Many are the voices calling for a reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), because in their view the present Council does not reflect the new distribution of power - interestingly enough, those voices seem to focus more on the Permanent 5 (P5) seats. But what constitutes power and has its distribution really changed?
Hosli and Dörfler, in Reforming the United Nations Security Council: Proposals, Strategies & Preferences, spoke of three main indicators of power (to reform the UNSC): population size, economic power expressed by GDP and number of conventions that member states are party to (in order to measure the adherence to international rules).
- Population Size: the most populated nations are not the most powerful countries on the planet since their population has not reached the levels of living standards comparable to Western and some Asian countries (at least not yet). Without any doubt a massively populated country, especially a young one (like in the Indian case), has huge economic potential; but when it has not been realised yet, does it make sense to deem a potential an indicator of power?
- GDP: indubitably, money is power. However, what is done with money is what constitutes power. Yes, countries like Brazil have a huge GDP (+trillion dollars) however, the governments of such countries consistently fail to fix problems that tantamount a violation of the basic human rights of their people (e.g. in Brazil, there are still people living without water supply and sanitation). When a country, despite its resources, has people living without the basics this country is not truly powerful.
- Number of conventions: as a measure of adherence to international rules - how many terror states have joined UN conventions and even contribute to peacekeeping missions (e.g. Pakistan)? 'Palestine' recently joined 14 UN conventions and treaties, does it adhere to international rules when it is partly governed by groups deemed terrorist organisations by the EU and US, for instance?
After witnessing the poor performance of the UNSC regarding Syria and Ukraine, surely anyone would be inclined to support a reform of the council but not at any price and certainly not based on fictitious indicators of power.
If indeed we wish to see a reform of the UNSC, we should at the very least have the courage to admit true indicators of power: economic, financial, social and human development (combined). Now, you could argue that these indicators contradict reform as they would assure the council would practically remain the same; but actually they are not contrary to reform, as many other solutions could be proposed: for example, the P5 could evolve to P9 by adding truly powerful countries (like Japan, Germany, Italy and Australia).
The composition of the UNSC - and especially that of the permanent seats - is not a question of justice and equality (notions contradicted by the UN Charter itself); it is a question of having the most exemplary nations at the head of the world's stability. How can nations that do not provide the basics to their people (i.e. water supply and sanitation, education, universal healthcare, infrastructures, etc), that are unstable and corrosively corrupt even think of being at the helm of the world's peace and security? Although there is the urgency of change, we must not yield to the temptation of debasing the meaning of Power.
"[The] Council has passed through a period of years without having among its members a significant Islamic country." -- Amb. Richard Butler in Reform of the United Nations Security Council
The UNSC's mandate is the "maintenance of international peace and security". When the most significant Islamic nations sponsor terror and conflicts that disturb international peace and security (not to mention the failure of domestic economic, social and human development), how can we even cogitate of considering having them as a permanent member of the Security Council? Such a suggestion borders appeasement, and such measures have been proved to be disastrous.
African nations, through the Ezulwini Consensus, proposed a reform of the security council since it is "Convinced that Africa is now in a position to influence the proposed UN reforms by maintaining her unity of purpose" and they envisage a full representation in the Council "not less than two permanent seats with all the prerogatives and privileges of permanent membership including the right of veto" - again, a cluster of countries that are known for instability, successive coups and blatant violation of human rights wish to be part of the administration of the world's stability.
(NB: my African brothers should not misunderstand my words; I recognise the advances of many African nations in recent years, however they must agree that they are not there yet as much time has been wasted in Russian-backed conflicts, now Chinese and Islamist-backed wars plus widespread corruption; therefore, Africa as a whole still has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to economic, financial, social and human development, so why not focus on that first?)
Financial groups like Goldman Sachs convinced many nations, around the world, that they were powerful and they (plus many academic experts) fell for it; however, I wonder whether most nations demanding a UNSC reform aren't either biting off more than they can chew or simply wishing to benefit from status of practically being "above the law" (as Amb. Richard Butler put it when he described the P5 "These members determine every issue of importance and are themselves virtually above the law")
In sum, the reform of the UNSC should be delayed until the balance of true power shifts in real terms, not in spurious ones.