Will it remain a big boys club?
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Will it remain a big boys club?

The UN Working Group that looks into Security Council reform has been seized of a complicated and puzzling problem of adding five or more permanent members to the Security Council.The Council which is a successor to the defunct League of Nations seems to be increasingly marginalised in contemporary politics.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2003 16:45 IST

The United Nations Working Group, an open-ended group that looks into Security Council reform has been seized of a complicated and puzzling problem of adding five or even more permanent members to the Security Council in addition to the existing five nations- the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France and the Peoples' Republic of China.

The Council formed consequent to the San Francisco deliberations of 1945 by the founder nations (which alsoincluded British India) to establish the worthy successor to the defunct League of Nations has become totally irrelevant in the present day circumstances. And the second Gulf War exposed its utter helplessness to prevent the conflict, the very objective for which it was set up.

Need for Revamp

Originally, the Security Council consisted of 11 members-five permanent members-China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States. It is interesting to note that after the defeat of Germany and Japan only three countries from the World War II emerged possessing any real military and political power. These were the United States, erstwhile Soviet Union and Great Britain complete with its empire and the dominions forming the British Commonwealth.

After the defeat of Germany and Japan only three countries from the World War II emerged possessing any real military and political power.

However, when the United Nations organisation was set up in 1945-46, China and France, both weak and shattered nations were made permanent members of the UNSC without any justification. It was ironical that the Chinese seat on the Security Council was occupied by the Republic of China (Taiwan) till 1971.

In addition to aforesaid permanent members, UN General Assembly elected six non-permanent members. In 1965, when an amendment to the charter was ratified, the Council became a fifteen- member body comprising original five permanent and ten non-permanent members.

In accordance with established practice, elections are based on geographic distribution. The non-permanent members serve two years terms and half of them retire each year. Presently Pakistan is one of the non-permanent members. The presidency is rotated among all members each month.

Weapon of diplomacy

Any member can move a resolution in the council. Nine votes are sufficient to carry a Security Council decision, but any permanent member may exercise a veto over any substantive proposal.

While the veto if used judiciously and selectively in the interest of world peace can be a useful tool for the Security Council's capability to preserve international peace and security but this power has been often misused. Only a minority of vetoes has been cast in cases where vital global security issues were at stake. As many as 59 vetoes have been cast within P5 to block the admission of newer member states. Limitation of veto use, as several UN members feel, would be a long step towards total veto abolition.

Times they are a' changing

The UN General Assembly, during the preceding sessions had considered expansion and equitable representation in the Security Council and decided that any reform of the Council would require a two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly members.

While Germany and Japan appear natural contenders with an explicit US backing, NAM members clamour for expansion based on equitable geographical representation for certain acceptable regional groups like the Arab/Islamic bloc or the East European nations bloc. 

Last four decades have seen a phenomenal increase in the membership of the UN that has touched 191. It has gone up nearly four-fold, most of the late entrants being from developing countries of the third world. The reform process would be considered a success only if an enlarged Council enhanced the representation of the developing countries.

While it is certain that leading economic powers like Germany and Japan would be natural contenders for the reworked UN Security Council, there is some difference of opinion on the proposed reconstitution plans.

While Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) members would like expansion based on equitable geographical representation, Arab/Islamic bloc and East European nations have also staked their claim for representation on the Security Council. But the final consensus may emerge on proposal for an additional five permanent seats, with one each going to the developing countries of the regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.


There is no denying that the present day international peace and security calls for a more representative Security Council. In this context, the international community must take cognizance of the fact that a large geographical entity of a billion people with 5000 years of long history, civilization and cultural heritage needs to be given a justifiable place in the world body.

The resurgent modern India, with its deep-rooted democratic system and growing economic potential has the right credentials to champion causes of the developing nations. India's leadership of the G-22 at the recently concluded WTO ministerial meet at Cancun inMexico being a definitive case in point.

Some of the members of the expanded G-77 members already consider New Delhi as the natural contender and frontrunner for the permanent membership of the Security Council. Out of the five permanent members-Russia, the United Kingdom and France have already expressed intent of their support to India's candidature. Even the US appears inclined to back India in the post 9/11 world.

The Security Council is a vital UN organ whose primary responsibility is the maintenance of international peace, stability and security in the world. New Delhi perfectly fits in this role. India's size, its role in the world, its economy, its contribution to UN peacekeeping, all these make it a very serious and strong contender for permanent membership of the Security Council thatmay no longer be ignored.

(Wing Commander NK Pant (Retd.),writes on International policy issues)

First Published: Nov 18, 2003 16:45 IST