Time to Widen United Nations Security Council Membership

Article excerpt

IN the last few months a debate has been brewing concerning expansion of the United Nations Security Council.

A number of countries have expressed interest in obtaining permanent seats on the council, including Germany, Japan, Brazil, India, and Nigeria. Supporters of expanding the number of permanent seats contend that, in the newly evolving global arena, the Security Council no longer adequately reflects the international structure.

To justify the inclusion of Japan and Germany, arguments have been put forth that economic influence should now be considered in addition to political and military power. Those promoting permanent seats for nations such as Brazil, India, and Nigeria stress that developing countries must be given a greater role in deliberations that affect them.

Broadening the Security Council's constituency would certainly make it more democratic and more reflective of today's realities. In determining who should be granted permanent seats, the focus tends to be on whether a country is capable of carrying out the responsibilities of a Security Council member. The council's primary function is to maintain international peace and security and to guard against chemical, biological, and nuclear proliferation issues.

A nation's stance on the issue of nuclear nonproliferation would be a key factor.

Currently, the five permanent members - France, Britain, China, Russia, and the United States - represent the only overt nuclear-weapons states in the international system that have made it clear they plan to maintain their weapons status. With the exception of the US, all became permanent members before they were nuclear-weapons states. With the US, they are the only states in which possession of nuclear weapons is deemed acceptable by virtue of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

The NPT was signed 25 years ago, on July 1, 1968, entering into force two years later, on March 5, 1970. With 157 current parties, the treaty codifies the values, standards of behavior, and rules of a nonproliferation regime. Based on an assumption that nuclear proliferation poses a threat to international security, the treaty sets three goals: limiting the lateral spread of nuclear weapons, decreasing the numbers of nuclear weapons in the existing arsenals, and promoting peaceful applications of atomic energy.

The fact that the only permanent members of the Security Council are nuclear-weapons states is important in two respects:

First, it encourages perception among states that nuclear weapons can confer status and political power.

Second, it allows these five states (which have particular interests as nuclear-weapon powers), to act as the primary keepers of a system trying to stem the spread and ultimately rid the world of these very weapons. …