Politicians are preventing the long-advocated growth of the UN Security Council

TANZANIA – Almost everyone involved agrees: Almost eight decades after its existence, the powerful UN Security Council needs to be expanded, further developed and filled with more votes. But as with so many things, the central question – and the biggest disagreement – is exactly how.

Five countries that were great powers at the end of World War II have dominated the United Nations and its most important body in its 77-year history. The Council remains in its current composition, despite a four-decade call for other countries to join this VIP group to reflect the dramatically changed world of the 21st century.

The council’s failure to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put another misstep in the spotlight at this month’s gathering of world leaders: the 193 UN member states, consumed by national interests and regional rivalries, have blocked the expansion of the body tasked with ensuring international peace and security.

The post-war period, when the United Nations was founded, reflected in the opening words of the UN Charter a desire to “save future generations from the scourge of war”. An updated council with more votes could refocus that premise, proponents say. But disagreements over the size, composition and powers of a redesigned council have left generations of UN diplomats wondering if it will ever change.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres summed up the problem in 2020: “The nations that led the way more than seven decades ago have refused to think about the reforms needed to change the balance of power in international institutions to change.”

“Inequality starts at the top – in global institutions,” Guterres said at the time. “Tackling inequality has to start with reforming it.” But it hasn’t happened yet.


The 15-member Security Council has 10 non-permanent members from all regions of the world, elected for two-year terms without veto power, and five permanent members with veto power: the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

Two of these members are represented by different governments than when the United Nations was founded in 1945. The now Taiwan-ruled Republic of China is excluded from virtually all UN bodies staffed by the mainland-ruled People’s Republic. The Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s, leaving Russia as the surviving power.

It is Russia’s use and threatened use of its veto that has prevented the Council from taking action on the now seven-month war in Ukraine. It’s a failure noted by many leaders in their General Assembly speeches, along with their constant complaints that the council is outdated and unrepresentative.

Particularly annoying for governments in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean: They have no permanent members. Can that change? The American President thinks it has to be.

“It is time for this institution to become more inclusive so that it can better respond to the needs of today’s world,” Joe Biden said before the General Assembly last week.

He called for increases in both permanent and non-permanent membership, including “permanent seats for the nations we have long supported and permanent seats for countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.” The United States also supports permanent seats for Germany, Japan, and India.

Peace, said French President Emmanuel Macron, requires an international consensus. “Therefore, I hope that we can finally commit to reforming the Security Council so that it is more representative, welcomes new permanent members, and remains able to play its full role by allowing the use of veto powers in cases of mass crimes.” restricts,” he said.

And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, addressing the gathering on Saturday, called for a more “democratic” council by expanding representation from Africa, Asia and Latin America and adding India and Brazil. At a subsequent press conference, he said the addition of “hostile” Western countries like Japan and Germany would bring nothing new to the Council: “They are all following orders from the United States.”


Attempts to reform the council began in 1979. In 2005, world leaders called for the council to be “more universally representative, efficient and transparent”. That year, the General Assembly, which must agree to any council reform, shelved three competing resolutions to expand membership, reflecting the deep divisions that linger to this day.

A resolution by Germany, Japan, Brazil and India would give them permanent non-veto seats on a 25-member council. A second, from a group of middle-tier countries including Italy and Pakistan, wants a council with 25 members and 10 new non-permanent seats. The now 55-strong African Union wanted to add 11 new seats: six permanent seats, including two for Africa with veto power, and five non-permanent.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, the head of the African Union, reiterated his call for two permanent seats, saying it was time to “restrict Africa to the fringes of decision-making circles”. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said the war in Ukraine proves that “reforming the UN is essential if we are to find world peace.”

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley called for removing the veto power from the five permanent members: “A Security Council that keeps the veto power in the hands of a few will still lead us to war.” And Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country “will continue to emphasize that ‘the world is bigger than five’.”

Almost all Presidents of the General Assembly have conducted negotiations on reform of the Security Council in recent years. Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, who stepped down as president this month, lamented his inability to finalize an agreement “to reflect the new reality of the world”. His successor, Csaba Kőrösi, promises to continue.

“It is high time that the council represented the world’s population more equitably and reflected the realities of the 21st century,” said Kőrösi.

That year, the General Assembly passed a reform: any permanent councilor who vetoes must now appear during a debate before the 193-nation assembly to explain why.

David Scheffer, a former US war crimes ambassador, said Biden’s proposal “goes beyond anything the US government has previously said on the issue” and “accepts the reality of the world we live in today, not that.” World of 1945 at the end of a war of transformation.”

“The United States must be the collaborative superpower of the future, and this will be an important step in that direction,” he told The Associated Press.

Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, called Biden’s comments on the reform “a shrewd policy move” that caused a stir among diplomats and UN officials that it serves American interests, “a more or less functional council as an alternative to anarchy to have”.

“China particularly hates the idea that Japan and India could exploit reform talks to secure permanent seats on the council,” Gowen said. “That’s why Beijing could end up blocking the entire process.”

But he said, “Biden has ignited a reform discussion that will last at least a couple of years.” Whether it will result in actual change or just more talk remains to be seen.


Edith M. Lederer is chief UN correspondent for The Associated Press and has been reporting on international affairs for more than half a century. For more AP coverage of the UN General Assembly, see https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/09/26/politics-impede-long-advocated-growth-of-un-security-council/ Politicians are preventing the long-advocated growth of the UN Security Council

Sarah Y. Kim

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