Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 


At its founding (1945), the UN had 51 members and the UN Security Council (UNSC) consisted of the same 5 countries that serve as permanent members today, plus 6 nonpermanent members. In 1963, the number of nonpermanent members was increased to 10. Nowadays the UN has 193 members.

Current UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has maintained: “The Security Council we have now does not correspond to today's world. I have encouraged member states to have a serious dialogue on this. I want to continue this dialogue at the UN General Assembly, but the permanent members (P5) do not agree”.

P5’s veto power has disempowered general consensus and subjugated member states, creating unequal nations in an institution of equals.

Given the ideological divide that separates the P5, finding common ground has proven increasingly challenging. The 10 elected members, which serve two-year non-consecutive terms but without the privilege of veto are relegated to a marginalised role.


The UNSC is the international body charged with maintaining international peace and security. Under international law, it is the sole global body that can authorize force, but each of P5 (the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and France)  wields a veto that allows it to unilaterally thwart any action.

“The members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.” These 24 words enshrined in Article 25 of the United Nations Charter  preserves the supremacy of the Security Council above all other members of the General Assembly. The clause assigns supremacy to the P5, in a manner that seemingly contradicts the values of a post World War II democratic world order.

Concerns about the effectiveness of the Security Council have festered for decades. Already in 1993 Secretary General Kofi Annan, in a speech to the UN General Assembly, called for “radical reform” of the UN system acknowledging that the United Nations no longer meet the needs of its members. Annan stated: “We have come to a fork in the road. This may be a moment no less decisive than 1945 itself, when the United Nations was founded.” He added, “I believe the time is ripe for a hard look at fundamental policy issues, and at the structural changes that may be needed in order to strengthen them.”

The UNSC cannot address some of the biggest issues of war and peace in the world: it cannot act to address, mitigate or stop human suffering in conflict when one of its permanent members is a party to the conflict. UNSC gave the victors of the World War II an outsized role in international peace and security, marginalizing whole regions and continents - particularly former colonies that gained independence after 1945 - and it was structured to be easily deadlocked, with any of the P5 able to unilaterally grind its work to a halt.

Voices from the Global South

Voices from the Global South have called for fundamental, formal revisions to the UNSC’s membership and powers, with ideas ranging from expanded permanent membership to finding ways to strip the P5 of their veto. Some have even invoked  Article 109, the formal procedure for rewriting the Charter via a general conference that the Charter itself lays out. But in an era of waning multilateralism, efforts to revise the UN Charter are more likely to kill most existing structures of multilateral cooperation than to produce a more just institution.

Each year, the General Assembly elects five non-permanent members out of a total of 10 for a term of two years. In accordance with the statutes, the 10 non-permanent seats are distributed on a regional basis: 5 for African and Asian states, 1 for Eastern European states, 2 for Latin American and Caribbean states, and 2 for Western European and other states.

The five members elected in June 2022 to serve for the 2023-2024 period are Mozambique, Japan, Ecuador, Malta and Switzerland.

In 2013 Saudi Arabia turned down an offer of a non-permanent seat on the Security Council. The Saudi foreign ministry noted “working mechanisms and double-standards on the Security Council prevent it from carrying out its duties and assuming its responsibilities in keeping world peace.” The minister added that Saudi Arabia had no option but to turn down Security Council membership until the Council was reformed and given the means to accomplish its duties and assume its responsibilities in preserving peace and security.

Current situation

The current war in Ukraine, which has shown the impotence of the UNSC, has brought renewed energy to the debate over its reform. Security Council reform has been an ongoing topic of discussion in the UN General Assembly since the early post-Cold War period, with reform pressures tending to intensify in response to an international crisis that exposes the structural weaknesses of the Security Council.

Many in developing nations, particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America have long demanded greater representation in the Council. Unsurprisingly, several countries that aspire to permanent seats on a reformed panel  (Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa) also expressed support.

While concerns about the Council run high, the path to reforming it is narrow and tortuous. Challenges abound,   making the outcome highly uncertain.

On 28 June 2022 Loraine Sievers, Director of Security Council Procedure told the Council that its outdated working methods needed improvement in order to create a transparent, nimble 15-nation organ capable of tackling contemporary global challenges. Sievers presented wide-ranging proposals from restraining the use of the veto, to reforming the sanctions regime and the system of drafting resolutions.

Sievers concerns accentuate the geopolitical challenges that have heightened levels of fragmentation within the Council  and placed it under intense scrutiny. 

UNSC  responsibility and accountability

It must be anyway recognized that the UNSC is also a body that proposes, frames and advances new norms and ideas about war and peace  and, in recent decades, E10 (the 10 elected  members of the UNSC)  have used their presidencies to put new kinds of issues onto the UNSC’s agenda, expanding the council’s conception of security itself.

On topics like the responsibility to protect, the protection of civilians in conflict, women, peace and security, youth, climate and security, agenda-setting from the E10 alongside key alliances with the P5 have added novel, transformative dimensions of human security to the UNSC’s work and focus, albeit with varying degrees of success.

At its foundation, the UNSC had a narrow, state-centric vision of international peace and security, but today’s daily discussions reveal how much has changed in the intervening years, as member states have expanded its deliberations on war and peace to include the fates and rights of people within states.

Amending the Charter

Altering the Council’s size, terms for members, thresholds for approving resolutions or the powers of the P5 require amending the Charter. Amendments enter into force when they have a 2/3 vote of support in the UN General Assembly and 2/3 of the Assembly’s member states  (including all permanent members of the Security Council ) have ratified them.

Reform of the UNSC  encompasses 5 key issues: categories of membership, the question of the veto held by the P5, regional representation, the size of an enlarged Council and its working methods, and the Security Council - General Assembly relationship. The Member States, regional groups and other Member State interest groupings developed different positions and proposals on how to move forward on this contested issue.

With such barriers in place, amendments are rare. The UN Charter has been amended only 5 times since its adoption in 1945, with the most recent changes entering into force in 1973.

There have  been calls for a more representative Security Council, and there appears to be some agreement among member states that reform would make the Council, if not more effective, at least more representative in a manner enhancing its legitimacy. However, the path to reform is fraught with procedural and political challenges.

Several proposals have been floated, most prominently by the so-called G4 (Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan support each other’s bids for permanent council seats), the Uniting for Consensus Coalition (or UfC, led by Italy, the coalition aims to counter G4 bids) and the African Union. All three factions support a substantial expansion to 25 or 26 total Security Council seats and – UfC takes exception here – adding six new permanent members with veto power.

None of these proposals has garnered enough support in the General Assembly to initiate the amendment process. Argentina, Brazil and Mexico in Latin America all aspire to permanent seats. In Asia, India, Japan, Pakistan, Indonesia and others have similar aspirations. Likewise, in Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa seek that status. Resolving these competing interests will be challenging.

One of the major challenges is the fact that the G4’s regional rivals are utterly against their bid of becoming permanent members and are acting towards hindering any such possibility. The P5 have also reluctantly expressed their defensive position on the subject.

UNSC: a global organization

As a global organization, the UNSC plays a vital role in the legitimization, diplomacy and relevancy of international missions, but its sheer size, scope and construct has proven to be a disadvantage for almost all other purposes. Meetings involving 15 states are often unmanageable and subject to power politics including tactical manoeuvres by nations that are largely nonessential because they otherwise lack sufficient resources to solve large, realistic problems themselves. The conflicting nature of geopolitics and the requirement to gain a supermajority of the Security Council, has meant that in practice there is often little or no action at all taken by the UNSC

A full-scale revision of the UN Charter is difficult, and gridlock is likely to continue at the UNSC. No widespread consensus among other states can change how easily a P5 member can turn the UNSC away from action.

While there has undoubtedly been a decline in international conflicts since the beginning of the 21st century, this does not lessen the simple fact there are still major crises and conflicts occurring around the world which could be further reduced if it were not for the ineffectiveness of the UNSC. Undeniably, UN peacekeeping missions are one area where the Security Council has made progress towards a safer and more peaceful world but unfortunately this too has its limits.


A former career UN diplomat illustrated the importance among the international community regarding a debate on the reform of the UNSC quite adequately: “The problem of reforming the Security Council is rather akin to a situation in which a number of doctors gather around a patient and all agree on the diagnosis, but they cannot agree on the prescription. The diagnosis is clear: the Security Council reflects the geopolitical realities of 1945 and not of today. This situation can be anatomized mathematically, geographically, and politically, as well as in terms of equity”.

Various Governmental and non-Governmental actors across the international community still fail to comprehend the working methodologies of the Council, increasing the doubts surrounding the structure of the organization, and subsequently inhibiting any space for reform. However, no proposals can be taken into consideration unless the P5 decide to cooperate in efforts of changing and correctly reflecting the current geopolitical scenario.

On various occasions, the use of Veto power seems to have become distant from its initial reasons and has been responsible for the silence of the Security Council on some major international conflicts including the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur and the 2003 Iraq War.  New membership, from areas of the world not currently permanently represented on the Council, might compel the Council to take swifter, deeper actions in neglected areas, prevent further human suffering and enhance overall understanding of regional sensitivities.


There is a hopeless mismatch between the global challenges we face and the global institution that confront them. After the Second World War, people realized that there needed to be a new international institutional infrastructure. In this new era, in the early twenty-first century, we need to set about renewing it.

The radical reform advocated by countries like Brazil, Germany, India or Japan  - a council broadening and adding permanent seats with veto power - remains theoretically possible. However, a yet-unseen regional coordination would be needed for it to materialize, as well as a geopolitical change alleviating the security concerns of the current permanent members. The U.S. and like-minded countries are adamant that the Security Council must remain a viable (if imperfect) instrument for addressing threats to international peace and security and are unlikely to support reforms that undermine that prospect.

The UN and its Council is nothing more than an organization led by powers perceived as great. When the P5 were granted the ‘power of Veto’, the States that signed the Charter of the UN in 1945 not only gave those countries the capacity and authority to make decisions about the most salient issues related to international peace and security, but also granted them the legitimacy and trust, necessary to resolve the most urgent crisis in the world. In which they have not, always, succeeded.

So far, great powers such as the United States, the Russian Federation and China have not stated their views on the Security Council reform. They seem torn between the so called dual risks: they can envisage the risk of weakening the UN by an expansion of the SC’s membership as well as by the maintenance of the status quo.

The UNSC is critical to global peace and security, yet more than 25 years of negotiations over its reform have proved fruitless. The Security Council’s performance post 9/11 has been disappointing. More than ever before, countries need to work together to develop a solution which aims to strengthen its legitimacy and effectiveness: it is high time to set about renewing the manner in which this is conducted.

If a sweeping reform is not undertaken and soon, then the UNSC risks continuing to respond to crises in a climate of inept improvisation. The international community must continue to work on wide-ranging plans which streamline the Security Council’s activities, increases its accountability and ensures that it is much more agile at dealing with global crises.