Open Up the Club

The U.N. Security Council must consider expanding its permanent membership

The United Nations Security Council has chosen its next five non-permanent members, to begin serving next January in the body charged with global security. What Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon, and Nigeria will accomplish in their two-year terms remains to be seen, but already clear is the dire need for systemic reform in the structure of the Security Council.

The Security Council exists to maintain the peace and security of the international community—no other UN body can impose mandatory decisions upon member states. With such responsibility, it makes sense that the great military powers of the world—the United States, China, and Russia—all hold permanent seats. The two-year inclusion of five other countries, however, demonstrates just how limited non-permanent members’ influence must be. Bosnia is a nation divided, barely functioning as a country. It must look inward to reviving its own government in addition to now presumably eyeing global security. Lebanon, for its part, currently has UN peacekeepers within its borders following Israel’s invasion in 2006—and only two days ago new Israeli spy devices from that war were found within its borders. On the council, these nations, and the other non-permanent nations, will not have veto power and will almost certainly be dominated by the same powers that have led power blocs within the UN since its conception.

Symbolic, useless two-year stints on the Security Council will not bring representation for much of the world. Expansion of permanent membership, however, would be a timely and productive measure to consider. Brazil, one of the new visiting members, would be an interesting choice to consider, as it exerts great strategic influence in South America, both militarily and environmentally (a growing global-security issue). Most clearly, however, Germany and Japan must be considered for permanent membership. The Security Council’s post-1945 composition obviously does not include those defeated Axis powers—Germany was not even one country for decades after the council formed. The geopolitical balance of the world, however, has changed since then. Germany is again a leader of Europe in population, economic clout, and—perhaps for a first time—peacekeeping efforts. When European Union peacekeeping troops are sent to an unstable state, German troops are likely to be involved. Why, then, leave this important world player out of global security? Similarly, Japan plays a critical role through its own economic influence and anti-missile defense systems. Neither country can be perceived as a threat to start wars in this century. Yet both would be valuable contributors in their prevention.

The Cold War’s geopolitics have passed, and the concept of a regional superpower is following on its heels. Simply leaving ultimate security to those nations that won the Second World War and positioned themselves to lead the United Nations in the 1950s does not make sense for this upcoming century. The Security Council, as the peacekeeping arm of that body, should similarly reflect the political landscape of the times.

Of course, shifting geopolitics will involve the United States, China, and Russia for at least many more decades. These nations should reconsider the permanent club of the Security Council that they control, though we acknowledge that reform may go against the immediate interests of these “Big Three.” We encourage these nations, however, to recognize the long-term benefits of voluntarily enacting a better, more adaptable council structure. Adding permanent members and restructuring will be easier the sooner it is begun.

Wrinkles face such reforms, most notably the veto question. Though we call for the expansion of permanent membership, we do not believe that new permanent members should automatically receive the veto vote currently held by all ten permanent members. Such weighty power of office should be granted to countries depending on their relative power and ability to intervene in world conflict. The veto helps keep major powers such as Russia from conducting military actions unilaterally against the other council members—new members to whom this condition applies would have to be considered for a veto vote.

Thus, while we congratulate the new non-permanent members for their upcoming stints on the Security Council, we call upon the permanent members to consider the difficult task of self-reform. Revising the Security Council now falls under their stated mandate, the long-term security of the global community.


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