Global Policy Forum

A Hitch Could Still Stall the Momentum in Favor of a P-11 UN Security Council


By Peter van Walsum

April 18, 2005

Sir, It cannot be denied that the composition of the UN Security Council is an anachronism. Its permanent members (the P-5) are the victors of a world war that ended 60 years ago. The losers of that war, Japan and Germany, are the second and third largest contributors to the United Nations. France and the UK rank fourth and fifth.

Most delegations agree that Japan and Germany are entitled to a permanent seat. This would turn the P-5 into a P-7. But the enlargement cannot be halted there because, with the possible exception of China, which still calls itself a developing country, this P-7 would exclusively consist of industrialised states. Hence there should also be permanent seats for some developing countries; for example one in Asia, one in Latin America and two in Africa. This would yield a P-11, but we cannot stop there either because it is an unwritten rule that there are more elected than permanent members. So the number of non-permanent seats would need to be raised from the present 10 to, for example, 13.

The outcome of this inescapable chain reaction would be a Security Council with 24 members, 11 of which are permanent. No one can seriously believe a council with 24 members can be more effective than one with 15, but it has become politically incorrect to point this out. Sixty years ago, the Security Council was established with only 11 members (five permanent and six elected), which was considered the upper limit for a body tasked by the UN Charter "to ensure prompt and effective action". There is something disingenuous about the ease with which the Secretariat and most delegations now speak of "a more representative and more effective Security Council".

On March 21, the secretary-general urged member states to decide on the issue of Security Council enlargement before the summit in September 2005, preferably by consensus "but if they are unable to reach consensus this must not become an excuse for postponing action". Two-thirds of UN members, provided they include the P-5, can bring about the required amendment of the Charter. Given the momentum generated over the past year, this two-thirds majority seems virtually assured, so the only hitch may still come from a permanent member. The UK and France have come to realise that admission of Japan and Germany to the P-5 would make their own permanent memberships less conspicuously anachronistic. But China may yet block Japan because of its failure to come to terms with its wartime past, Russia may oppose any change that more than doubles the number of permanent seats and accordingly reduces the significance of its own, and the US may balk at having a Security Council with three permanent members from the European Union.

If none of this happens and all permanent members abstain or vote in favour, we will soon have a Security Council of 24 members, 11 of which are permanent. It will then become evident that the new council is in no way more effective than the old one - unless, of course, the P-11 institutionalise the P-5 practice of settling matters among themselves and presenting the elected members with a fait accompli. Such a P-11 would of course be more effective than a Security Council of 15 members.

But medium-sized countries such as the Netherlands - and even more so larger ones that do not qualify for a permanent seat - are not likely to be interested in an elected membership on such a council. The E-13, the 13 elected members, will soon consist of nothing but very small countries that have no illusions about their influence but see their two-year tenure on the Security Council as a welcome opportunity to show the flag. It is difficult to see how such a Security Council would be more broadly representative of the international community.

From Mr Peter van Walsum.

(Text provided by the author.)


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