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UN Security Council needs urgent and deep reform

At least 2 African countries, India and Japan should join it as permanent members.

In Summary
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the Security Council is at best peripherally relevant and ineffective.
  • As currently constituted the Security Council is an underlying condition that undermines multilateral cooperation and collective leadership.
The UN Securtiy Council.
COVETED SEAT: The UN Securtiy Council.
Image: COURTESY:

Kenya joined the 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, replacing South Africa. Along with India, Ireland, Mexico and Norway, Kenya will join current non-permanent members Estonia, Niger, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Vietnam at the iconic horseshoe-shaped table in January 2021.

Fifteen countries sit on the Security Council, the United Nations organ that maintains international peace and security. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America – are the victors of World War II. Ten non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms, with five elected each year.

The powers of the Security Council are defined under the United Nations Charter. To ensure peace, the Security Council can recommend procedures for peaceful settlement of disputes, sanction the use of force to maintain peace, establish peacekeeping operations, impose sanctions to enforce resolutions and establish international criminal tribunals.

More importantly, it is the responsibility of the Security Council to recommend to the UN General Assembly the appointment of the secretary general. Moreover, together with the Assembly, the council elects judges of the International Court of Justice.

While the mandate of the Security Council seems clear, its role has come under serious scrutiny. Many in the majority world question the composition of the permanent members. While China, France, the UK, Russia and the USA accounted for more than 50 percent of the world’s population in 1945, today they comprise just 26 percent. The four permanent members, account for only 7.8 percent of the world’s population.

Evidently, as presently constituted the Security Council does not reflect the world we live in today by categories of members and by geography. The Security Council was and still is conceived on a basis of responsibility (avoiding another global war) and capacity (military and financial), rather than on a principle of representation. For as long as the five permanent members wield veto powers, the 10 non-permanent members are both innocuous and ineffectual in the high stakes game of veto-powered global decision-making.

The international system is vastly more sophisticated and navigating global, multilateral cooperation is far more complex than the five permanent members of the Security Council can offer. I believe at least two African countries, India and Japan should join an expanded Security Council as permanent members.

It is patently unwise for a permanent member of the Security Council to use terms like “China virus” and “Kung Flu” when a world pummelled by a pandemic is in dire need of multilateral cooperation and leadership. The polarising tension between China and the US continues to undermine the diplomatic capacity of the Security Council. Examples abound; Kashmir, Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Venezuela and Sudan.

The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the Security Council is at best peripherally relevant and ineffective. As currently constituted the Security Council is an underlying condition that undermines multilateral cooperation and collective leadership. Now is the time for the UN General Assembly to drive deep reforms.