UN Security Council reform is a song in a loop

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    Syllabus: GS2/Agreements Involving India &/or Affecting India’s Interests

    In News

    • More than three decades after the debate first started over fundamental reforms at the United Nations (UN), the issue appears to have resurfaced afresh.

    United Nations Security Council (UNSC)

    • It is one of the UN’s six main organs and is aimed at maintaining international peace and security.
    • It held its first session on 17th January 1946 in Westminster, London.
    • Headquarters: New York City.
    • Membership: The Council is composed of 15 Members:
      • Permanent members with veto power: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
    • More than 50 United Nations Member States have never been Members of the Security Council.
    • UNSC elections:
      • Each year the General Assembly elects five non-permanent members (out of 10 in total) for a two-year term.
      • The 10 non-permanent seats are distributed on a regional basis as follows:
        • Five for African and Asian States.
        • One for the Eastern European States.
        • Two for the Latin American and Caribbean States;
        • Two for Western European and other States
      • To be elected to the Council, candidate countries need a two-thirds majority of ballots of the Member States that are present and voting in the Assembly.
      • The UNSC elections were traditionally held in the General Assembly hall with each of the 193 member states casting its vote in a secret ballot.
    • Reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) encompasses five key issues: 
      • Categories of membership, 
      • The question of the veto held by the five permanent members, 
      • Regional representation, 
      • The size of an enlarged Council and its working methods, and 
      • The Security Council-General Assembly relationship. 

    Need for UN reforms

    • Non-representative Council membership: When the UN was founded in 1945, the Council consisted of 11 members out of a total UN membership of 51 countries; in other words, some 22% of the member states were on the Security Council.
      • Today, there are 193 member-states of the UN, and only 15 members of the Council — fewer than 8%. 
      • So, many more countries, both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the membership, do not feel adequately represented on the body. 
    • Continuing privilege: Politically, it is untenable that the five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) enjoy their position, and the privilege of a veto over any Council resolution or decision, merely by virtue of having won the position 76 years ago
    • Im-balance of Power: The composition of the Council also gives undue weightage to the balance of power of those days.
      • Europe, for instance, which accounts for barely 5% of the world’s population, still controls 33% of the seats in any given year (and that does not count Russia, another European power).
    • More financial contribution of non permanent members: There are countries whose financial contributions to the UN outweigh those of four of the five permanent members.
      • For example, Japan and Germany have for decades been the second and third largest contributors to the UN budget.
    • Unchecked conflicts: It has been criticised that Conflicts like those in Sudan, Syria, Myanmar go largely unchecked at the UN.
      • Some countries and non-state actors benefit from the conflict economy. They launder money, sell arms, supply fuel and exploit natural resources.
      • Whereas in the past the UN has played an important role in international diplomacy over the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and the Middle East.
    • Unable to discharge basic functions: The Security Council cannot discharge its basic function as one of the permanent members of the Security Council attacked its neighbour.
      • The Security Council should be the body to take action against the aggression. But because of the veto power, the Security Council cannot act.
      • The recent example being Russia’s:
        • Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN, attacked Ukraine in February 2022. 
        • Russia has vetoed UNSC resolutions on Ukraine. 
        • Russia also voted against a resolution in the UNGA which called on countries not to recognise the four regions of Ukraine that Russia has claimed.
    • India’s contribution & representation: Opportunities are also denied to other states such as India, which by its sheer size of population, share of the world economy, or contributions in kind to the UN (through participation in peacekeeping operations, for example) have helped shape the evolution of world affairs in the seven decades since the organisation was born.

    Challenges of UN reforms

    • Demanding reforms is not beneficial for ‘all’: The reform demanding states perceive that they deserve a place on the Security Council, and especially the countries which believe their status in the world ought to be recognised as being in no way inferior to the existing permanent members.
      • But, there are several who know they will not benefit from any reform.
        • For example, the small countries that make up more than half the UN’s membership accept that reality and are content to compete occasionally for a two-year non-permanent seat on the Council. 
    • Difficulties in bringing amendments: Part of the problem is the bar to amending the UN Charter has been set rather high.
      • Any amendment requires a two-thirds majority of the overall membership, in other words 129 of the 193 states in the General Assembly, and would further have to be ratified by two-thirds of the member states. 
      • The only possibility that has any chance of passing is that will
        • Either
        • Persuade two-thirds of the UN member-states to support it and not attract the opposition of any of the existing permanent five 
        • OR 
        • Even that of a powerful U.S. Senator who could block ratification in Washington.

    Way ahead

    • As the debate keeps going round in circles for decades, gridlock continues in the Security Council.
    • The UN is the only global system we have that brings all countries together on a common platform & we can not afford to let it fade into ineffectiveness and irrelevance.
    Daily Mains Question
    [Q] The Security Council is clearly ripe for reform to bring it into the second quarter of the 21st century. Analyse.