Circling the Square: The Quest for UN Security Council Reform

Term Paper, 2009

13 Pages, Grade: 1,0

Free Download! (PDF)
Free Download! (ePUB)
Free Download! (MOBI)



1. Introduction: The Show must go on

2. The Security Council of the UN
2.1 Structure and Role
2.2 Decision History

3. Reform of the Security Council
3.1 Criticism
3.2 Reform history
3.3 Reform proposals
3.3.1 A More Secure World
3.3.2 The G-4 Model
3.3.3 Uniting for Consensus
3.3.4 African Union Proposal
3.3.5 Single European Seat
3.3.6 Merger with G-8
3.3.7 Deliberation Rights without Membership

4. Conclusion: What is the best Reform Model?

1. Introduction: The Show must go on

In the realm of international politics, few debates have become as tedious as the quest for United Nations (UN) Security Council reform. While there is consensus that the UN’s main decision-making body is in dire need of institutional overhaul, many states are afraid of losing out in the race for reform. The instalment of an open-ended working group in 1993, the work of which has been called as “long-running a show in New York as any musical on Broadway” (Laurenti, 73), has not brought about significant progress, only a myriad of different reform proposals. In the last months, however, new light sparked at the end of the long reform tunnel.

In the wake of the recent financial crises, there is renewed interest in strengthening the legitimacy of the only body with the ability to solve international disputes. According to John Sawers, British Ambassador to the UN, "the current climate of economic instability has highlighted the need for strong, representative and effective international organizations". But although “the need for change is great", prospects of success for the new round of negotiations, which will start on 3 March 2009 and is projected to stretch well into the next year, remain overshadowed by old preoccupations. Sawers cautions that "we have to ensure that this council remains capable of taking the effective action necessary to confront today's security challenges". Susan Rice, Ambassador of the United States, holds a similar view, claiming that the Obama administration only supports Council expansion “in a way that will not diminish its effectiveness or its efficiency" (all quotes here: International Herald Tribune, 20.02.2009).

This dichotomy between legitimacy and efficiency, which lies at the core of every debate about Security Council reform, will be addressed throughout this essay. Firstly, an overview of the Council’s role and functions and its decision history is presented. Secondly, the criticism geared toward the Council, previous attempts of reform and reform models at stake are discussed. Finally, I argue that for the sake of efficiency the addition of new permanent members and a change of veto regulations are red lines which cannot be crossed, and that, instead, the addition of six non-permanent members might be the least common denominator.

2. The Security Council of the UN

2.1 Structure and Role

The Security Council is an instrument of collective security. It poses a threat to any country which breaches Charter provisions. But as reaching agreement among all 192 members of the GA would be an impossible task, a select group of UN members is in charge of global security. The Charter of the UN confers on the Council “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” (UN Charter, Article 24). This right includes instituting economic sanctions, dispatching peacekeeping forces or taking military action against an aggressor. According to Thomas G. Weiss, “this arrangement was designed to contrast with the Council of the League of Nations, a general executive committee for all of the organization’s functions that failed miserably in the security arena because it required agreement from all states” (148).

Since 1965, the Council has 15 seats. The five permanent members (the P-5: the US, Russia, China, the UK and France) are joined by ten non-permanent members from all regions of the world which are elected for two-year seats, five of which change every year. The selection for service on the Council is not random. Members must be nominated by a regional caucus and then approved by the GA with a two-thirds vote. To this end, the Charter sets out two criteria in Article 23: “contribution” to the maintenance of peace and “equitable geographical distribution”. In practice, regional powers are elected more frequently than minor states (Kuziemko and Werker, 909). From 1946 to 2001, Japan and Brazil have served for 16 years in the Council whereas Thailand and Bolivia, for instance, were elected to the Council only for two and four years respectively (Kuziemko and Werker, Appendix Table A1). Additionally, any UN member state which feels its national interests to be concerned by the Council agenda can join the meetings as a spectator. For the Council to agree on a decision, nine affirmative votes are required. Not all votes, however, have the same weight. Members of the P-5 enjoy the power to deny that a breach of the Charter has occurred, and can therefore overrule the views of the other 14 Council members (Imber, 330).

Its main function is to legitimize the actions of the international community not only on state level, but also domestically. Chapman and Reiter have analysed the effect of Council approval on public opinion in the US. Their finding is that there is a strong correlation between presidential popularity ratings and Council support, because „the approval of all these major states, including two nonallies, is a very strong signal that the proposed use of force is justified as a necessary action to address a direct threat“ (891). But Western states are not unique in valuing Council decisions. In order to defend the Russian attack against Georgia in August 2008, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lawrow claimed that his country “had been working to secure a Council statement hours before the Georgian invasion” (Financial Times, 16.08.2008). It seems as if the Council must rely primarily on its legitimizing function. This is the case, Ian Hurd argues, because the body lacks coercive or financial resources (201). One can therefore see why it is the Council’s most vital concern to ensure that its legitimacy be always preserved. Problems arise when this interest clashes with the Council’s need to make effective and timely decisions.

2.2 Decision History

Before looking at the issue of reform in detail, it is useful to analyse the Council’s performance in the past based on its decision history. As of 2 January 2009, 1860 resolutions have been passed (Der Standard, 02.01.2009), some of which were more controversial than others. In 1950, the Soviet Union boycotted the Council over the exclusion of Mao’s PRC. In consequence, the Soviet Union could not prevent a Resolution being passed against its ally North Korea. Ever since that period, no member has missed a single meeting. Nevertheless, the Council was consequently plagued by the ideological divisions of the Cold War between 1950 and 1990 (Imber, 330), some exceptions notwithstanding, such as Resolution 242, which in 1967 famously called for Israeli withdrawal. No action, for instance, was taken during the Vietnam War. In total, there were 193 important vetoes from 1945 to 1990, as opposed to 12 from 1990 to 2003 (Chapman and Reiter 904).

This hiatus ended only with the collapse of the Soviet Union. From 1990 on, starting with Resolution 678 against Saddam Hussein, the Council showed remarkable activity. The average number of resolutions adopted yearly increased from 15 to more than 60 (Chapman and Reiter, 904). This promising development, however, abruptly ended with a series of horrific events in the mid-1990s. After the UN famously failed to prevent genocide in Rwanda and Srebrenica, a lot of criticism was raised as to the selectivity of Council decision. In 1999, some Western states expressively avoided the Council for authorization in order to intervene against Serbia in Kosovo, in advance knowledge of imminent Russian and Chinese vetoes.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Circling the Square: The Quest for UN Security Council Reform
University College Cork  (Department of Government)
Übung Global Governance
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
433 KB
united nations, sicherheitsrat, security council, veto, permanent members, dauerhafte mitglieder, reform, global governance, vereinte nationen
Quote paper
Niklas Manhart (Author), 2009, Circling the Square: The Quest for UN Security Council Reform, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Circling the Square: The Quest for UN Security Council Reform
Free Download! (PDF)
Free Download! (ePUB)
Free Download! (MOBI)

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free