It's time to expand the UN Security Council. But who gets a seat?
Nigeria and South Africa are potential African members. Japan and India would serve as democratic counters to China. Brazil and Mexico are potential Latin American representatives. Italy and Germany argue they deserve seats. The decision will be challenging, but it is long overdue.
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The Security Council has remained the UN’s largely controlling body, for example authorizing peacekeeping operations in dozens of countries. The secretary-general, usually chosen in rotation from various regions of the world, has some influence depending on his personality, but he is basically the Security Council’s executive officer, implementing its major decisions.Skip to next paragraph
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A recent Council on Foreign Relations report argues that the original members of the Security Council were chosen for their ability to guarantee world peace, not their regional representation. “The same should be true, presumably, of any additional permanent seats,” says the report written by Kara McDonald and Stewart Patrick.
Pros and cons for potential additions
President Obama’s vote for India, then, should be a reasonable choice. It is a vibrant Asian democracy and a major contributor of troops to UN peace operations. It is also an economic counterweight to China and looked to by a number of smaller nations in Southeast Asia as offering a potential military balance to China’s fast-growing naval power.
But what about another Asian power center, Japan? This is a democratic counterweight to undemocratic China, and the second-largest contributor (after the US) to the UN’s budget. But Japan has modest military forces and an aversion to military confrontation.
African diplomats raise Nigeria and South Africa as potential UNSC permanent members, but Nigeria’s democracy is fragile, despite it being a major contributor to UN peacekeeping operations. South Africa, post-Mandela, has troubling aspects of its government, and slender military forces.
In Latin America, Mexico contributes much more to the UN budget than Brazil, but Brazil is a booming would-be superpower that considers itself worthy of permanent UNSC membership. Meanwhile, Germany and Italy are substantial donors to the UN. Both argue that they have as much claim to UNSC permanent seats as Britain or France.
The UN complex on the banks of New York’s East River is a sanctuary where problems are supposed to get solved by diplomatic discussion. Expanding the permanent membership of the Security Council will be a challenge. But it is overdue.
John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, served in 1995 as assistant secretary-general of the UN and as its director of communications.