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Questions and answers on the reform of the Security Council

How many members does the Security Council have?

  • Currently the Security Council consists of 15 members, five permanent members (China, France, Britain, the United States and Russia) and ten non-permanent members (currently Argentina, Australia, Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Corea). These members are elected by the General Assembly on a regional basis for a two-year term.  Re-election directly after the term is not possible. Germany most recently served as a non-permanent member from 2011 to 12 and is candidating again for a membership from 2019 to 20..
  • When the Charter of the United Nations was adopted in 1945 the Security Council had only five permanent and six non-permanent members, a total of eleven in all. In 1963 the General Assembly decided to expand the Security Council by creating four additional non-permanent seats; this reform came into force in 1965. The Security Council has existed in its present format since 1966.

Why does the Security Council need reforming?

  • The United Nations Security Council is the international community's principal organ for conflict management and peacekeeping. Unlike the decisions of the General Assembly, its decisions (known as resolutions) are binding on all member states. That means it has wide-ranging powers, and can if necessary take actions - e.g. the imposition of sanctions - that encroach on state sovereignty.
  • It is right and necessary that the Security Council should have these powers. But if its resolutions are to be respected and implemented by all states, the Council needs to have the required authority and legitimacy. This means it has to be representative.
  • However, the Security Council's current format reflects the geopolitical situation as it was in 1945. The expansion of 1963/65 basically did nothing to change this. The Council's present composition is no longer representative of a world which since 1945 has seen 142 new countries join the United Nations. Africa, Asia and Latin America including the Caribbean in particular do not have the representation on the Council which their current standing demands, and they therefore call for the Council's makeup to be adapted to the new realities.
  • Alongside the call for a balanced geographical distribution of seats, the United Nations Charter also expressly states that countries that make considerable contributions to the UN should be members of the Security Council. The majority of UN members therefore regard Germany and Japan as candidates for any new permanent seats.
  • If the Security Council fails to reform itself, there is a danger that other bodies will try to take its place. This kind of competition is in no-one's interests.

Why does Germany want a permanent seat?

  • The Federal Government wants to see a reform of the Security Council that will make Germany a permanent Council member, as part of a root-and-branch reform of the UN. Germany is committed to other reform measures as well. For example it played a major role in creating the Human Rights Council and the Peacebuilding Commission.
  • Since 1945 Germany's role in the wider world has changed radically. The country is no longer the "enemy state" of 1945 or the accession state of 1973, and especially since unification, it has developed into one of the staunchest advocates of multilateralism under the banner of the United Nations. This prominent role is one of the realities of the 21st-century world, which is why, since the start of the debate on UN reform, other UN members have repeatedly expressed the view that Germany is a natural candidate for a permanent Security Council seat.
  • Germany makes major contributions to the work of the United Nations. Not only are we the third largest contributor to UN funds but in other ways, too, we do an immense amount to further the UN's fundamental goals by, for example, providing troops for international peace missions, funding international development cooperation, sustainable development and humanitarian relief work and promoting human rights protection in all parts of the world.

With an additional Security Council seat, would Europe not be overrepresented on the Council?

  • Article 23 of the UN Charter makes clear that the prime criterion for Security Council membership is the contribution countries make to the UN's work. The issue of equitable geographical distribution is only a secondary consideration.
  • Europe - particularly the EU - is one of the largest contributors to the United Nations. EU countries fund nearly 39% of the UN budget and contribute more than half of the funding for worldwide development cooperation (60.5 Percent in 2011).
  • The G4 reform proposal would, however, not even increase the EU members' relative share of seats: Up to now three to five EU members can have Security Council seats at the same time - the two permanent members France and the UK and one to three non-permanent members representing the Western and/or Eastern European Groups on the Council. Following the reform, the EU would probably have up to six or seven of the then 24 or 25 seats. Rather than an increase, that would in fact mean a slight proportional decline to less than a third of the seats on the Security Council.

Why does the Federal Government not call for a permanent seat for the EU?

  • The Federal Government's long-term objective is an EU seat. Currently, however, the EU is still not ready to serve on the Council. Firstly, because the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy has not yet developed to the point that its member states can speak with one voice on all issues. And secondly, because the EU member states that are permanent Council members - Britain and France - are not yet prepared to give up their seats in favour of a permanent seat for the EU.
  • Furthermore, only states, not international organizations such as the EU, can currently become members of the United Nations. If the UN Charter were amended to permit membership of such organizations, it would be virtually impossible to decide which of the numerous other international organizations should also be allowed to join and have seats on the Council.

Can Security Council reform be prevented by a veto?

  • Security Council reform requires an amendment to the UN Charter. The relevant procedure as set out in Article 108 involves a two-stage process:
    - First step: The General Assembly, in which all 193 member states have one vote each must approve the reform by a two-thirds majority (i.e. at least 128 states).
    - Second step: Once approved, the Charter, an international treaty, is amended. The amended Charter must then be ratified by at least two-thirds of the member states, including the five permanent Council members, in accordance with national procedures. The last and to date only time that the Security Council was enlarged, in 1963, this process took around one and half years. Most importantly, all five permanent members must also ratify the amendment.
  • This means that during the first stage, the veto specified in Article 27 of the Charter is not possible. During the second stage, however, the parliaments of the five permanent Council members could prevent the entry into force of the amended Charter by failing to ratify it.
  • Another important point: Even though in the General Assembly permanent members voted against a proposed amendment, this does not automatically mean that they cannot go ahead and ratify the amended Charter. For example, in the vote on enlarging the Security Council in 1963, only one permanent member voted in favour, but by 1965, just eighteen months later, all five permanent members had ratified the amended Charter after all.

Should new permanent members also have the right of veto?

  • Numerous member states regard the veto as an anachronism. Many of them have therefore spoken out against giving any new permanent members the right of veto as part of a reform. The G4 proposal envisages not giving new members the veto at first, and finally clarifying the issue at a review conference 15 years after the Charter amendment enters into force. The draft resolution introduced by the African Union countries in 2005, on the other hand, calls for the power of veto to be extended to include new permanent members.

Last updated 09.01.2014