By Gianna Pontecorboli

New York – How do we enlarge the number of countries that sit around the great semicircular table in the Glass Palace and decide the world’s destiny? By bringing in Brazil, Germany, India and Japan as permanent members, or by increasing the number of new non-permanent members to be more representative of today’s world reality? By making the latter re-electable for a second mandate? And, if the permanent members’ veto power cannot be abolished, can it be limited in some way? Since the weekend, senior diplomats and foreign ministers from all over the world have arrived at the UN to participate in events marking the first anniversary of the outbreak of war in Ukraine. In the shadow of the official speeches, however, there will certainly also be an opportunity for the world of international diplomacy to discuss a long-standing issue, that of Security Council reform: a topic that the Russian invasion itself has put back on the agenda. Many are the emerging signs of a recent new impetus, upon which the Member States could finally start solving the thorny problem that threatens to undermine the credibility of the international organisation.

For many years now, it has been evident that the composition of the Council – decided at the end of the Second World War – does not fairly represent the current international socio-political scenario. Reflecting WW2 winning powers, the current statute gives the five permanent members (the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain and France) enormous power to block any resolution they do not like. The losers are important geographical areas such as Asia and Africa, emerging countries like Brazil and India, and a myriad of small countries that have never had the opportunity to sit around the semi-circular table. A minor reform implemented in 1965, which increased the number of non-permanent members, elected for two years, from six to ten, certainly did not change the balance. In the 1990s, then Italian ambassador Francesco Paolo Fulci had made the proposal to enlarge the Council with the entry of new members, non-permanent but re-electable and with a longer term of office; he had created a working group on the subject, which was known as the Open Ended Working Group.

Since then, however, and until the invasion of Ukraine, little had changed. When Russia vetoed all attempts to end the conflict and all resolutions that would have condemned it, however, the problem was back on the agenda. In recent months, the working group Uniting for Consensus – subsequent creation based on Fulci’s suggestion – got back to work. this ensemble, created by the General Assembly, is also coordinated by Italy and comprises Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, San Marino, Spain and Turkey. Its proposal, which is not yet finalised, aims at strengthening the regional representation with the entry of 11 new members, nine of which are long-term and two two-year terms with the possibility of re-election. “The Uniting for Consensus group’s proposal would strengthen regional representation and a fairer geographical distribution,’ Italian Ambassador Maurizio Massari explained in several interviews with the international press, ‘Africa would gain six seats, Asia Pacific five, Latin America and the Caribbean four, Western Europe three and Eastern Europe two. A rotating seat should be reserved for small islands and smaller countries.” In the group’s draft, no permanent seats with veto rights should be added. “Seventy-seven years of UN history show that permanent members are only answerable to themselves,” Massari said.

At the same time, the Intergovernmental Negotiation, created in September 2015 by the General Assembly precisely to stimulate dialogue on the issue among all member states, also had one of its most dense and tense meetings in late January. In fact, there are many who strongly oppose the vision of the group coordinated by Italy. On the one hand, the four countries in the G4, Brazil, India, Germany and Japan, aspire to a permanent seat without veto power and would even be willing to offer one to the representative of an African country. India in particular, which is now a political and economic powerhouse, has made it clear that it is not willing to compromise. And Africa, with its 54 nations, has made no secret of the fact that it rightly aspires to have at least one place and perhaps two among the ‘greats of the earth’. On the other hand, there are some countries, such as France, which have drawn up proposals to limit the right of veto, excluding it in cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Other members, albeit somewhat muted so far, are in favour of creating a seat for the European Union or other regional organisations such as the African Union. On the table, finally, are the visions of the five current permanent member states, which are certainly not willing to give up an acquired right that could not be cancelled in the Security Council without their vote in favour. The United States, in the words of Joe Biden himself, has made it known that it is in favour of enlarging the number of members, both permanent and non-permanent, to ensure a fairer geographical and economic distribution, but has been stingy on details. The others, starting with Russia and China, have remained on the sidelines for now, but may not remain silent for long if the discussion becomes more heated.


Cover Image: the United Nation’s “Glass Palace”, New York (Unsplash)