Equality is giving everyone a shoe, but equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.
United Nations Security Council (UNSC), one of the most significant organs of the United Nations has been at the forefront while dealing with the herculean task of keeping international peace and security; it supervises any conflict that might lead to international friction, sanctions the country that contravenes peace-keeping measures and settles the conflict through recommendations, severing diplomatic relations or if need be, authorizing military action.
The UNSC established in 1945 consisted of 15 members- 5 permanent and 6 non-permanent members. The permanent members i.e. the U.S.A, the U.K., Russia, France, and China; secured the seats as a result of the strong threshold that they had achieved over the world aftermath the WW II. In 1965, owing to growing economies and increasing member-states the UNSC was expanded from 6 non-permanent members to 10 non-permanent members, which are elected for a term of two years, the only crucial reform undertaken by the UNSC until now.
The following chart depicts the most frequently elected UNSC non-permanent members of which India has been elected 8 times including the term 2020-2022. Nevertheless, are these non-permanent seats as vital as they seem to be? Does the veto system reflect as an effective measure for the smooth functioning of the world?
The UNSC while making an important decision on international conflicts need an affirmative vote of 9 out of the 15 members, yet the potent veto power of the five permanent members disables the decision-making power of the non-permanent members. The substantive decision on an international arena comes to a standstill when a single permanent member vetoes against the decision. This authoritarian power and a long-drawn-out process have rendered the UNSC convoluted and inefficacious to a large extent. Isn’t it high time that the UNSC brings about the much-needed reforms that the countries have been demanding for decades?
Need for Reforms:
Imbalance of Regional representation:
Since its establishment, the UNSC profusely represents the U.S.A, China, Russia, France, and the U.K., which had a strong foothold over the world after World War II. The structure and process of the UNSC complemented the then 20th century scenario, but does the 21st century brimming of independent countries (free of colonialism), booming economies and growing international interplay gel with the UNSC structure and decision-making process? The permanent members of the UNSC have an authoritarian power to make decisions that have had to be duly followed by the weak and developing countries. Even countries like Japan, India, and Germany have no say in international conflicts and have become puppets in the hands of the permanent members of the UNSC.
The tyrannical veto power:
The veto power was vouchsafed in the hands of the permanent members of the UNSC for the purpose of taking decisive measures or actions to maintain international peace and security after the whole world had witnessed the deadly repercussions of the world wars. The veto power from 1945 till the present has been utilized overly by the five permanent members of the UNSC. The below-mentioned image illustrates the vetoes cast by the permanent members.
Image source: “Security Council – Veto List”. Dag Hammarskjöld Library Research Guide.
The veto power has been used tyrannically by these members for satisfying and withholding their personal interest even when they have been detrimental to the world at large. Quoting Francis O. Wilcox, the legal advisor to the U.S delegation to the 1945 conference, where he reminded the small states that they would be guilty of that same act if they opposed the unanimity principle ‘You may, if you wish,’ he said, ‘go home from this Conference and say that you have defeated the veto. But what will be your answer when you are asked: “Where is the Charter?’“. The USSR has rampantly vetoed the admission to the UN Member states of countries like Austria, Ireland, Libya, Italy, Japan, South Vietnam, etc. for meeting their own personal interests. Even the U.S.A vetoed resolution nearly 27 times which were to protects its interests in Panama and Korea.
Due to such rampant abuse of power, the authenticity of the UNSC has been called into question. There have been various demands made by the countries throughout the world to reform the UNSC according to the milieu of the globalized 21st century. Though these reforms should take into consideration equity, at the same time should not compromise the competence of the UNSC.
A few of the reforms suggested by various countries are:
Permanent Non-Veto Member (PNVM) reforms:
This reform suggests a new category of the permanent members as well as non-permanent members of the UNSC without the right of veto. It was the non-alignment moment that suggested the PNVM reform which would include the 2+3 formula- 2 permanent and 3 non-permanent members. This reform does not provide equity since this new category would not stand any chance to opine on the draft resolutions owing to a lack of veto power.
6 PNVM seats and 4 NPM seats. The “Group of Four” (G4), comprises of Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan. The G4 would guarantee regional representation, yet affect the efficiency due to the additional 6 permanent members which would make it even more difficult to pass a resolution based on a veto call.
It comprises of 5PNVM seats and 4 NPM seats, similar to G4 it would have the same consequences.
Panama put forward a proposal that provides membership on a renewable basis, whereby any member state that gets elected consecutively for 4 years would be granted a PNVM. It would include 6 new renewable seats with 5 years term.
Uniting for Consensus (UFC):
This reform was suggested by Italy whereby 10 non-permanent members would be renewable
These renewable reforms do not showcase much of a change into the betterment of the structure of the UNSC.
African Union (AU) reform:
The AU reform puts forward the idea of the extension of the permanent membership to 6 new countries with the right of veto and 5 non-permanent seats. This reform would certainly take into consideration regional representation, but would not better the efficiency, instead worsen it, for few more countries would then have the power to veto making it even more tedious to pass a draft resolution.
High-Level Plan A (HLPA)
The HLPA suggests regional representation in the UNSC- Africa, Asia and Pacific, Europe, North and South America which involves 6 PNVM seats and 13 NPM seats. This reform exhaustively provides equitable representation but does not pay heed to the inevitable abuse of power through UNSC’s veto power.
High-Level Plan B (HPLB)
The HLPB suggests regional representation in the UNSC- Africa, Asia and Pacific, Europe, North and South America which involves 8 new renewable seats each having a 4-year term and 11 NPM seats. The countries under renewable seats would be reallocated and given an opportunity to stand a chance to represent at the UNSC. The renewable seats would open the doors to many a country to represent the UNSC and vocalize their views on substantial international issues.
Weaken right of veto (WV): (Veto-)
Two permanent members vote required to form a veto, then only the draft resolution would fail. This reform shall hold ground since there would be an efficient decision-making process instead of rejecting any important resolution on one country’s veto which would be often used for one’s personal interest while ignoring the international conflict.
The below-mentioned chart provides a holistic summary of the reforms put forward by various countries in the world.
Source: Gould, M., Rablen, M.D. Reform of the United Nations Security Council: equity and efficiency. Public Choice 173, 145–168 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-017-0468-2
Implications of UNSC reforms:
The weaken right of veto (WV) founds ground on being the most appropriate and sound reform in terms of equity, fairness, and efficiency which mitigates the veto power of the permanent seat members, yet it does not provide a holistic representation. Whereas the AU reform would expand the permanent as well as non-permanent seats of the UNSC providing an equitable regional representation, nevertheless the same would reduce the efficiency of UNSC regimes.
Yet, the most equitable and efficient reform would be expanding the permanent seats as well as the non-permanent seats of the UNSC so as to equitably represent regions, i.e permanent seats should be granted to each African, Asian, European, Australian, Northern as well as South American country. Each region should have the right to voice their opinion on substantial international matters that directly impact their respective region. More so, any draft resolution should pass with the 2/3rd majority and should fail only when such criterion has not been met.
Restraining the tyrannical power of the UNSC permanent seat holders:
The expansion of the UNSC reforms would have a colossal impact on the power of the UNSC permanent members, which is why the UNSC has been turning a deaf ear to the reforms and ideas that have been put forward for a dog’s age.
A welcoming door to deserving countries:
The countries such as India, Japan, Italy, Germany, etc. who have been deserving the prestigious seat of the UNSC would be able to be a part of the forefront and discretionary authority which impacts the international sphere. Though the expansion of the UNSC permanent seats would be a tough nut to crack, yet if it becomes a reality, the autocratic power of veto in the hands of the permanent member states could be ebbed and the responsibility to nurture and protect international tranquilities would be shared with developing as well as third world countries.
– Manasi Joglekar,
Writer, Bharat Bhagya Vidhata
 Wilcox, Francis O. (1945) “The Yalta Voting Formula”, American Political Science Review, 39(5): 943-956, ISSN 0003-0554