- The UNSC is one of the most important bodies of the United Nations;
- Since its creation after the Second World War, the Council has played a vital role in crisis and conflict management;
- The current representation of the UNSC has been the object of several criticisms over the years, such as lack of representation and impasses.
Strengthening the representation of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is a crucial challenge for the international community.
The participation of major world powers, as well as countries with lesser geopolitical influence, are essential to legitimize the actions of the UNSC and make it more agile and representative in dealing with issues of international peace and security.
Since its inception after World War II, the Council has played a vital role in crisis and conflict management, but the growing complexity of global issues demands an adaptive approach to ensuring peace and stability in the contemporary world.
In the world, live 8 billion people divided into almost 200 nations. It is extremely complex and has a permanent history of wars and conflicts. Despite intentions, the UN’s role in bringing peace to such a complex system is almost impossible. However, as many UN officials say: their role is not to lead humanity to paradise, but to prevent it from going to hell.
Furthermore, the UN has very little power and has no army or resources of its own. Its support derives from the contribution of Member States and all related decisions are decided in cooperation. The organization is dedicated to facilitating dialogue and cooperation, but it does not claim to govern all decision-making spheres or assume a position of global dominance.
What is the UN and how does the structure of the UN Security Council work?
The United Nations (UN) is an international institution founded on October 24, 1945 after the end of World War II. Its main objective is to promote cooperation among nations and solve global problems through dialogue and diplomacy. Currently, the UN has 193 Member States, which makes it one of the largest international organizations in the world.
The UNSC is unique on the international stage in that it is the only body with the legal authority to officially declare or initiate armed conflict in accordance with international law.
In the UN General Council, the votes of the members are not legally obliged to be followed, allowing greater flexibility in decisions. In addition, the practice of “name and shame” occurs in this context, involving the public exposure of nations that do not follow international agreements or norms, while in the UN Security Council, the permanent members’ veto power can block resolutions.
The structure of the UN is composed of several bodies, one of the most important being the Security Council, which is responsible for ensuring international peace and security. The Security Council is composed of 15 members, 5 of them permanent and 10 temporary.
The five permanent members are:
- United States (USA)
- Russia (former Soviet Union, USSR)
These countries were designated as permanent members due to their status as victorious powers in World War II and because they were the first countries to possess nuclear weapons, receiving veto capability, that is, they can block any Security Council resolution, regardless of the support she gets from the other members.
During the conflict in Syria, Russia frequently used its veto power in the UN Security Council to block the imposition of sanctions against the government of Bashar al-Assad, creating a stalemate dynamic and making direct international action against the Syrian regime difficult. .
Temporary members are elected by the UN General Assembly for two-year terms. They do not have veto power, but they play an important role in Security Council deliberations.
For example, the US decision to invade Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council, based on information presented by Colin Powell on weapons of mass destruction, resulted in a significant loss of international credibility, when that information becomes available turned out to be incorrect.
This unilateral action may also have contributed to encouraging Russia’s more aggressive stance, as seen in the current war against Ukraine.
However, the main responsibilities of the Security Council include identifying threats to international peace and security and taking measures to resolve crises, conflicts and emergency situations. This may involve imposing economic sanctions, authorizing peacekeeping missions, or even the ultimate use of military force.
It is important to mention that, despite its vital role in preserving international peace and security, the Security Council often faces criticism for its structure and functioning. Some argue that the presence of permanent members with veto power can lead to paralysis and ineffectiveness in critical situations, and there is debate about the need for reforms to make the Council more representative and responsive.
In addition to the Security Council, the UN has other bodies and specialized agencies that deal with various topics, such as human rights, sustainable development, environment, health, education, among others. These bodies work together to address global challenges and promote international cooperation.
Challenges and criticisms regarding the current representation of the UNSC
The current representation of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has been the subject of several challenges and criticisms over the years. Some of the main points of concern include:
- Lack of representativeness: The current structure of the UNSC with five permanent members and veto power is considered outdated and does not reflect contemporary geopolitical reality. The distribution of power on the international stage has changed significantly since its inception after World War II, but reforms to reflect these changes have been slow and elusive. Other major countries such as India, Brazil, Germany, Japan and African countries have been claiming greater representation on the Board, but their aspirations have yet to be fully met.
- Vetoes and Stalemates: The veto power granted to the five permanent members can lead to stalemates and paralysis in Council deliberations. When one of the permanent members uses its veto power, even if a majority of the other members vote in favor of a resolution, it is blocked. This can make it difficult to resolve crises and conflicts and generate frustration among other Member States.
- Selective responsibility: Critics accuse the Security Council of taking a selective approach in dealing with peace and security issues. Some Council actions and resolutions may be perceived as politicized or favoring specific interests of its permanent members, to the detriment of other regions or conflict situations.
- Changes in the global scenario: The world is facing emerging challenges, such as international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cybersecurity and climate change, which were not considered priority issues when the UN was created. Some critics point out that the Security Council must adapt to address these new threats to global peace more effectively.
- Lack of cooperation and political divisions: Tensions between permanent members, especially between the United States and Russia or China, can hinder joint action and consensus in the Security Council. Political polarization can hamper the body’s ability to respond quickly to crises and conflicts.
- Limitations on peacekeeping operations: Peacekeeping operations conducted by the Security Council have faced criticism for being expensive, complex and, in some cases, ineffective in resolving conflicts. There is a need for a review of the approaches and implementation of these missions.
Faced with these criticisms and challenges, several proposals for reform have been debated over the years. However, changes in Security Council representation require consensus among members of the General Assembly, which makes the political process complex and difficult to achieve.
The discussion on UNSC reforms continues to be a relevant topic on the UN agenda, aiming to make the body more inclusive, representative and agile in addressing issues of international peace and security.
7 Possible approaches to strengthen representation in the UNSC
There are several approaches and proposals to strengthen representativeness and efficiency in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Some of the main approaches include:
- Expanding the number of permanent members: This could include adding new permanent members, such as major countries in different regions of the world. This expansion would allow for greater geographic representation and make the body more diversified.
- Permanent members without veto power: Another suggested approach is to add new permanent members without giving them veto power. This way, they would have a permanent seat on the Council, but would not have the ability to block resolutions. This could help avoid stalemates and allow the Board to make more agile and effective decisions. However, the system of veto power in the UNSC highlights the inequality and ineffectiveness of global decision-making. Likewise, the need for unanimity in decisions often leads to impasses and stoppages, preventing quick and effective responses to relevant international problems.
- Non-Permanent Members: More equitable and frequent rotation of non-permanent seats can also ensure greater diversity and renewal in Board positions. For example, permanent members could serve 10 or 15 year terms, after which they would be subject to re-evaluation and possible re-election.
- Regional categories: Another proposal is to create regional categories for permanent members. For example, there could be a permanent seat for a Latin American country, another for an African country, one for an Asian country, etc. This approach would ensure a more equitable and representative distribution.
- Expansion of temporary members: In addition to addressing the issue of permanent members, expanding the number of temporary members of the Security Council was also suggested. Increasing the number of temporary members can provide greater regional diversity and facilitate the participation of more countries in the body’s deliberations.
- Review of peacekeeping operations: Strengthening representativeness may also involve reviewing peacekeeping operations conducted by the Security Council. This may include greater involvement of troops and resources from developing countries to ensure that peacekeeping actions are more comprehensive and representative. However, it is important to emphasize that the UNSC, in reality, does not have the responsibility to determine the size or composition of troops involved in conflicts.
- Participation of non-state actors: An additional approach to strengthen representation in the UNSC is the inclusion of non-state actors (other than countries), such as civil society organizations, private companies and entities representing different groups and sectors of society. This can be done by creating consultation mechanisms or the establishment of formal spaces for the participation of these actors in the Council’s deliberations.
These proposals aim to make the body more inclusive, better reflecting contemporary geopolitical reality and addressing the concerns of Member States that feel underrepresented.
How can the creation of new seats impact UNSC decisions?
One of the main consequences of creating new seats is the greater geographic representation it would provide. The addition of important countries in different regions of the world, such as Brazil, India, Germany, Japan and countries across the African continent, would allow more nations to have a voice and influence in decisions on global issues of peace and security.
Furthermore, the inclusion of new members would bring a greater diversity of perspectives, interests and priorities to the Board, which could enrich discussions and facilitate the search for innovative solutions to complex problems.
Furthermore, including non-state actors in the Security Council’s decision-making process could bring additional perspectives and expertise to the analysis of complex international security issues.
Non-governmental organizations often have practical experience in areas such as humanitarian aid, human rights, conflict mediation and sustainable development, which can enrich Board discussions.
Furthermore, the participation of non-state actors could help build bridges between governments and civil society, promoting greater cooperation in conflict resolution and the implementation of security measures.
These approaches could also increase the legitimacy of decisions taken by the Board, allowing different voices and interests to be considered.
It is essential to highlight that any reform of the Security Council would require the agreement of at least two-thirds of UN member states in a vote in the General Assembly and must be ratified by two-thirds of Member States. All of the permanent members of the UNSC (which have veto rights) must also agree, which honestly, makes this task almost impossible in the world we have today.
As many of the major powers have strategic interests and specific concerns, reaching agreement on UNSC reforms has been a challenge. However, the discussion on the need to strengthen the Council’s representativeness continues to be a relevant topic on the international agenda.
Why is the UN Security Council geopolitically important?
The UNSC occupies a prominent position in the global geopolitical scenario, playing a crucial role in maintaining international peace and security. The Security Council is a body with the power to make binding decisions, which means that it has the capacity to approve coercive actions, such as economic sanctions and military intervention, in response to situations that pose threats to global peace.
However, the vote in the General Assembly with the participation of 144 members against Russia highlights the international community’s attempt to express a consensus on the risk of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. However, the inability to turn this decision into an effective resolution, due to the Russian veto in the Security Council, illustrates a fundamental limitation of the international legal system.
While there are mechanisms to formulate global laws and norms, the absence of a supranational authority that oversees countries prevents the implementation of such norms. This underscores the sovereign nature of states and highlights the lack of an enforcement entity to ensure compliance with international law.
Likewise, the situation in Libya offers another striking example of how the system can be abused. When the UNSC sought to approve an intervention in Libya to deal with the ongoing humanitarian crisis and political instability, disagreements between members were evident.
Russia and China abstained from voting on intervention, but because they did not vote against it, the resolution passed. However, this UNSC resolution was only to close Libyan airspace and use all necessary means to protect the civilian population.
However, many analysts say that the United States and several European countries went beyond the resolution’s mandate by forcing a regime change in Tripoli, eventually leading to leader Gaddafi’s death.
This episode highlights how even with a resolution by the UNSC, the possibility of unilateral actions can undermine the effectiveness and credibility of international institutions, while also highlighting the complexity of ensuring the application of international norms when decisions are influenced by national interests and geopolitical.
Despite this, the importance of the organization lies mainly in its ability to make decisions with broad international legitimacy. UNSC resolutions have legal authority and reflect the consensus of major global actors. This ensures that your actions are recognized as legitimate and valid around the world, preventing unilateral actions and preserving international cooperation.
In addition, the Security Council is responsible for dealing with international crises and conflicts, seeking to prevent tensions from intensifying or spreading to other regions. By authorizing the use of military force in exceptional situations, the UNSC has the ability to intervene in conflicts seeking to promote peace, exerting direct influence on the relations between the countries involved.
Another crucial aspect is the representation of the main global actors in the UNSC. The five permanent members are prominent military, economic and political powers, making their decisions have a direct impact on the geopolitical strategies of these countries and can shape the behavior of other nations.
Although UNSC decisions can be influenced by the interests of its permanent members and need reform, the overriding objective is the preservation of international peace and security.