The Security Council’s Credibility Test

CANBERRA – The United Nations Security Council’s membership will be reconstituted in 2015, but it will not look very different from its predecessors. World War II’s victors – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China – will continue to hold the box seats, which come with veto power. Five new non-permanent members – New Zealand, Spain, Angola, Malaysia, and Venezuela – will rotate in for a two-year term, replacing Australia, Luxembourg, Rwanda, South Korea, and Argentina, respectively. The remaining five bleacher seats will be occupied for another year by Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, and Nigeria.

Aside from Nigeria, none of the twenty-first century’s other major players – including Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, and South Africa – will have a ticket. All efforts to reform the Security Council’s structure – even an end to prohibiting immediate re-election of non-permanent members, which would enable continuous engagement, if not formal permanent membership – have ground to a halt.

Reconstructing the Security Council to ensure that the most influential powers always have a seat at the table is not the most urgent reform, but it remains one of the most important. The Council’s institutional legitimacy as the world’s foremost decision-maker on issues of peace and security cannot be taken for granted. If the Council continues to look the way it does, it is only a matter of time – maybe another 15 years at best – before its credibility and authority for most of the world diminish to dangerous levels.

The immediate task is to find other ways to boost the Security Council’s global standing. The challenges that the Council faces today are as acute as they have ever been. More crises have been erupting in more places, more breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law have been occurring, and more people have been displaced by conflict than has been the case for decades.