a veto power over any amendments and aren’t willing to give up their seats, so adding Germany would mean that the EU would have three permanent seats in the Council. That wouldn’t be a fair geographical distribution. Neither Germany or Japan is as deserving as has been suggested; although both are rich they have been struggling economically for a decade while other countries (including the UK and France) have continued to grow. Compared to other nations, both Germany and Japan are military insignificant. This is important as the Permanent 5's status currently reflects great power realities - they are the countries most able to project power abroad and so have the ability to implement (or block) UN security decisions.

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Argument #2

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Yes

There is a growing imbalance between developing and developed countries representation in the Council. Four out of five permanent members are industrialized and four out of five are “European”. The four-fifths of humankind that live in developing countries have only one spokesman among the permanent five. Giving Africa, Asia and Latin America a permanent seat is a step forward in North-South balance.

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No

There is a lack of consensus among developing countries themselves on who should get permanent seats. Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa all claim their right to an African one. The most logical candidate for an Asian seat – India – is opposed by Muslim countries, who want a permanent seat for themselves. Spanish speaking neighbours oppose Brazil’s candidacy because it speaks Portuguese.

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Argument #3

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Yes

A rise in UN membership should be reflected also in an increase in Security Council members. In 1945 there were only 51 UN members, so eleven Council members were adequately representing all voices. Today the UN membership has risen to almost four times the number of the original one, yet there are only fifteen voices in the Council. Important views of countries that are not represented in the Council are therefore neglected.

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No

Non-permanent members are selected to represent voices of entire regions already. Increasing the size of the Council would only make it more unwieldy as it would be extremely difficult to negotiate in such an expanded forum. The nature of the Council’s work requires swift action and expansion could negatively impact on its ability to provide quick solutions for world peace.

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Argument #4

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Yes

There should be no differentiation between old and new permanent members and the new ones should get the veto power in order to preserve the interests of the regions they represent. Veto power is not as problematic with potential permanent members as it is with the current ones, as all the candidates are known for their multilateral approach and cooperation, while the same cannot be said for the current ones.

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No

By giving five more countries veto power, the Council could come to a stalemate and practically no decisions of major importance could be accepted. The negotiation process would also be significantly delayed. The peace and security of the world could be endangered by this step.

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Argument #5

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Yes

Security Council expansion would also make the UN much more democratic as there would be more participants present in closed meetings and informal consultations. Expansion would increase the transparency of the Council.

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No

Expansion is not the right way to increase transparency, as the number of informal consultations of smaller groups (such as permanent members or only industrialised permanent members) would probably rise. Reforms to enhance transparency and improve working methods are already taking place.

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Argument #6

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Yes

By including more developing countries in the Security Council, more issues of their concern would get on the Security Council’s agenda.

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No

As the bulk of operations approved by the Security Council is financed by industrialised nations, they should have the main role in deciding on action. Developing countries already have a voice in the Council but should not have a veto power over decisions that they do not finance.

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