The annual UN High-Level Week is currently taking place in New York, where senior representatives from member states gather to address the General Assembly. This week provides valuable opportunities for intensive contacts and speeches, especially during tense international situations. One issue that has been gaining attention is the reform of the Security Council. Although discussions about this reform have been ongoing for years, the current revival of interest is understandable given the complexities the body faces in a confrontational international environment.
The Security Council’s work is made extremely complicated by the opposing sides among its permanent members, who often block each other using their veto power. This frustrates other states that do not have special status within the council. In recent years, these states have become more concerned about how they compare to each other, while the rest of the world’s problems feel less important.
While the decisions of the General Assembly are not binding, they reflect the real distribution of opinions. However, conflicts and power struggles are evident in this setting as well. Western countries, led by the United States, have significant opportunities to influence developing countries. Despite this, there is still room for democratic expression and a wider range of opinions. More and more states are united by their rejection of an arrangement based on the balance of power from the middle of the last century, which emerged after World War II.
Adapting the institutional design of the UN to new realities has been a recurring call since the end of the Cold War. However, practical implementation of this reform faces several challenges. Firstly, any reform of the Security Council requires the consensus of the five permanent members. These members are not eager to share their privileges, and they have different ideas about the nature of the transformation. Secondly, even if a compromise is reached on principles, there will be endless debates about the parameters of enlargement. Criteria such as geographical location, population, economic size, and military strength, as well as the specific countries representing different regions, would need to be determined. Finding agreement on all these issues, even in peacetime, is difficult, let alone in the present circumstances.
Overall, the reform of the UN Security Council seems unlikely to happen. However, the debate on the issue is becoming more assertive, driven by rising centers of influence across the world. Countries such as India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria are advocating for a fairer and more inclusive representation within the Security Council. Even though proposals like US President Joe Biden’s suggestion of adding India, Brazil, Germany, and Japan as permanent members may not be implemented, they are significant in the context of ongoing discussions. The international system is currently undergoing significant changes, and defending only the status quo may not be a promising position. It is crucial to consider potential reforms that can adapt the Security Council to the new realities of the world.
Russia, for its part, has never opposed the reform of the Security Council, although its proposals used to be more symbolic in the past. Recently, Russia has put forward more concrete suggestions, such as arguing that Western countries are already over-represented on the Security Council, and any expansion should not further increase their proportional representation. Russia also expresses concerns about the devaluation of the Security Council as a result of enlargement and the granting of veto rights to new members.
Despite this, it is difficult to preserve the value of the Security Council as it has been measured for decades. The UN and its structures, like any institution, are influenced by changing circumstances. While having exclusive status is pleasant, it is also subject to changing realities. Russia, recognizing this, is interested in a significant expansion of the Security Council that ensures fair proportionality and represents the whole world.
In the past year and a half, it has become clear that, with the exception of a minority, most of the world is not hostile to Russia but rather focused on its own interests. However, the resentment of US-allied states makes diplomatic work more challenging. Nevertheless, this is still better than maintaining a deadlock and avoiding any discussion or potential reform of the Security Council.