In the aftermath of World War II, governments around the world signed onto the United Nations Charter, which codified the major principles of international relations: maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, and supporting sustainable development.
These bedrock principles were originally stated in 1945. Seventy-eight years later, leaders from around the globe and their top diplomats have gathered in New York once again for the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly. Given the state of our world, there were continued calls for reform in the UN organization at the meetings, particularly with regard to the UN Security Council, which is dominated by five nations—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States— all with veto powers.
No doubt about it, the cries for a reform of the Security Council have become much louder of late, especially in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Invasion aside, this is not a new debate for the international community.
The world has changed significantly since 1945. Back then, the global population was around 2.3 billion and there were only 51 founding members of the UN. Today, our planet is home to nearly 8 billion people and the UN has over 190 member states. Beyond those numbers, there has been a major shift in the economic centers of gravity across the globe—so much so that it is no longer possible to maintain worldwide peace and prosperity under Security Council as currently configured.
The U.S. has been seeking an increase in the permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council for some time. Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, known as the G4 governments, are also advocating for equal permanent memberships, and another group—dubbed Uniting for Consensus and including Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Spain and Türkiye—are calling for an increase to the number of elected members of the Security Council as well. So too is the African Union, which wants additional permanent and elected seats on the Security Council for the African nations.
Of note, Security Council reform has been on the table ever since 1992, when a working group was put in place to review reform methods. Three decades later, the needle has yet to move, which is reflective of the size of the challenge.
Truth be told, the glaring lack of action in terms of reform is not surprising. The interests of many sovereigns are far from aligned. And even for those nations that are united in their call for change, a consensus as to methods of reform is hard to come by. Conflict regarding the addition of more permanent and elected seats, issues around dilution, whether to preserve or eliminate certain veto powers, and the criteria for new membership (economics, population, military might) remain.
By virtue of the current impasse, world leaders must seize upon a more practical solution to the problems associated with Security Council reform. As otherwise stated, a healthy international legal order is needed to ensure a peaceful global order.
The fastest path to reform could be forged by establishing a secretariat for the G-20 and involving its members in the issues before the Security Council. Indeed, this approach could gradually evolve into the delegation of duties from the Security Council to the G-20, which would make for a more fair and secure platform to achieve the goals of the UN Charter given the representation of the world populations and economies on the G-20.
In the wake of the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, the time is now to harness the G-20 as a practical tool to achieve the UN Charters stated objectives, above all else, peace and security.
This blog post is not offered, and should not be relied on, as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.