Enlarging the UN Security Council

By Muray, Leo | Contemporary Review, October 1993 | Go to article overview

Enlarging the UN Security Council


Muray, Leo, Contemporary Review


THE current session of the UN General Assembly promises to be a vital one. This because it will have to deal with the Security Council. President Clinton started the ball rolling when he intimated that he would like to see Germany and Japan made Permanent Members. The governments of both countries have formally indicated that they are interested. The constitutions of both countries need to be changed to entitle their governments to provide armed forces in case the Council -- or the Secretary General -- asks for them in order to carry out its decisions. The German government has already sent 1,200 men to Somalia after its Supreme Court permitted it. The constitutional changes in Bonn are already under way and it is significant that a leading Social Democrat politician has stated that Germany must obtain the key 'Right of Veto' when becoming a member.

As for Japan, the new government is likely to take its time for the changes there imply that Japan is determined to obtain more or less complete freedom to expand its military forces with all types of arms and equipment. The new generation of politicians are not particularly conscious of guilt regarding Japan's conduct in World War II.

The Security Council is important because its role has changed. As the Secretary General, Dr. Boutros Ghali, stressed in his June 1993 report to all members: 'In Somalia new ground has been broken by giving the United Nations operation the authority to enforce under Chapter VII of the Charter the decisions of the Security Council'. The Council, as the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons points out in its June report on the 'expanding role of the UN', seldom played the central role envisaged for it by the Charter which lays down that its decisions are binding on all member states because the permanent members were unable to agree. But since 1988 the Security Council has created 15 peace keeping operations, and as Dr. Boutros Ghali pointed out, there are at present some 70 areas of conflict or potential conflict in the world.

He has submitted to all members his 'Agenda For Peace' with recommendations on ways to improve the UN's capacity to pursue and preserve peace. In fact, since the end of the rivalry between the Western Powers and the former Soviet Bloc the role of the Security Council has grown. There has, for instance, been only one Russian veto recently, on the financing of the UN forces in Cyprus.

The Security Council is responsible for maintaining international peace and security. The UN started with just 51 members in 1945 with an 11 member Security Council. There were 118 members in 1965 with the Security Council had another four members added to it. Now the UN has 183 members. A majority of nine of the 15 members is required for a decision to be adopted, provided there is no veto. Abstentions are left out. If the Council was enlarged the majority rule would have to be changed and that would depend on how many new members were added. To enlarge the Security Council once more seems reasonable.

The Council has give permanent members with the key tight of veto: the US, Britai, France, Russia and China. The ten non-permanent members, serving for two years are elected by groups of countries: five African-Asian, two Latin American/Caribbean, two West Europeam to whom, significantly, Australia and Canada are attached, and one East European. These groups pick their respresentative by agreed rotation, UN members outside these groups have hardly a chance to get into the Council. These agreements are informal. Dr. Boutros Ghali has written to all members for their view on enlargement. The General Assembly can change the Security Council only by a two-thirds majority and the changes have to be properly ratified by all the governments that voted for the change, that is by 123 governments. This is why the Commons Report sees little prospect on an early and easy enlargement. …

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