The current session of the United Nations General Assembly saw a resurgence of talk about the need to reform the Security Council. This is undoubtedly due to the intensifying international challenges and dangers from the Ukrainian war which is open to the worst possible scenarios, to the various repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic on societal stability in quite a few countries, and thus on stability in many regions of the world, along with environmental challenges that also have serious security implications in different states and places.
All this comes in parallel with the spread and escalation of conflicts with different features and causes, which are sometimes contained without being successfully resolved. Countries and regions witnessing such conflicts often turn into a theater for disputes between international and regional powers, requiring comprehensive settlement, which falls within the core responsibilities of the UN Security Council. All of this reinforces and even renews the need for an effective Council.
Security Council reform carried four titles that do not contradict each other. Many see that they are all cohesive, although some may prioritize one objective over another. Those include reconsidering the function of the Council, expanding its membership to make it more representative and therefore legitimate, regulating the use of the veto right, and granting access to underrepresented countries, especially the Dark Continent, as key African countries have repeatedly emphasized this matter.
The Security Council was expanded in 1965 to include 15 countries, by adding 4 non-permanent seats.
Pointing to the importance of this matter at the international level, two main factors emerge: The first is the increase in the number of independent states, and the second is the transformation in the structure of the international system, with the rise of new poles and powers, and the emergence of countries that enjoy economic, scientific and other soft powers, which is no less important than the military component.
Recalling the historical context of Security Council reform, we note that the late Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, upon assuming his responsibilities as Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1993, launched a comprehensive path of reform, which was known as the peace agenda. A panel of experts and stakeholders was established to discuss and formulate practical proposals for this purpose.
Kofi Annan also launched an initiative to develop and expand the Security Council by increasing its (permanent and non-permanent) seats to include 25 countries.
At the same time, four major powers in the international system (Germany, India, Brazil, and Japan) presented an expansion project, which makes them permanent members without veto rights, for 15 years, after which a decision would be taken on the renewal of their status.
In short, the expansion of the Security Council to include more permanent and non-permanent seats is currently under discussion. However, such a matter is not simple if we take into account three facts: First, the permanent members may not wish to reduce their ability to influence very basic international issues by involving other powers within this framework.
Second, when it comes to the representation of a particular geographical region, rivalry arises between neighboring states over the “power game” and the competition and influence between the concerned regional powers at the regional level.
Third, talking about regulating or restricting the use of the veto drops a basic card, if not the main one, from the hands of countries that currently hold this power. This issue was met with strong opposition with various justifications.
The challenge of reforming and developing the Security Council to make it more representative of the map of international powers and the nature of the multilateral, intertwined, and integrated global system, is more than necessary to enhance its effectiveness and legitimacy and enable it to overcome problems that affect everyone, albeit in different forms and times.
International parties have begun to work through different committees with multiple international representations, to formulate reform proposals to enhance the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Security Council.
It is not an easy task, but remains essential to face the increasing and different international challenges in our “global village.”