A UN Security Council Reform Proposal

The United Nations (UN) is a symbol of equality, global dialogue and cross-border cooperation. Milestones such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the Geneva Convention on Refugees underpin this spirit and illustrate what the UN tries to stand for: a global community based on equality among all people that work together for a better, common future for all.
However, while equality is promoted externally, this principle is not applied in its own ranks. The perfect example therefore is the Security Council (SC), whose structure almost resembles an archaic tribe. Five chiefs decide on our world’s war and peace – regardless of whether they are directly affected by the respective conflict.

The reason why the SC still exists in this outdated form is primarily because nation states have always felt themselves to be disadvantaged in any SC reform. The five countries with veto rights (P5) naturally want to prevent any reforms that would diminish their historic power, while regional rivals are continually blocking each other in adding additional SC seats in order to prevent an imbalance in regional power relations. If all national ambitions for SC membership were accommodated however, the Council would burst at the seams.

The result? A reform blockade perpetuating a Council in which five states, motivated by their own interests – often at the expense of the international community’s benefit and to the growing displeasure of the remaining UN members – shape world events. This blockade is rooted in the rigid ‘one state, one seat’ nation-state centric logic and can hardly be overcome without moving away from it.

Therefore, I propose a regionalization of the Council – as an option for a fairer representation and distribution of power. I am for creating greater efficiency by reducing the quantity of 15 seats to nine, while simultaneously increasing the quality of the seats by assigning each of them to a certain group of countries.

There shall be no a priori grouping framework, but the chance to group according to individual member states’ criteria. This would give all members the same freedom and responsibility to group according to their own wishes and in turn promote equality. The same applies to the working procedures of the groups, which should also be freely determined by the established groups. Each country group would be represented by a member of its group in the SC according to the procedures it has set itself.

The problem of regional rivalry would be countered by the free grouping of states, since states could no longer increase their individual power through a SC seat. At the same time, the problem of efficiency and representation would be addressed, since the final decision would be taken by nine, i.e. by less entities than today, while each of these nine voices would nevertheless speak with the weight of an entire group of countries.

Furthermore, there should be some more rules to prevent state solo efforts, such as country groups having the power to negate the decision of their SC representative within 24 hours to put the item back on the agenda. This prevents representatives from disassociating themselves from their group. It should also be possible for states to change their group within multi-year cycles, provided the new group accepts them. This takes into account the possibility of changing national interests whilst simultaneously preventing opportunistic group changes.

Lastly, I propose the introduction of a case-based veto. Only the group to which the matter to be dealt with is related can veto. This would protect the national self-protection right against external intervention, whilst dissolving the archaic power structures of the P5. Affected states would no longer be dependent on an external veto but could decide for themselves whether to accept the proposed solutions of the world community.

By moving away from the nation-state centricity, the reform would promote fair global representation by allowing all states to have their say according to their own chosen criteria. At the same time, only countries that are directly affected by resolutions could block them, which would be a decisive step towards a more equal global power structure. These advantages could be achieved without a loss of efficiency, as the number of seats would even be reduced.

Unfortunately, this proposal, originally formulated by Niccolò Beduschi[1], would require a UN Charta change. It would have to be adopted by a two-third majority in the General Assembly and ratified by all P5 members.

Bottomline: It is very unlikely to happen. None of the P5 members would accept relinquishing power as required for this reform. But true guidance is not only about leading from the front. Good leadership also includes stepping down when it serves the purpose of the organization. Otherwise one is nothing more than a proud captain on a sinking ship.

[1] Beduschi, Niccolò (2016). The Last Reform: ‘Regionalistic Logic’ for a New UN Security Council. Available at: https://www.globalpolicy.org/security-council/security-council-reform.html [Accessed 29 May 2020]

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