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Enhancing diversity and representation within the United Nations Security Council: the dilemmas of reform


There is a broad consensus upon the need for reform to the composition of the United Nations Security Council, largely driven by perceptions of its unrepresentative nature and domination by a small group of permanent members whose status stems from the geopolitical realities which existed in 1945. However, there is little agreement upon the exact form which such reform should take, evidenced by the numerous reform proposals advanced over several decades without any resulting change. This paper considers some options for enhancing diversity and representation within the Council and suggests that the principal reason for failure to advance these objectives lies in the very diversity of the international community. Thus, Security Council reform is likely to remain a problem that can never be resolved with any lasting success to the satisfaction of the international community at large. It is suggested that efforts to enhance perceptions of the Council’s legitimacy instead focus upon more realistic means of effecting change to its working methods and broadening opportunities for more states to contribute to its decision-making processes through alternative mechanisms.

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  1. 1.

    This was a consequence of the League’s Assembly and Council enjoying equal powers (Articles 3–4, Covenant of the League of Nations) and unanimity being required for decisions to be taken (Article 5).

  2. 2.

    UNCIO XI Pt. I, para. 9. For discussion, see Gross (1953: 259–170).

  3. 3.

    GA Res 1991 (XVIII).

  4. 4.

    GA Res 1991. The Council’s non-permanent membership was to comprise five African or Asian states, two Latin American states, two Western European or other states and one Eastern European state.

  5. 5.

    For such a treatment, see Franck (1990).

  6. 6.

    See, for example, UN Doc. GA/11450, of 7 November 2013.

  7. 7.

    UN Doc. GA/11450.

  8. 8.

    GA Res 47/62 (11 December 1992).

  9. 9.

    GA Res 48/264 (29 July 1994), Add.1, Add.2, Add.2/Corr.1, Add.3–10.

  10. 10.

    GA Res 48/26 (1993). The group was given the convoluted title of the ‘Open-Ended Working group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council’.

  11. 11.

    See, for example, the Working Group’s 1996, 2001, 2004 and 2008 reports, UN Docs. A/50/47, A/55/47, A/58/47, and A/62/47.

  12. 12.

    GA Res 55/2 (2000), para. 30.

  13. 13.

    UN Doc. GA/11450.

  14. 14.

    UN Doc. GA/11854, 7 November 2016.

  15. 15.

    UN Doc. A/AC.247/2001/CRP.2/Add.2.

  16. 16.

    See, for example, UN Doc. A/AC.247/2001/CRP.2/Add.3.

  17. 17.

    See UN Doc. A/62/47, pp. 10–12. Among the various proposals advanced in the Working Group’s 2008 deliberations, there was considerable support for the addition of two permanent members from Africa and Asia.

  18. 18.

    See UN Doc. A/62/47, at 13.

  19. 19.

    UN Doc. A/AC.247/2001/CRP.2. However, in 2008 African states argued for the extension of the veto to new permanent members. See UN Doc. A/60/L.41, para. 10.

  20. 20.

    UN Doc. GA/11450.

  21. 21.

    UN Doc. GA/11450.

  22. 22.

    On current contributions to peacekeeping operations by state, see As of 30 June 2017, the current P5 contributions were, respectively: China: 2515 personnel, France 804, Russia 95, UK 700, USA 74. Germany contributed 804 personnel, while Japan contributed a mere 4.

  23. 23.

    For 2016 spending figures, see

  24. 24.

    UN Doc. GA/11450.

  25. 25.

    See, for example, the proposals of the Uniting for Consensus group, UN Doc. A/59/L.68.

  26. 26.

    UN Doc. GA/11450.

  27. 27.

    For example, UN Doc. A/AC.247/2001/CRP.2/Add.5.

  28. 28.

    Article 109. See the Razali paper, UN Doc. GA/9228. 20 March 1997, para. 8.

  29. 29.

    See, for example, UN Doc. A/55/47, Cluster II, which considered issues related to the Council’s working methods and transparency, such as the use of public meetings, participation of non-members, meetings with troop contributors, consultations pursuant to Article 50 and relations with other UN organs.

  30. 30.

    Essentially, these concern the fact that UN membership is only open to states, which such organisations are not; regional organisations, unlike member states, do not contribute to the UN budget; only some regional organisations actually have a security remit; and there is little political support such a move.

  31. 31.

    UN Doc. S/2006/507, of 19 July 2006.

  32. 32.

    UN Doc. A/62/47, para. 8.

  33. 33.

    UN Doc. A/62/47, para. 23.


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Wilson, G. Enhancing diversity and representation within the United Nations Security Council: the dilemmas of reform. Int Polit 56, 495–513 (2019).

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  • Security Council reform
  • Representation
  • Permanent membership