Reforming the unreformable – what future for the UN Security Council?

By Solon Ardittis - 05 April 2023
Reforming the unreformable – what future for the UN Security Council?q

Solon Ardittis calls for a Security Council made up of political blocs (or alliances).

Calls to reform the UN Security Council have pervaded the political agenda of most non-permanent member states at various points in history over the past six decades. Since the Ukrainian invasion, the deficiencies and inherent limitations of the workings of the Security Council have become even more confounding, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy challenging the body to act or "dissolve" itself.

Criticism directed at the Security Council encompasses a number of issues chief of which are its extremely weak regional representation and the right of veto held by the five permanent members.

Initiatives to reform the Council have been tabled repeatedly over the past few decades – for example, Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan established the so-called G4 interest group and demanded a permanent seat in 2005; Italy, Pakistan, Mexico and Egypt also formed an interest group, initially known as the "Coffee Club", pressing for permanent membership; the African Group demanded two permanent seats on the basis that much of the Council's agenda was focused on the African continent. 

While there is broad recognition that the Council needs to be more effective and representative if it is to continue playing a central role in maintaining international peace and security, it is unlikely that any critical reform will gain traction in the foreseeable future. This is largely because of Article 108 of the UN Charter which states that “any reform of the Security Council would require the agreement of at least two-thirds of UN member states in a vote in the General Assembly and must be ratified by two-thirds of Member States. All of the permanent members of the UNSC (which have veto rights) must also agree”.

However, reforming the Council, if it ever were to be reformable, would actually require an in-depth rethink of its original fundamentals. While all demands by non-represented states to date have stemmed from strictly geographical considerations, the Ukraine war, in particular, has highlighted the limited relevance of the very principle of regional representation. What the Ukraine war has emphasised, on the contrary, is that geographical unity rarely equates with political unity. Take the African continent, and its abiding crusade for a permanent seat in the Council. African nations have accounted for nearly half of all abstentions in the UN general assembly resolution condemning Russia in 2022, while a number of other African states approved the resolution. How much regional representativity and political unity would a single African delegate be able to demonstrate in the Council? Or take the Asian continent (broadly defined) and the ambiguous role assumed by China, India, Iran and Turkey since the start of the Ukrainian war, with other Asian member states continuing to support Ukraine unequivocally.

What the above suggests, in effect, is that in an increasingly ideologically ruptured world, peace and security can no longer be approached in a representative and truly multilateral way through the prism of the geographic location, population size or economic strength of the Council members, let alone on the basis of more traditional North-South considerations.

Reforming the Council, in point of fact, means overhauling its original design and approaching issues of membership and representativity in a more contemporary fashion. One option for such a remodelling would be to base the Council’s future membership on three main political blocs (or alliances), rather than on any individual country representation. Under this scheme, each UN member state would join one of the three blocs based on a platform of values and positions on peace and security adopted by each of them. The three alliances might consist, broadly termed, of the “liberal west”, the new “illiberal democracies” and the non-aligned. Each bloc would offer a rotating presidency to its members, thus ensuring direct membership of the Council of all member states at regular intervals, and majority voting among the three blocs, instead of any right of veto granted to a handful of individual member states, would be established.

While seemingly unrealistic in the current global power configuration, such an overhaul, with all its needed refinements and variants, would only contribute to improving the trust, relevance and effectiveness for one of the most important decision-making bodies on global peace and security.

In an increasingly bi- or tripolar world where fundamental dogmas have started to take precedence over more traditional principles of nation-state and regional integrity, if not over international law, the time has come to fully integrate the newly emerging international order and the advent of crossbred geopolitical blocs into the workings of all key international institutions.



Solon Ardittis is Director of Eurasylum, a European policy research consultancy. He is also a Fellow at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) and at  the Global Labor Organization (GLO). Twitter: @Eurasylum

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

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