Would Security Council enlargement make the Council more effective?

Governments in all countries or most of them affirm their undying devotion to the United Nations and all its purposes and principles; they continually express their determination to uphold its objectives and to strengthen its effectiveness. Today, the underlying presumption has been that the UN is ‘ineffective’ because it has contributed little to the solutions of major problems in recent years.  On one hand it has been argued that Security Council enlargement would make the Council more effective; in the other it has been argued that it would not since most countries today agree that Security Council needs to become more transparent, accountable and equitably representative.  This essay will discuss: Would Security Council enlargement make the Council more effective?

From the beginning of the 1960’s, with the big increase in the membership of the United Nations, there had been proposals for an increase in the size of the Council. This was designed partly to reflect more accurately the composition of the Organization’s membership, particularly to provide more seats for Africans and Asians.  Moreover, the proposal was resisted for some time by the Soviet Union, probably because of her objections to any amendments to the Charter.[1] By the 1980’s the Council was providing valuable assistance for the resolution of conflict and tension in the Gulf, Afghanistan, Angola and Namibia, just to mention a few. Historically, when the UN was formed there was a general desire to learn from the mistakes of the League of Nations ‘which mainly; it felt for four main reasons. First, it has no armed force. Second, it had lacked authority. Third, it has been paralysed during crises by the rule of unanimity. Fourth, the absence of several major powers had made it unrepresentative and impotent’.[2]

As well, the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security is placed on the Security Council. Until amended in 1965 the Charter provided that the Security Council should consist of five permanent members and six other members elected by the General Assembly for two-year term. Moreover, the powers given to the SC under the Charter were considered sufficiently extensive to permit it to efficiently discharge its primary responsibility for the preservation of international peace and security. Furthermore, ‘an effort was also made to so define and differentiate these powers from the more general and less coercive powers of the General Assembly as to make it clear that the Security Council was not only to take initial action but also to take exclusive action in some areas’.[3] Also, the powers given the SC are set forth in general terms in Art.24 of the Charter which provides that ‘in order to ensure prompt and effective action by the UN, its members confer on the SC primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agree that carrying out its duties under this responsibility the SC acts on their behalf’.[4]

 Some scholars such as Evan Luard suggest that: ‘the trouble is the Council has never adjusted to its changed role: to the fact that it has no force to call upon. The Council is in a sense in the position of an umpire among burly and unruly football players. It may be called upon for a judgement in certain types of situation, even where it cannot by its own strength enforce that judgement.  It can lay down the general terms of a settlement, as over the Middle East in 1967’. He also asserted that: the Council could capitalize further on this authority, in a world as small as today’s; no government is wholly indifferent to outside opinion. But in most cases, governments may be influenced, slowly and almost unconsciously, by international pressures to modify their policies to avoid the odium of public condemnation.[5]

In terms of effectiveness, it was commonly argued during the early years of the UN the success of the SC was being destroyed by the excessive use of the veto. In recent years the veto has been used with much less frequency. Besides, the functions of the Council fall into two categories: first, the constituent functions which have to do with such matters as membership and establishment of subsidiary organs; and, second; substantive functions in the maintenance of international peace and security which have to do with the handling of specific disputes and situations. Is to believe then; the efficacy of the Council’s work can be considered under these two principal heads.

 In terms of ineffectiveness,’ it has commonly been stated that the uselessness of the Security Council has been primarily due to the failure of the P-5 to agree. There is no question that this breakdown of the permanent members to cooperate more closely was an important and decisive factor in limiting the range of effective action of that organ and in crippling it in the discharge of some of its major responsibilities’[6]. On top, this lack of cooperation found its principal expression in the ‘cold war’ which brought the Soviet Union and the Western powers into deep conflict. Therefore was believed that, the role of the SC, as defined in the Charter, was bound to suffer as a result of this use of it as a forum for conducting the cold war instead of for purposes of support. On the other hand, membership enlargement, accompanied as it has been by a great increase in the number of uncommitted members, not allied to either party to the cold war, has made the General Assembly a somewhat less attractive forum for the cold war propaganda and has produced an Assembly which is less easy for a major power to influence and control. ‘Some scholars argued that as a consequence; permanent members have shown less interest in having questions of peace and security before the General Assembly for discussion and have used their influence to bring about greater use the Security Council’. [7]

 In terms of restructure; there have been many proposals as to how to reform the SC; however, there are several that have gained the most publicity and momentum. ‘The four most prominent proposals are detailed in the paragraphs below. The developing world, in conjunction with more recent regional powers are the strongest proponents of UNSC reform, with the United States seeking overall reform of the organization rather than the enforcement of significant changes to only the Security Council.’[8] The European Union is caught somewhat in the middle with internal divisions among member states providing significant challenges to developing a joint EU policy toward the United Nations.

The G4 Nations: The four nations most strongly campaigning for permanent membership on the Security Council are Brazil, India, Germany, and Japan. Brazil is by far the largest country in South America and therefore argues for membership based on its size and power with respect to the region. India is the largest democracy in the world and one of the most populous countries in Asia. It is also at the forefront of technological innovation, a nuclear power, and believes that that is reason enough for its permanent membership in the Security Council. Germany has changed dramatically since the UN was established after its defeat in WWII and, as well as Japan, is a member of the G-8, the group of the 7 wealthiest countries in the world, plus Russia. Both nations are two of the largest financial contributors to the UN. ‘The G4 nations have included in their proposal one permanent seat for an African nation, and thus their idea for reform has become known as the G4 + 1 proposal. Of the five permanent members, this proposal is currently backed by the United Kingdom and France.’ [9]

The G4 +1 proposal: would significantly improve the demographic representation of the Council and distribute power more accurately according to those nations who contribute the most financially to the organization. However, many countries in the European Union, especially Spain and Italy do not want to see Germany gain a permanent seat out of fear of a coalition of power among the three most powerful nations in the EU: Great Britain, France and Germany. The rest of the EU would then feel even more excluded than it already does from the prestigious UNSC. As such, there has been discussion of exchanging the potential seat for Germany , and possibly the current ones for France and Great Britain , for a collective EU permanent seat. The EU has adopted a joint foreign policy, and a common seat would follow in line with what the EU established post – Maastricht .

However, it is unlikely that Great Britain and France are currently willing to give up their seat, nor is Germany ready to stop campaigning for its own permanent seat on the Security Council. The EU is quite divided on this matter, with Italy leading the opposition against both an EU seat and a German seat.

Uniting for Consensus:  led by Italy, Pakistan, Argentina, South Korea, and Mexico, this group of almost 40 countries, including Spain and much of the EU, has formed as a direct counter to the proposal of the G4 nations. They would like to keep the 5 permanent members as they are, and increase the number of non-permanent members to 20 for a total increase of 10 seats to the Security Council. The Latin American countries oppose Brazil gaining a permanent seat on the basis that although it is the largest country in South America, it is a Portuguese-speaking country, and therefore not an accurate portrayal of the make-up of the region. Spain, Italy, and the majority of the EU member states oppose Germany gaining a permanent seat in the Security Council for fear of their losing influence to the more powerful European nations on the Council.

 While increasing the size of the SC would improve the demographic representation and democratic nature of the Council, there is a significant risk of its losing effectiveness. Part of what makes the SC function is that it is a small group of powerful nations and rotational regional representatives from the General Assembly. ‘The more nations that join the Security Council, the more similar it will be to the GA, and therefore, its chances of successful decision-making and implementation will decrease. The Council already has difficulties in implementation and making decisions as a result of the veto power of the P5.’[10] Increasing the size by 10 nations could lead to increased disagreement and hamstring the implementation efforts of the SC.  For these reasons, enlargement within the Council would not make it more effective.

Now, coming back to the question: Would Security Council enlargement make the Council more effective? Is to believe that no, it would not be more effective because; enlargement of the Council will mean ineffectiveness as it bring conflicts on vetoes and membership. The fact is that having more members is not a guarantee that it would be better; therefore with fewer members agreements will be easier to take and P-5 members will keep their veto power.

 Moreover, if we project the trends of recent years, we would have a reason to expect that as a result of the expansion of the UN and the presence in the organization of a majority of members whose primary interests are in economic development and in the elimination of colonialism and of racial discrimination, the General Assembly will continue to occupy the centre of the stage. There is, however, another possible consequence of the enlargement of membership and the increase in the number of new states, that the internal instability and boundary conflicts to which these new states may be prone will create a rash of new disputes and situations in which the SC will be called upon to discharge its Charter responsibilities. ‘One definite consequence of the expansion of membership and the particular attitudes that the new members have come to adopt with regard to the priorities of the organization and matters of particular concern to themselves is that even the United States, which in the past has tended to look upon the General Assembly as providing a forum where supporting majorities could be mobilized’[11], will look with less favor upon the use of that organ for peace and security purposes. In several critical aspects, the struggles of the first half of the 1940s over establishing the SC were remarkably similar to the debates today over reforming and enlarging it. ‘The core position is that the Council should be permitted great flexibility in determining what constituted a threat to international peace and security and how and when to respond to it.’[12]

In addition, the European Union has traditionally been more supportive of international organizations than the United States; but the disagreements over Security Council reform, specifically over a potential German seat, have reduced the EU´s ability to use that support to empower reform efforts. ‘If the EU has a joint foreign and security policy, it would make sense for the body to have a joint EU seat on the Security Council.[13] However, that would require serious discussions at the EU level between the current permanent members, France and Great Britain, and the rest of the member states on how the EU wants to represent itself at the UN in the most effective manner possible. In order for true SC reform to occur, the EU must first decide how it wants to present itself to the international community, and just how joint their foreign and security policy views really are. In the case of USA, for their part, needs to publicly show more faith in the organization. This includes active commitment to peacekeeping operations and more transparency in their dealings with the United Nations.

After the research done is this essay is tempting to conclude that reform at the Security Council level only is a small step toward UN reform, and does not fix the overall problems of the organization. Distrust, lack of legitimacy of members and the organization itself, and a perceived, if not actual, lack of democracy in the Security Council require that reform reaches a higher level than the current 15-member body. While disagreements exist between and within the European Union, the United States, and the developing world, true UN reform will be difficult to achieve. If UN reform is the ultimate goal, the major powers and those in the developing world need to put aside the mantra of, “let´s agree to disagree” and seriously commit to resolving internal disputes so the United Nations can regain the effectiveness and legitimacy that it was designed to have. Plus, whether the recent successful activity of the Security Council can be sustained will depend on two major conditions. One is the harmonious working relationship between the Council and the Secretary-General. The other is the willingness of the members, particularly the Permanent Five members (P-5), to use the mechanisms available for peace-keeping rather than ignoring them in pursuit of self-interests.


-David Hannay; The UN after the Cold war-An Insider’s View. I.B. Tauris, London-New York, 2009.

-Danesh Sarooshi; The United Nations and development of collective security. Oxford, Clarendon press, 1999.

-Evan Luard; The United Nations how it works and what it does. Macmillan, second edition, 1994.

-Erika de Wet; The Chapter VII- Powers of the United Nations Security Council. Oxford and Portland Oregon, Hart publishing, 2004.

-James Barros; The United Nations: past, present and future. The Free Press, New York; Collier-MacMillan Limited, London, 1972. Chapter II: The UN Security Council.

-Peter R. Baehr; The United Nations in the 1990’s. 2nd edition, Macmillan press LTD 1994. Chapter 2: Charter and Structure of the United Nations.

-Vaughan Lowe, Dominik Zaum; The United Nations Security Council And War, The evolution of thought and practice since 1945. Oxford University Press, Oxford-New York 2010.

Electronic source

-http:// www.incipe.org/UNSCreform.html. Consulted on 16- january 2011


[1] Evan Luard. The United Nations how it works and what it does. P.16

[2] The United Nations how it works and what it does. P.10

[3] James Barros. The United Nations: past, present and future. P21

[4] The United Nations: past, present and future. P21

[5] Evan Luard. The United Nations how it works and what it does. P.30, 31

[6] James Barros. The United Nations: past, present and future. P28

[7] The United Nations: past, present and future. P29

 [8]  Taken from: http:// www.incipe.org/UNSCreform.html. Consulted on 16- january 2011

[9] Taken from: http:// www.incipe.org/UNSCreform.html. Consulted on 16- january 2011

[10] Danesh Sarooshi. The UN and development of collective security. P51

[11] James Barros. The United Nations: past, present and future. P57

[12] Vaughan Lowe. The United Nations Security Council and War. Chapter II. P81

[13] Taken from: http:// www.incipe.org/UNSCreform.html. Consulted on 16- january 2011


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