United Nations Security Council (UNSC)

You are here

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • Rajesh Singh asked: What are the pros and cons of the idea of restructuring of the UN Security Council?

    Satish Nambiar replies: There are no pros and cons. There are only pros. The UN Security Council as presently constituted is an outdated formulation that was put in place in 1945 when the United Nations Charter was framed under the circumstances that prevailed after the end of World War II. This is particularly so in regard to the permanent membership which only included the five major powers that emerged victorious at that time, namely the USA, the USSR, France, the United Kingdom and China (formerly Nationalist China, later replaced by the PRC). It is an anachronism in the second decade of the 21st Century, almost seven decades after the signing of the UN Charter.

    The UN Security Council, as constituted today, particularly in its permanent membership, lacks credibility and legitimacy because it is not truly representative of the international community of the day. It does not have any representation in the permanent membership from Africa, that has 53 member states, or from South America; a situation that would be laughable, if it was not so serious.

    Equally, there is much to commend the induction in the permanent membership of the UN Security Council of powers like Germany and Japan that have contributed so much over the years to the work of the United Nations and continue to do so, as also of emerging powers like Brazil, South Africa and India that even today contribute, and can be expected to contribute more in the years to come.

    The cons, if any, are only conjured up by:

    • Spoilers who are aware they do not find place, but would like to prevent their adversaries from finding a permanent seat on the Council;
    • Current permanent members like France and the UK resisting change because their own positions are so fragile; and
    • The USA not probably wanting to have in the permanent membership even more opposition than at present posed on occasions by Russia and China.

    Harikrishnan Nair asked: What are the arguments that India puts forward in its bid to secure a permanent post in the UNSC? How many countries support the bid?

    Keerthi Sampath Kumar replies: A survey of India’s statements at the UN Security Council over the last two years would reveal that its bid for permanent membership is based on the premise that the current structure of the UNSC does not reflect ‘contemporary realities’ but the geopolitical realities of 1945. On several occasions, India put forth the argument that the Council has to be reformed in order to make it more credible, effective and efficient. India aligns itself with the G4 and the L.69 group that seek expansion both in the permanent and the non-permanent categories, on the basis of equitable geographical distribution as well as demand for improvements in the working methods of the Security Council. Though the groups demand for expansion of membership in the permanent category with veto rights, the veto is not to be exercised by the new permanent members until the end of the 15-year review period. India is also striving for a veto restraint agreement whereby the permanent members would limit the usage of veto power and abstain from using it under certain circumstances.

    The G4 is pressing for a reformed Council that would accommodate around 25 members, with six new members in the permanent category that would include two seats from Africa, two from Asia, one each from Latin America and the Caribbean, one from Western European and Others Group. The non-permanent seats would be expanded from 10 to 14 or 15 members with the addition of one new non-permanent seat each for Asia, East Europe, GRULAC (Latin American and Caribbean Group) and one or two non-permanent seats for the African states. India has vehemently criticised the ‘interim/intermediate model’ proposed by the Uniting for Consensus group as being a non-starter.

    As of today, more than 80 members of the UN have supported the G4 bid for permanent membership and 50 other members are yet to formally render support.

    Vikas Gholu Rathod asked: What could be the implications of India becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council?

    Keerthi Sampath Kumar replies: To understand what the implications could be, it is necessary to first look at why India wants to become a permanent member of the Council. An expansion in Council membership would, according to India, reflect the ‘contemporary realities’ (and not the world ‘realities’ of the pre-Cold War era when the UN came into being), make the system more democratic and also enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the Council in dealing with global issues. India’s inclusion as a permanent member would also be an acknowledgement of its growing importance in global governance. If India does become a permanent member, naturally it would join the P5 club and enjoy veto rights.

    Those opposed to the expansion of the Security Council argue that if the number of member states who have the power to veto any resolution increases, the impending possibility of a prolonged deadlock over global issues that would require immediate attention also increases. This would in turn impinge on the effectiveness and efficiency of the Council in maintaining global peace and security, the very reason that India envisions an expanded Council. There is also an apprehension among the international community that if countries like India, Germany become permanent members to the exclusion of other nations, such a reform would not make the system any more democratic than what it is today.

    Nevertheless, it has to be acknowledged that the current Council structure is not conducive for maintaining global peace and security. It remains to be seen how the Security Council can be reformed to make it more efficient and effective and at the same time reflect the realities of today.

    Sivanandan MS: It is said that the UN Security Council should be expanded to reflect the ‘contemporary realities’. What are these 'contemporary realities'?

    Saurabh Mishra replies: There has always been a desire for a normative system among the states to conduct international affairs in a manner that promotes co-existence. The system is achieved bilaterally or collectively reflecting the ‘contemporary realities’ which, more or less, means the contemporary ‘power and influence hierarchy’ of the states in the international system. The UN, which we have, is a product or a reflection of the power hierarchy of the world after the Second World War. The UN has a Security Council and a General Assembly. The former comprises of the P5 (victorious allied powers) and 10 other non-permanent members, and the latter contains all the member states. The Security Council, especially the P5 (US, Russian Federation, China, U.K. and France), countries with veto power in the council, take important decisions related to the maintenance of peace and security in the world. The power of veto tacitly given to them by the principle of great power consensus has been institutionalised in the UN Charter as they emerged as the most powerful military and ‘moral’ authority after the Second World War. Initially, the P5 were the only countries that had the military and economic power to enforce any order in the international system just after the Great War. Both the realists and the idealists for their own reasons supported the constitution of the United Nations in the current form as they had seen the failure of the League of Nations because of lack of US support. Both agree on the point that an international organisation should have the powerful countries in the core decision-making and executive organs as only their participation and support can enforce any order in the international system. After the Great War, the axis powers (Japan, Germany, and Italy) were destroyed and most of the Asian, African and Latin American states were colonies of the victorious powers or some other European countries. So, the primacy of allied and other powers in the United Nations system was in tandem with the ‘contemporary realities’.
    The world has seen changes and many new states have emerged since the end of the Second World War. They vie for a more just and democratic world order. They feel that the United Nations should reflect the following ‘contemporary realities’ which is structured on the basis of the post-Second World War realities:

    • The aspirations for a multilateral world — the rise of other major economic and military powers — India, Brazil, Japan, Germany, South Africa and others.
    • The democratic aspirations of the people—the UN needs to be more democratic.
    • Rise of regionalism—each region wants its representation in the system.

    The constitution and composition of the Council has been changed twice in the past to adjust with the ‘contemporary realties’ of the times. The Council was expanded from 11 to 15 members in 1965 and the People’s Republic of China was recognised as successor to the Republic of China in 1971.

    Rajat Debey asked : Considering the complexities of procedure and conflicting interests, what kind of reforms in the UN Security Council can be expected in the near future?

    Keerthi Sampath Kumar replies: Any kind of UN Security Council reform in the near future, i.e., before the end of India’s term as a non-permanent member in the Council, is unlikely. With each group in the UN proposing their own set of demands that are not complementary to one another; be it the G4 or the African group or the Uniting for Consensus group, hopes of compromise on the structural reforms of the Council remain narrow. Deep divisions among countries on all the five tracks of ‘Intergovernmental negotiation on the question of equitable representation and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Council’ continue to prevent agreement on any permanent reform. With members reinstating their well-known positions on reforms, the fact unfortunately remains that there have been no developments in the recent past. Further, any change in the structure of the Security Council will require UN Charter amendments which will in turn necessitate vote from two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly, including all the P5 members. Consensus among the P5 on the addition of any new permanent member is currently absent and will be close to impossible to achieve in the immediate future.

    Nonetheless, all roadblocks aside, there is growing optimism at least among the Indian delegation in New York to achieve progress while India is in the Council. Though India is well-aware of the obstacles in achieving Council reforms, India wants to leave no stone unturned before its term gets over in 2013.

    Ajai Vir asked: The G-4 has sought reform in the ''working methods'' of UNSC. Is this merely a diplomatic term for veto power or does it signifies more?

    Satish Nambiar replies: On various occasions in 2011, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, India availed of opportunities to articulate its uncompromising position on UNSC reforms. In that context, at the UNSC’s Open Debate on Working Methods of the Security Council, India placed on the table propositions for reform of the working methods of the Council which would require a comprehensive reform in the membership of the Council with expansion in both the permanent and non-permanent categories. In this debate, India put forward recommendations to deal with the archaic system that impact on the legitimacy and credibility of the Council and its effective functioning. Among other issues, India questioned the monopoly of the P5 members in drafting resolutions and underscored the need to make it more democratic and credible. All these efforts are part of India's case for a reformed Council that would accommodate around 25 members, with six new members in the permanent category to include two seats from Africa, two from Asia, one from Latin America and the Caribbean, and one from Europe. That the non-permanent seats should be expanded from 10 to 14 or 15 members with the addition of one new non-permanent seat each for Asia, East Europe, the Latin American and Caribbean Group, and one or two non-permanent seats for the African states. India is also striving for Council reforms in terms of a veto restraint agreement whereby the permanent members would limit the usage of veto power and abstain from using it under certain circumstances.

    Ajai Vir asked: What are sanctions? Can every country impose them the way USA has done against Iran? Why does India support only UNSC backed sanctions?

    Satish Nambiar replies: Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council is authorised to take enforcement measures for maintenance or restoration of international peace and security. Such measures may range from economic and/or other sanctions not involving the use of armed force to international military action. The use of mandatory sanctions is intended to apply pressure on a State or entity to comply with the objectives set by the Security Council without resorting to the use of force. Sanctions thus offer the Security Council an important instrument to enforce its decisions. The range of sanctions include comprehensive economic and trade sanctions and/or more targeted measures, such as arms embargoes, travel bans, financial, or diplomatic restrictions. Unilateral sanctions have meaning only when imposed by a powerful country like the USA that can manipulate the levers of international power like diplomacy, commerce, trade, banking, transportation, etc., and is able to influence other countries to join the process. India has consistently taken the stand that any action of such a nature against a member state must have international approval, namely that of the UN Security Council.

    India’s Past Year at the UN Security Council

    India’s overall approach at the UNSC in the past year was focused on projecting and representing the opinion of the developing world, addressing problems through regional solutions and achieving as much progress as possible through diplomacy and dialogue.

    February 07, 2012

    Ajai Vir asked: Given the fact that the US support leverages India's position at the UNSC, can our foreign policy be termed as truly independent?

    Cherian Samuel replies: While there are compelling arguments both for and against the proposition, the empirical evidence, and this is something the United States cites repeatedly, lies in the voting record of India at the United Nations. A perusal of this shows that India has voted against resolutions supported by the United States more often than not. The voting record in the Security Council is more nuanced since many of the resolutions are brought to the floor only after a consensus has been reached among the members. In most cases, draft resolutions are voted out so they do not become a part of the official record. In the year since India became a non-permanent member of the UNSC, of the 67 resolutions that have been brought before the UNSC, it has abstained just once. 64 out of the 67 have been passed unanimously.

    India was joined in abstaining on Resolution 1973 (authorising the use of a no-fly-zone over Libya) by China, Russia, Brazil, and Germany. While it is a coincidence that the so-called BRIC countries are together at the same time in the Security Council, they have merged as a formidable bloc, resisting US and Western pressures. Therefore, it would be incorrect to say that the United States has successfully leveraged India’s position in the UN Security Council to its advantage.

    UNSC Condemns Syrian Crackdown

    The powers in the Security Council and other prominent countries and groupings have hesitated to take action against Syria because of its profile and ability to manipulate events in West Asia.

    August 17, 2011