Reforming the United Nations Security Council

In 1945 as one of the most harrowing chapters of humanity’s history drew to its close in the dying days of World War Two the heads of Government met to convene a meeting that would form the United Nations. The initial purpose of the United Nations was to prevent a third world war and any other major international disputes that might arise. Unlike its failed predecessor, this world body would have the participation of the United States and there would be a means to agree to use military force to end conflicts that could be ended through diplomacy via a vote of the newly formed United Nations Security Council.

It sounded like lessons had been learnt. A world weary of six years of unprecedented war, just starting to hear about the hellholes that were the extermination camps and yet to be introduced to the worst weapon man has ever conceived, certainly hoped so. But nearly 70 years since it was first formed, the United Nations Security Council is in bad need of an overhaul. The problem is none of the permanent five would ever agree to have their veto power taken away – in fact in their desperation to keep it, a rare moment of co-operation might be witnessed. Nor is it likely that the wider world would want to give up the opportunity to be one of the ten temporary members.

And there the crux of the problem lies. All of the nations have wielded their veto power at some point or another – the French when New Zealand tried to take them to the cleaners over the Rainbow Warrior bombing; the U.S. many times to stop condemnation of Israel or American foreign policy; Russia and China when challenged on their human rights record and propensity for propping up dicatorships such as the Al-Assad regime in Syria.

What would it take for something constructive to happen? Possibly an overwhelming vote of the General Assembly – at least 2/3 but possibly up to 4/5 of all member nations would need to vote in favour of some sort of measure. What sort of measure would that be? Could the G.A. agree on a measure? Probably, but it would undergo many changes, involve a huge number of hours spent trying to thrash out the provisions, whilst hoping no international catastrophe blows up in the interim.

And even then, would the Security Council listen? Not necessarily. Never underestimate the power of entrenched interests in the major capitals of the world, both economic and political who will go to any means they can get away with things that only favour their profit margins. This is especially so of the military industrial complex, which needs a war or two to be going on so it can pedal armaments. All five of the permanent powers, and several powerful nations such as Italy, Germany and Israel are guilty of having tried to play the council in order to continue activities that had been brought into question.

Sometimes history comes to play in ways that frustrate all. A good example is Japan’s wartime history and the reluctance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to acknowledge it. His failure and that of past Japanese Prime Ministers to issue a full apology for the numerous atrocities committed, has frustrated both Washington as an ally and China as a rival power in east Asia which suffered appalling atrocities during World War 2. Subsequently co-operation on the thorny subject of North Korea is more hindered than it might otherwise be.

But let us assume an overwhelming majority of U.N. General Assembly members vote for a comprehensive reform of the Security Council – we will say 3/4 of nations are in favour. A working group with representatives from every geographical region is formed. Each region is asked to complete a survey using common questions querying what they think of the U.N.S.C., its strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The data gathered is broken down into broad themes, which become the basis of a reform plan. How that might take shape, your guess as the reader is very likely as good as mine.

My own preferences are

  • For every geographical region to have a permanent Security Council member
  • For United Nations Security Council Resolutions to only need 4/5 of the permanent members to vote YES to pass
  • For any nation that ignores three consecutive Resolutions to have a suspension period of several months; for prolonged ignorance an expulsion period of 2 years
  • To debate anything under urgency that has 2/3 or better General Assembly support

Or is the United Nations Security Council just doomed to be a modern day League of Nations?



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