Players and Proposals in the Security Council Debate


By Ayca Ariyoruk

Center For UN Reform Education
July 3, 2005

The debate over reforming the Security Council is unfolding quickly at the United Nations. Some member states fear that they may be called into a special session as early as the middle of June on a resolution calling for the expansion of the Council by adding six permanent seats. Kofi Annan's legacy depends on the success of the implementation of the reform package but he alone can hardly make a difference particularly if the majority of member states view the vote as power play by Germany, Japan India and Brazil for permanent membership. Unless the major players reach a compromise, hopes to reform the Security Council might diminish even before the Heads of State Summit in September. Who are the major players in this process? What are the proposals they are opting for? Are they close to a compromise?

Players: Group of Four (G4) and the Coffee Club

Since the release of the two models by the Secretary-General's High Level Panel's Report in December, two major blocks took shape at the United Nations. Those who favor expansion in permanent category, namely the Group of Four (G4) composed of Germany, Japan, India and Brazil; and those who favor expansion only in non-permanent category, namely the Coffee Club. They are known as the Coffee Club because it is reminiscent of the powerful lobby opposing the expansion of permanent membership in the early 1990s. Under the leadership of Italy, Coffee Club is resurrected this time as the Uniting for Consensus movement and is calling for a consensus before any decision is reached on the form and size of the Security Council. The G4 argues significant changes can take place only through a vote and that seeking consensus is an excuse for inaction. In 1965 when the Council was expanded from 11 to its current composition of 15 members, it was made possible through a 1963 vote for Charter amendment not consensus. That's why G4 circulated a new draft resolution on May 16, calling to expand the Council by adding six permanent and four non-permanent seats and could call upon the member states to vote in a special session. This could be the breaking or making moment in the efforts to reform the Council.

In order to enlarge the Security Council, the UN Charter needs to be amended. Only by attaining a two- thirds majority in the 191 member Assembly, which translates into 128 votes, can a Charter Amendment be submitted to the national governments for ratification. Can G4 resolution collect the necessary 128 favourable votes? Approximately 140 member states attended the last G4 meeting and 115-119 were at the Coffee Club meeting; though attendances at these meetings need not translate into support for any model. At the UN one can't really tell who is going to vote for what until the actual vote takes place. What we know for sure is that Pakistan opposes India's bid for a permanent seat; Mexico and Argentina oppose Brazil's; and Chinese leaders made no secret of their opposition to Japan's permanent membership.

Proposals: Permanent or non-permanent models?

The principal question facing the member states is whether they want expansion in the permanent or only in the non-permanent category. The Secretary General endorsed the two proposals made in the High Level Panel's Report but said he was open to "any other viable proposal in terms of size and balance that have emerged on the basis of either model". Model A and Model B proposed by the Panel both expand the Council to 24 members from 15. Model A does it by adding six permanent seats; Model B by creating eight new four-year renewable terms for non-permanent members. Many member states are concerned that adding more permanent seats to the Council would not comply with democratic principles of equality and view such a move as a step backwards.

Another issue the member states have been tackling relates to the question of how to group the countries in their elections to the Council. High Level Panel's Model A and B replaced the five customary regional groupings (Asia, Africa, Latin America and Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Western Europe and Other States) with four continental groupings (Asia and the Pacific, Africa, the Americas and Europe). If the new continental geographical distribution were to beimplemented, the number of seats allocated to the small powers, especially in Eastern Europe, would be significantly reduced. For this reason, Coffee Club put forward two new proposals, the Green and Blue Models, which expands the Council only in the non-permanent category although Blue Model provides for some longer terms. Both however, maintain the traditional regional groupings.

The model submitted to the member states in a draft resolution by G4 is also designed according to the regional groupings and adds an extra non-permanent seat for Eastern Europe. The problem with G4's resolution is that it may force the member states to make a difficult choice too early. Since not every country who favors a permanent seat for Japan and Germany is sympathetic to India, Brazil or an African country's having one, they might end up awarding permanent seats only to Japan, Germany ruling out India, Brazil and Africa's bid for permanent membership. If the Council were expanded only to include Germany and Japan in permanent capacity, then the cohesiveness of the UN could fall apart and the credibility of the Security Council would be threatened. If the Council expands to include all six requested permanent seats, then the Council expands too much in the permanent category, considering that a truly democratic model would eliminate privileged representation, not expand it.

Settling this dilemma may lie in a compromise that can be reached if the member states agreed to expand the Council only in the non-permanent category, by creating a new tier for big economic powers to be represented in the Council in longer terms, but not permanently. Although adding new tiers to the Council is not an ideal form of reform, it could offer a stopgap solution until year 2020 when the changes would be put for review. A New Model C put forward by Professor Hoffmann and the Blue Model put forward by the Coffee Club outline possibilities of how this might be done (for more on the Security Council Models, see Special Paper no. 4, May 2005, available at

Next step

Annan's entire reform package will be put to the test at a summit of world leaders in September 2005. Getting 191 leaders to agree on a model for the Security Council will not be easy. Yet, the diplomacy machine is at work and the Secretary-General, an important player in the process, is unceasingly promoting the idea that the time is ripe to reform the Security Council. Supposedly the G4 have lined up a two-thirds majority for their framework draft resolution calling for the addition of new permanent seats to the Council, but it is doubtful they can hold on to that once they get down to the specifics of the agreement. The U.S. > position will be consequential in determining the fate of the G4 resolution. Although the United States favoring one proposal over another is unlikely, it still has an important role to play. What matters in the U.S. position is whether it will take the leadership role and push the two groups into a compromise, or leave it up to the UN's own mechanism to resolve the political maneuvering.

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