Change or Continuity for the United Nations Security Council? An Analysis on the Institution’s Reformation Process

Change or Continuity for the United Nations Security Council? An Analysis on the Institution’s Reformation Process

Fehintola Akinbamidele

According to Robert Cox (1987) “the world economic crisis appears as a threshold – a phase of transition between the definable structures of the recent past and the as yet unclear structures of the emerging future.” The United Nations (UN) is the basic international institution on which the current international system is built on. Since its founding in 1945, it has grown to be the largest and the most significant international institution, with 193 member states. It was created as the fundamental international institution of the new international order following the Second World War.

The United Nations Security Council

The only body within the UN with the power to adopt legally binding resolutions for the maintenance of international peace and security and to authorize the use of force when necessary is the Security Council (SC), one of the most significant multilateral institutions when it comes to influence global governance. According to Article 24 of the UN Charter, the responsibility of the SC is to maintain international peace and security. The SC can do this by acting on Articles 41 and 42 of the UN charter which includes: investigating disputes potentially leading to international conflict, suggesting ways to solve disputes, and calling upon members to apply economic sanctions on certain members. The SC might take action through the use of air, sea, or land forces to maintain or restore international peace and security.

China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are the SC’s five permanent members (P5). Together, they account for approximately 30% of the world’s population and 40% of its economic output. In addition to the five permanent members, the General Assembly elects 10 non-permanent members to two-year terms.

The council often convenes in the UN building on the East River in New York, but it has more influence and power than the rest of the vast institution. It is predicated on the idea that the five most powerful countries have a responsibility to protect the world. These five permanent members were giving the status of ‘the most power countries in the world’ as a result of the role the played as victors in WWII. The UN Security Council accords the most powerful nations special rights and obligations while maintaining the majority of the UN structure’s insistence that member states are equal. As such, this article will evaluate why the structure of the SC has not been modified and thereby review various reformation ideas of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Members of the Security Council sit during a meeting at the UN headquarters in New York. Source: Shannon Stapleton via CFR

Any reform to 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. A change in the Security Council requires the consent of all of the permanent members of the UNSC. Consensus-building has proven to be one of the institution’s most challenging problems which makes changing the SC’s structure more difficult. States that are eager to secure permanent representation on the Council include emerging African nations, like Nigeria and South Africa, as well as countries like Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan. However, for this to happen, an agreement between UN member states and SC council members, particularly the P5, is necessary.

To alter the fundamental properties of the UNSC, namely its size, composition, the majority threshold, or the P5 veto, the UN member states have to amend Articles 23 and 27 of the UN Charter collectively. There are two methods for doing this. First any UNSC reform must be ratified by two-thirds of the members of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), including each of the P5. As an alternative, according to Article 109, a conference of UN member states may be called by two-thirds of the UNGA membership and nine of the 15 UNSC members. If ratified by two-thirds of the UNGA and all permanent members, any amendment adopted there becomes effective. With 193 member states, 129 votes are required to reach a two-thirds majority. Accordingly, a blocking minority of 65 UN members is possible. To date, UN member states have amended the UN Charter three times on the basis of Article 108, notably to increase UNSC membership from 11 to 15. However, Article 109 has never been used.

United Nations Security Council Reform

Regional representation, the problematic function of the veto held by the P5, the size of an enlarged Council and its working procedures, and the connection between the Security Council and General Assembly, are the main concerns covered by UNSC reform.

On March 21, 2005, Kofi Annan, the outgoing UN Secretary-General, called on the organization to agree to expand the council’s membership to 24 members and offered two options. The original proposal was for 24 seats in the council to be filled by three new non-permanent members and six new permanent members. The second strategy called for the creation of eight new seats in a new class for members, who would hold those positions for four years with the possibility of renewal, plus one non-permanent seat, for a total of 24 seats. But these plans have yet to achieve any progressive motion of support as there has been no consensus on the agreement to date.

However, there has been a proposed change to admit the G4 (Germany, Brazil, India, and Japan) as permanent members.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan answers journalists’ questions on his proposals to reform the UN, presented to the General Assembly on 16 July. Source: United Nations, Africa Renewal

The G4’s Proposal Composition

In 2005, Germany drew up a draft resolution for Security Council reform together with India, Brazil and Japan (G4). The draft consists of the following elements: adding six new permanent members to the Security Council (two seats each for Asia and Africa and one seat for the Western European and others group and the Latin American and Caribbean Group respectively); and adding four or five non-permanent members to the Security Council (one seat each for Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and one or two seats for Africa) making it a total of 25 members.

Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar standing along with his G-4 counterparts. Source: Outlook

The General Assembly on the 11th of July 2005, debated on the proposed draft resolution by the G4 on the issue of reformation of the SC. The proposal included the General Assembly increasing the membership of the SC from 15 to 25 to reforming the SC on issues of enlargement, the right of veto, and equitable geographic representation. However, the draft resolution has not been adopted.

On September 14, 2015, despite resistance from the opponents to reform, a first framework outlining all positions on reform was unanimously adopted for consideration by the 70th session of the General Assembly (69/560). The aim remains to use the document as a basis for negotiations on a concrete text to facilitate the transition from the repetition of well-known positions to real negotiations on a text, the usual modus operandi in the UN. On September 23, 2020, the G4 gave a ministerial joint press statement and they reprised to continue working together, along with working alongside other reform-minded members to update the UNSC.

Veto Reform

The primary issue with the Security Council has frequently been identified as the existence of veto power for the P5 of the SC, specified in Chapter V of the UN Charter. A veto can prevent a resolution from being enacted or change the resolution’s text. This has frequently prevented the council from discussing crucial global issues and given the P5 considerable influence across the global sphere of international politics.

For example, the Security Council passed no resolutions on most major Cold War conflicts, including the Vietnam War and the Soviet-Afghan War. Resolutions addressing more current problems, such as the conflict between Israel and Palestine or Iran’s suspected development of nuclear weapons, are also heavily influenced by the vetos.

The veto may also be used to block any UN charter modifications as well as the appointment of the UN Secretary-General. This authority has been discussed during the SC’s reconstruction. There are several proposals, such as restricting the use of the veto to matters of vital national security, requiring consensus from several states before using the veto, eliminating it altogether, and starting the transition process outlined in Article 106 of the Charter, which calls for the consensus principle to remain in place. Ironically, the P5 will need to approve any veto reform as Articles 108 and 109 permit the exercise of the veto against any revisions to the Charter.


Any restructuring of the UN Security Council must consider the current balance of economic and military power. Developing countries must be represented, and their security interests must be reflected in the body, in light of the current changes in the international community. Simply put, the reformation of the SC is advocating for a more representative council, a more democratic council, and a council that is more reflective of the contemporary geopolitical realities of the emerging world.

  • Is the reformation of the United Nations necessary to support a meaningful future?
  • Will Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spur UNSC reform?
  • Would a consensus ever be reached on the reformation on the UNSC particularly the issue of veto considerings it’s the veto that makes the P5 a lot of influence in the UN?

Recommended Readings

LtCol J.L. Nam. “United Nations Security Council Reform- Is This Possible?” Canadian Forces College, 2017

Alif Imran Hidayat. United Nations Security Council Reform: Lack of Consensus, Maritime Institute of Malaysia (Undergraduate Dissertation), 2021.

Sales Al Shraideh. “The Security Council’s Veto in the balance,” Journal of Law, Policy & Globalization, vol.58. (2017).

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Change or Continuity for …

by Fehintola Akinbamidele time to read: 6 min