Global Policy Forum

Background on Security Council Reform

Picture Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Since the UN General Assembly began debating Security Council reform in 1993, several models have been put forward as viable options and several countries have put themselves forward as candidates for permanent membership. This page provides background information on Security Council Reform.

The Security Council is not representative of the geopolitical realities of the modern world. Both Africa and Latin America lack a permanent seat on the Council, while Europe is overrepresented and Asia is underrepresented. These problems are not easily addressed because the Permanent Five members (P5) of the Council do not want to see their power diminished. As a result, little progress has been made since 1993 in spite of the number of proposals that have been suggested. The central issues in Council reform are membership, transparency and working methods, and the veto.

The P5 generally opposes any expansion of membership of the Council that would diminish their power though they occasionally support some countries bids. As negotiations are currently stalled over membership expansion, P5 countries have supported bids for membership by some countries. Most recently, the US gave its support to India. France has backed Africa for a permanent seat.

The "G4" countries have put themselves forward as the most serious candidates for permanent membership in the Council. Brazil, Germany, India and Japan have positioned themselves as leaders within the UN, but have failed to garner enough support - or quell the opposition - to ascend as permanent members.

Other blocs of states have put forward reform proposals. During the 1990's, the Coffee Club opposed adding countries as permanent members, and instead proposed that members be elected on a regional basis to create more parity in representation. This effort was re-energized in the mid-2000's by Italy under the name Uniting for Consensus, and it has been actively working towards regionally based reform.

Another group, self-identified as the Small Five (S-5), has put forward a series of proposals for Council reform as well. The S-5 (Costa Rica, Jordan, Lichtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland) advocates for more transparency and coordination between the Security Council and the General Assembly and Economic and Social committees. The proposal also included some guidelines on the use of the veto.

As a separate bloc, the African Union has put forward a suggestion to expand the Council, giving Africa and Latin America permanent seats and increasing representation for all regional areas. The expansion of the council would also include giving the power of the veto to new permanent members.

In December 2004, Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed changes to the Security Council as part of the High Level Panel's Report on Threats, Challenges and Change. In March 2005, Annan reiterated the two suggested plans, known as Model A and Model B. Despite his attempts to push forward reform, neither plan was accepted by all of the factions in play.

While the issue of membership seems to hold observers' attention in the media, the issues of transparency and working methods and veto power are just as important. Currently, only permanent members have veto power and they are unlikely to give up this right. Lack of transparency in the Council's working methods place emphasis on how the Council goes about making decisions and the lack of information that they are required to provide to other parts of the UN. Furthermore, the subsidiary bodies of the Council do not include UN members unless they are members of the Council at the time. As a result, many countries that have not served, or are not currently serving, on the Council are being left out of the decision-making process.




GPF Perspective

GPF Comment on Security Council Reform

The debate on Security Council reform has been raging for over 15 years in the UN General Assembly. Recently, the discussions moved into a formal intergovernmental negotiation and the temperature has been rising. At odds are the "G-4" aspirants who hope to gain new permanent seats and the opposition grouping known as "Uniting for Consensus." This GPF page provides an analysis and posts a number of key documents from the latest round.

Towards a Democratic Reform of the UN Security Council (July 13, 2005)

James Paul and Céline Nahory argue that adding more permanent members to the Security Council would enlarge a discredited oligarchy rather than build for a democratic future. They also oppose the addition of elected members, arguing that an expanded Council would be too large to function effectively and not substantially more representative. Instead, they propose a process of stronger regional representation as a future-oriented approach that can develop in stages and without the headache of Charter change. (Global Policy Forum)

GPF Paper by James Paul on Security Council Reform (February 1995)


Additional Background

UN Security Council Reform Current Developments (Summer 2009)

This report provides a current background of positions on Security Council Reform. It covers the major hurdles that have yet to be overcome as well as the positions of the main blocs working on the issue. (Istituto Affari Internazionali)

Small Five Elements for Reflection (April 2009)

This document compiled by the S5 explains the working methods reforms they support to create more transparency and efficiency in the Council. (Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN)

Razali Reform Paper


Models and Proposals

Uniting for Consensus Proposal on Security Council Reform (April 2009)

This is the updated Uniting for Consensus (UfC) proposal that is an extension of the 2005 UfC tabled draft resolution. (Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations)

Small-5 Group on Reform of Working Methods of Security Council (April 7, 2009)

Ambassador Peter Maurer of Switzerland presented this brief statement on behalf of the Small-5 Group (Liechtenstein, Singapore, Switzerland, Jordan and Costa Rica). He emphasized that reform of the Council should be extended beyond membership change to include reform of the Council's working methods. The S-5 wants change in the way the Council meets, the way it conducts its business, the way it interacts with the General Assembly and the means by which it is transparent and responsive to the international community. The S-5, which has been working for several years, has submitted a formal proposal and requests Council action on it.(Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN)

Competing Model: A Security Council with 20 Members (February 1, 2006)

A non-profit policy research organization called Center for UN Reform Education has put forward an alternative model to the many proposals introduced in the past on Security Council expansion. The plan, called Model X, enlarges the Council to 20 members by adding five four-year renewable term seats - as opposed to the 9 or 11 new members previously proposed. Also, Model X groups the member states in a way that Africa, Asia, Europe, Americas and the Pacific would each have five seats, thereby ensuring more balanced representation from each continental region. So far, the Council's great powers have stalled any attempts towards Security Council reform.

Tabled Uniting for Consensus Draft Resolution on Security Council Reform (July 21, 2005)

In response to draft resolutions tabled by the G-4 and the African Union, Uniting for Consensus has tabled its alternative proposal. The draft resolution proposes adding 10 non-permanent members immediately eligible for re-election to the Security Council, leaving formalities of re-election and rotation to regional groups.

Tabled African Union Draft Resolution on Security Council Reform (July 14, 2005)

Also responding to the G-4 resolution, the African Union has tabled its proposal calling for 11 additional members on the Security Council, with Africa gaining two permanent seats and five non-permanent seats. The AU also recommends that new permanent members gain all existing privileges - including veto power.

Tabled G-4 Draft Resolution on Security Council Reform (July 6, 2005)

Brazil, Germany, India and Japan have tabled their draft "framework" resolution calling for Security Council enlargement to 25 members, including six additional permanent seats. In a desperate attempt to secure permanent membership, the Group of Four (G-4) had accepted to forego their right of veto for at least 15 years. The less contentious proposals on the Council's working methods have more of a chance to succeed than membership expansion plans. Also see previous versions of June 8 and May 13.

Italy's Regional Model (April 2005)

Opposing new permanent members - and Germany in particular - Italy proposes to add 10 permanent regional seats that each group would manage independently with its own principles and mechanisms to ensure regional representation rather than a national occupation of their seats.

United for Consensus' Green Model (April 2005)

In the Green Model, United for Consensus proposes to expand the Security Council with an additional 10 elected seats. All 20 elected members would serve in the Council for two year terms and be eligible for re-election.

United for Consensus' Blue Model (April 2005)

The Blue Model foresees longer-term seats while at the same time adding regular two-year elected seats to the current ones. Longer-term seats would be elected for three or four years and might run for re-election.

Excerpt of Kofi Annan's Report on UN Reform: In Larger Freedom (March 21, 2005)

In his report on UN reform, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan only touches very briefly upon Security Council reform, and does not recommend specific action on this vital aspect of UN reform. Annan urges member states to consider both models A and B, as outlined by the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, and calls on states to reach a decision on Security Council enlargement before the summit in September 2005. (United Nations)



Reports of the General Assembly Open-Ended Working Group

Provides all of the annual reports here for the Open-Ended Working Group Working on Security Council Reform in the General Assembly.


Security Council Reform - An Overview of Member States' Positions (December 8, 2008)

This chart by the Center for UN Reform Education outlines the positions of various UN member states on issues relating to Council reform, including regional seats, veto reform, and preferences for timing of intergovernmental negotiations.


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