G-4 plan would expand the Security Council from 15 to 25 members.
The United Nations Security Council consists of 15 members, five being permanent and 10 non-permanent members. The permanent members have the power of veto and include United States of America, China, Russia, France and United Kingdom, while the non-permanent membership is given to the rest of the world on rotation basis. The Security Council’s present membership reflects the world of 1945 (post-World War-II), overlooking rising powers like India and excluding an entire continent, Africa.
There is strong support for enlarging the Security Council to reflect the world today rather than the global power structure after World War-II when the United Nations was created. But all previous attempts, starting in 1979, have failed because national and regional rivalries blocked agreement on the size and composition of an expanded council.
An interim proposal to tackle the divisive issue of Security Council reform would expand the UN’s most powerful body from 15 to 22 members but leave it up to the 193 (South Sudan being the 193rd member) UN member states to decide what countries should fill them.
There are four leading contenders for permanent membership: India, Brazil, Germany and Japan, called the G-4. The African Union, whose 53 members argue that their continent is the only one without a permanent seat on the council, wants to add 11 new seats – six permanent seats, including two for Africa with veto power, and five non-perma-nent seats.
There are several plans under consideration:
The most discussed proposal is sponsored by Germany, Japan, India, and Brazil-the so-called Group of Four (G-4) nations aspiring to permanent membership on the Security Council. This plan would expand the Security Council from 15 to 25 members by adding six permanent members without veto power (one for each of the G-4 nations and two for Africa) and four non-permanent seats elected for two-year terms. The G-4 plan is supported by the UK and France, but strongly opposed by China.
The second proposal is from the 53-nation African Union (AU) and calls for a 26-member Security Council. As with the G-4 plan, the AU plan would add six new permanent members, including two permanent seats for Africa. It differs from the G-4 plan in that it calls for an additional five non-permanent seats instead of four and insists that new permanent members possess the veto.
A third proposal, advanced by the Uniting for Consensus (UFC) group, calls for adding 10 non-permanent members to the Security Council, who can be re-elected. Argentina, Canada, Italy, Mexico, Pakistan, South Korea, Spain, and Turkey are the most prominent supporters of this plan.
All of the pretenders for Security Council membership have bitter opponents, called the Coffee Group, later known to be called as Uniting for Consensus. A group of middle-ranking countries, including Italy and Pakistan want a 25-member council with 10 new non-permanent seats.
Pakistan will fight tooth and nail to exclude India. China will do its utmost to block Japan (those memories of wartime occupation by the Japanese die hard). Italy wants to block Germany, rather than face being the only major European power without a Security Council seat. The rest of South America is wary of according leadership of their region to Brazil. Meanwhile, Nigeria and South Africa will oppose one another’s membership, in order to claim the prize for themselves.
The problem is that the Security Council’s membership could only be changed if all the existing members plus every member of the General Assembly reach a consensus. In other words, every country in the world would have to agree.
First, it must be supported by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly, or 128 nations. Second, it must be ratified by two-thirds of the General Assembly and all five current permanent members of the Security Council.
In other words, this issue will cause endless international wrangling, without changing anything at all. This makes it very easy for everyone to say they want the Security Council to be enlarged. Being in favour of something which is never going to happen presents no difficulties at all.
A larger Security Council with these nations as permanent members would make it more unwieldy and subject to conflicting interests contributing to gridlock that will paralyse the Council and decrease the probability that it will act quickly or effectively to address threats to international peace and security.
The UN Security Council’s legitimacy depends far more on its actions than its membership. The Security Council is by no means perfect as it currently stands. It is subject to delay and indecisiveness, as its failures in Iraq and Sudan clearly demonstrate.
A larger Council would not solve problems. On the contrary, it would further undermine the Council’s ability to act decisively as timely action would fall victim to political impasse, conflicting interests, or debate among nations that have little to contribute to the Council’s ultimate responsibility-enforcement of international peace and security.
However imperfect, the current composition of the Council is infinitely preferable to ill-considered expansion that will surely weaken its standing and ability to meet its mandate-ultimately making the Security Council less relevant and increasing the likelihood that crises will be addressed outside of the UN framework.