United Nations (UN) is one international organisation which does not need an introduction. The Security Council is one of its arms. Its purpose is to help maintain peace.
In 1945, it was decided that the Security Council (SC) will have 15 members out of which 10 will be non-permanent elected members who have a 2 year term and 5 will be permanent members. They permanent members are collectively called, the P5. They are United States of America, China, Russia, France and England.
The P5 have a special power called the veto power. It gives them the power to prevent the adoption of any ‘substantive’ draft resolution, regardless of the level of international support for the draft. The P5 have to ‘use’ the veto power. If it abstains from voting then it does not count as a veto.
It means that if for example England doesn’t support a draft resolution then it can ‘veto’ it and the draft will not pass even though all the other 14 Security Council members support it. Veto power is, to say the least, like a super power. It is thus, given to only the five countries who were super-powers at the time of the inception of the Security Council.
Recently there has been a lot of talks about reforms in the UNSC.
The SC reflects the geo political realities of 1945. These need to change to match the current situation. In 1945, there were 51 countries out of which 11 were members of SC. That’s 22%. Today, there are 192 countries and only 15 of them are members of the SC. It comes up to less that 8%. Geographically as well, it is not representative enough.
Germany, Japan, India and Brazil, who are collectively called the G4, have been very vocal about their claim for the permanent seat. Germany and Japan have been two of the top three contributors to the UN since a long time now. India has also contributed a lot of troops to the UN Peacekeeping force.
There are also countries like Spain and Canada who think that the system of having a permanent membership is wrong and so they do not want to add more members to a category they do not want in the first place.
Before we think of reforms, we need to know how to amend the UN Charter.
An amendment requires two-thirds majority of the overall UN membership. So, that means 128 of the 192 states in the General Assembly have to agree. An amendment would further have to be ratified by two-thirds of the member states (and ratification is usually a parliamentary procedure, so in most countries this means it is not enough for the government of the day to be in favor of a reform; its Parliament or Congress must also agree to the change). So we can safely say that the bar for amending the Charter has been set pretty high.
We need a reform formula which is simultaneously acceptable to a two-thirds majority and not unacceptable to the P5. This has proved so elusive.
So, if reforms are this tough, why not just let it be? What is the worst that can happen?
The absence of reforms can discredit the United Nations itself. The UNSC is one of the most important arms of the UN. If it loses its teeth then the UN will lose its power as well.
Imagine in 2020 France vetoes a resolution affecting South Asia with India absent from the table, or of one affecting southern Africa with South Africa not voting: who would take the Council seriously then?
Britain and France have been very encouraging with the idea of reforms in the UNSC. Why would a country be willing/eager to share such a power?
Simple. Today, people are suggesting increase in the number of permanent members. If it extends for a decade more then people will demand for replacing some of the P5 members. Better to share power than lose it altogether!
As Mr Shashi Tharoor suggested, we need to reform the UNSC not just because it’s an important organ of the UN but because it is a part of a broader process of renewing the United Nations “-not because it has failed, but because it has succeeded often enough to be worth reforming.”
Constructive suggestions are welcome.