Global Policy Forum

US State Dept. Views on Reform Measures

April 24, 1996


The UN Charter gives the UN Security Council (UNSC) primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. It empowers the Council to achieve the peaceful settlement of disputes and to authorize the use of force to respond to threats or acts of aggression. Unlike the General Assembly, the UNSC has the authority to make decisions binding on UN member states, including the imposition of collective political, military and economic sanctions.

Under the Charter, the Security Council consists of 15 members. Of these, five (the U.S., U.K., Russia, China and France) are permanent; the other ten are selected by the General Assembly for two year terms. Substantive action by the Council is only possible with the concurrence of nine members, including the five permanent members. Since the UNSC was created fifty years ago, the global economic and political situation has been transformed. Aided by postwar reconstruction efforts, Germany and Japan have become stable democracies and are among the world's leading economic powers. Nations with growing economies and increasing political influence have emerged in Asia, the Near East, Africa and Latin America. The end of colonialism and the breakup of the Soviet Union have contributed to an increase in the number of UN members from the original 53 to 185 today.

Within the UN, there is broad agreement that the structure of the Security Council should be altered to reflect these changes. A High-Level Working Group on Security Council Reform has been established to formulate recommendations. The United States believes it is essential that the effectiveness and efficiency of the UNSC be preserved. To this end, our position is that:
o Germany and Japan should be added to the Council as permanent members;
o up to three more seats should be added to allow representation from various regions;
o consideration should be given to allowing nonpermanent members to serve more than one consecutive term;
o the size of the Council should not exceed twenty members;
o Council procedures should be reviewed to ensure greater transparency and a flow of information to the overall UN Membership; and
o the powers of the current permanent members of the Council must be preserved.

Despite the widespread acceptance that change is needed, the pace of Security Council reform has been slow. This is due primarily to the lack of a consensus about how many seats should be added, rivalry between or among some regional powers, and concerns about geographical balance.

More Information on Security Council Reform in 95/96


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