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Globalizing the Security Council

BRASILIA – The 1945 United Nations Charter represented a historic breakthrough in the pursuit of peace on a multilateral basis. At the end of a global war that claimed more than 50 million lives, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the world’s two major powers. The UN Charter, initially negotiated by the US, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom during World War II, established a Security Council containing five permanent members, including France and the Republic of China.

At its inception, the UN brought together 51 countries; it now has 193 member states. But, although the Security Council was enlarged in 1965 by increasing the number of non-permanent seats from six to ten, its permanent members have not changed since 1945.

The world has gone through extraordinary transformations since then. In addition to interstate conflict and the proliferation of weapons – particularly weapons of mass destruction – new challenges have emerged, such as terrorism and the involvement of non-state actors in internal conflicts. Meanwhile, the global distribution of economic and political power has undergone a radical reconfiguration, setting the stage for the emergence of a multipolar international order.

In this environment, the Security Council’s frozen composition is imposing significant limits on the international community’s capacity to address global challenges. Conflicts drag on without proper action from the body created to resolve them. Thousands of civilians die, are displaced, or are subjected to appalling human-rights abuses, while the Security Council proves unable or unwilling to act. Reform of the Council is thus urgent and indispensable.

A majority of UN member states are in favor of creating a new Council with an expanded roster of both permanent and non-permanent members. This majority reflects a growing perception that the world would be more stable and more secure with a strengthened and updated multilateral system. That means adding new voices to reflect the world in which we now live. Only then will the Security Council have the legitimacy to act on today’s manifold conflicts.

A reformed Security Council would reflect the emergence of new powers and their readiness to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security. In the financial and economic arena, this new multipolarity has already led to quota reforms at the International Monetary Fund and resulted in the consolidation of the G-20 as the premier venue for multilateral economic-policy coordination.

The contrast with matters of peace and security is stark. Entire regions of the world, such as Africa and Latin America, are excluded from the nucleus of decision-making. A governing body that is not representative fuels uncertainty and frustration among those subject to its decisions, undermining the legitimacy – and thus the effectiveness – of its actions.

The greatest risk that we run is erosion of the Security Council’s credibility, and, with it, a diminishing capacity to confront grave threats to peace. We all stand to lose if new international crises end up being addressed by coalitions of countries at the margins of the Security Council and in a manner that flouts international law.

The lessons of the recent past are clear. In any conflict, neighboring countries’ participation and commitment are indispensable to the achievement of peace. Only an expanded Security Council can enable effective conflict resolution worldwide.

The international community cannot afford to postpone reform. It is our duty to preserve the multilateral system of peace and security – an achievement of the international community that, despite its shortcomings, has helped save the planet from another war on a global scale.

Only an increase in the number of permanent and non-permanent seats can remedy the representation deficit within the Security Council and adapt it to the realities of the twenty-first century. If new members and regions are not offered a seat at the table, the Council will face increasing irrelevance – and the world, more than ever in need of effective conflict resolution, will be far worse off.