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United Nations Reforms and G4

  Jun 08, 2020

United Nations Reforms and G4

How many members are there in the United Nations Security Council?

A total of 15 UN member states serve on the UNSC.

How many are permanent members?

The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (also known as the Permanent Five, Big Five, or P5) are the five states which the UN Charter of 1945 grants a permanent seat on the UN Security Council: China (it replaced Taiwan in 1971), France, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, and the United States. These countries were all victorious allies in World War II. They are also all nuclear weapons states. P5 have the power of veto, which enables them to prevent the adoption of any decision by the UNSC, regardless of its level of international support.

Who are the others?

Ten non-permanent members elected for two-year terms each by the General Assembly make up the rest.

Who are the G4?

The Group of Four- G4 nations comprising Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan are four countries which support each other’s bids for permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. G4's single purpose is the permanent member seats on the Security Council. All four have served as the elected non-permanent members of the council since the UN's establishment. Their economic and political influence has grown significantly in the last decades.

Have they received support from others for their candidature?

The United Kingdom and France have backed the G4's bid for permanent seats. Japan has received support from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Four of the permanent members of P5 have supported India's bid for permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) but China is limited and ambiguous in its support. It opposes India’s association with Japan.

Is there any opposition?

Each one is opposed by its rivals in the region. India by Pakistan, Japan by China and South Korea; and Germany by Italy. In Latin America, Argentina, Mexico and others are opposing a seat for Brazil.  

What is the Coffee Club?

Under the leadership of Italy countries that oppose the G4 countries' bids have formed the Uniting for Consensus movement, or the Coffee Club, composed mainly of regional powers that oppose the rise of some nearby country to permanent member status.

How would the G4 want the UN to proceed for reform?

The inter-governmental negotiations (IGN) process that is already in force should start text-based negotiations: based on a single comprehensive text reflecting positions and proposals by member states.

Has there been any expansion of the strength of the permanent membership since the inception of the UN in 1945?


Why is the G4 in news?

On 25 September 2019 during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the G4 ministers reiterated their strong commitment to an early and comprehensive reform of the UNSC. Bearing in mind that in 2020 the United Nations will celebrate its 75th anniversary, the G4 ministers want enhanced role for the developing countries in the Security Council.

When will India be a non-permanent member again?

India has won the unanimous support of all countries in the 55-member Asia-Pacific Group at the United Nations in support of its bid for a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council (UNSC) for a two-year term in 2021-22. The 55-member Asia-Pacific Group gets to nominate one of its members for the June 2020 elections to a non-permanent seat on the UNSC. India will need the vote of two-thirds of the 193 UN General Assembly members to win a non-permanent seat on the UNSC.

How many times has India held a non-permanent seat on the UNSC so far?

India has already held a non-permanent seat on the UNSC for seven terms: 1950-1951, 1967-1968, 1972-1973, 1977-1978, 1984-1985, 1991-1992 and 2011-2012.  

Why is there a demand to restructure the UN?

The composition of the Security Council was established in 1945. Since then the geopolitical realities have changed drastically, but the Council has changed very little. The victors of World War II shaped the United Nations Charter in their national interests, assigning themselves the permanent seats and associated veto power, among themselves. 

With the enlargement of the United Nations membership and increasing assertion by the new members, going hand in hand with processes of decolonization, old structures and procedures were increasingly challenged. The imbalance between the number of seats in the Security Council and the total number of member States became evident, and the only significant reform of the Security Council occurred in 1965: this included an increase in the non-permanent membership from six to 10 members.

What is the history of the demand for reform?

In the 1990’s G4 emerged.

African Group started to demand two permanent seats for themselves, on the basis of historical injustices.  Those two seats would be permanent African seats, that would rotate between African countries chosen by the African group.

In 2005, the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called on the UN to reach a consensus on expanding the council in a plan referred to as "In Larger Freedom". 

What is the basis for India’s claim to be a permanent member with a veto?

  • India has the world's second largest population 
  • World's largest liberal democracy. 
  • World's seventh largest economy 
  • Third largest in terms of purchasing power parity as of 2019
  • India is the largest developing country in its economic class 
  • India is the largest contributor of troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions 
  • India’s foreign policy is global in outlook and non-aggressive
  • India’s non alignment policy is credited to have defused the cold war
  • India’s responsibility with nuclear weapons was globally appreciated and Nuclear Suppliers Group has given India a waiver for it to have normal nuclear commerce with rest of the world
  • India has been elected seven times to the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member.

How will India benefit if she becomes a permanent member of the UNSC?

  • India will become rule maker and not merely rule taker
  • Can contribute to control of terrorism
  • Ensure that world knows facts about Jammu and Kashmir and the UN is not misused for intrusive purposes
  • Defend the interests of developing countries
  • Reset Un priorities towards social, economic and environmental issues

What are the main priorities for UN reform?

  • Expansion of Security Council membership
  • Greater representation of developing countries
  • Equitable geographical distribution
  • Veto power of the five permanent members

What is the need for reforming the veto power?

P5 has the veto power. That is, blocking any resolution proposed by others. It is frequently cited as a major problem within the UN. By wielding their veto power (established by Chapter V of the United Nations Charter), any of the UNSC's five permanent members can prevent the adoption of any UNSC draft not to their liking. As a result, the power of veto often prevents the Council from acting to address pressing international issues and affords the "P5" great influence within the UN institution as a whole. 

China has exercised its veto several times on India's resolutions to put Masood Azhar on a list of global terrorists. Azhar is the head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the United Nations. 

Additionally, the veto applies to the selection of the UN's Secretary-General, as well as any amendments to the UN Charter, giving the P5 great influence over these processes. 

Discussions on improving the UN's effectiveness and responsiveness to international security threats often include reform of the UNSC veto. Proposals include limiting the use of the veto to vital national security issues.

How can the UN Charter be amended?

Any reform of the Security Council would require an amendment to the Charter. Article 108 of the Charter states: Amendments to the present Charter shall come into force for all Members of the United Nations when they have been adopted by a vote of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly and ratified in accordance with their respective constitutional processes by two thirds of the Members of the United Nations, including all the permanent members of the Security Council. 

What is Uniting for Peace resolution? 

The Uniting for Peace resolution was adopted in 1950, as a means of circumventing Soviet veto during the course of the Korean War (1950 – 1953).

"Uniting for Peace" resolution, states that in any cases where the Security Council, because of a lack of unanimity amongst its five permanent members, fails to act as required to maintain international peace and security, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately and may issue any recommendations it deems necessary in order to restore international peace and security. If not in session at the time the General Assembly may meet using the mechanism of the emergency special session.

The Uniting for Peace resolution is also known as the "Acheson Plan".

It was a procedural decision and so could not be blocked by the UNSC P5.

What is a procedural issue?

Decisions of the Security Council are made by an affirmative vote of nine members, whereas each member has one vote. The Charter distinguishes between votes on “procedural matters” and votes on “all other matters”. Concurring votes of the permanent members are required for the adoption of substantive decisions. Accordingly, when voting on procedural matters, a negative vote cast by a permanent member does not invalidate a decision, the decision stands if it secured nine affirmative votes. Examples of procedural matters are:

  • Submission to the General Assembly of any questions relating to the maintenance of international peace and security;
  • Request to the Secretary-General for convening of a special session of the General Assembly etc.