Africa: Biden’s Call to Expand UNSC Membership Likely to Go Unheeded

Washington — U.S. President Joe Biden has again called for an increase in the number of permanent and non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

In his speech on Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly, Biden said the U.S. has “undertaken serious consultation with many member states. And we’ll continue to do our part to push more reform efforts forward, look for points of common ground, and make progress in the year ahead.”

“We need to be able to break the gridlock that too often stymies progress and blocks consensus on the council,” he said. “We need more voices and more perspectives at the table.”

Confrontations between the U.S., China and Russia often paralyze the Security Council. The three, along with Britain and France have permanent seats on the council, and any one of them can veto a resolution. There are 10 non-permanent members elected by the United Nations General Assembly for two-year terms, with five replaced each year. The non-permanent members lack veto power.

Biden called for the council’s expansion last year when he addressed the General Assembly.

“The current increased competition makes countries even more sensitive to the zero-sum nature of those decisions … and there’s so little solidarity and trust right now,” said Stewart Patrick, senior fellow and director of the Global Order and Institutions Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Patrick told VOA Mandarin in a phone interview that the deepening of frictions between the U.S. and China and between the U.S. and Russia have increasingly intruded on the ability of the council to address other matters such as climate change.

But Patrick said there is “renewed momentum” on “the desire to reform the composition and perhaps the rules of the U.N. Security Council to make it more representative, but also more effective.”

The declaration that came out after the BRICS summit in August included a line that supported calls for Brazil, India and South Africa to play “a greater role in international affairs, in particular in the United Nations, including its Security Council.” All three nations belong to the bloc, which also includes China and Russia.

Maya Ungar, U.N. project officer at the International Crisis Group who monitors the Security Council, told VOA Mandarin the BRICS declaration is “quite significant because it’s the first time that [the bloc] has put out a statement bringing that much support …”

Other groups of U.N. member states are advocating for particular types of reforms. The G4 group of Brazil, Germany, India and Japan have been campaigning for permanent council seats for years.

Patrick said the G4 countries have regional rivals that object to their permanent memberships. Pakistan opposes India, South Korea and Indonesia have objections to Japan, and Argentina and Mexico have concerns about Brazil.

“Each of the aspirants has regional rivals and they have their own coalition called the Uniting for Consensus Coalition,” he said. “And what they are attempting to do is to offer an alternative plan for council expansion.”

In addition, the 54-member Africa Group of U.N. members wants Security Council representation.

Algeria’s foreign minister, Mourad Medelci, who spoke during the annual meeting of heads of state and governments at the U.N., said the council’s “membership must be expanded to include new permanent and non-permanent members of the developing world, particularly Africa, the cradle of civilization.”

Anjali Dayal, associate professor of international politics at Fordham University, told VOA Mandarin, “Everybody agrees that the Security Council needs to be reformed, but nobody agrees on how it should be reformed.”

Besides the geopolitical hurdles, Patrick said, “the procedural hurdles for actually extending the U.N. Security Council are quite daunting because it would require, even if it was only about elected members, it would require the approval of two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly and all of the P5 to get the required charter amendments. And then each of those approvals would have to be backed by domestic legislation in the relevant countries.” P5 refers to the Security Council’s permanent five members.

Ungar said that while Biden expressed support for Security Council expansion, he did not make specific suggestions.

“The process of choosing who would join will be almost impossible to manage,” Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told VOA in an email. “Enlarging the UNSC will make it more unwieldy and even less able than it is now to reach decisions.”

A survey of major strategists around the world released in July by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, found that 64% of respondents believed that the Security Council would not add any new permanent members in the next 10 years. The survey found that if a new country were to be added it would most likely be India, Japan or Brazil.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s foreign minister, said last month that China is the only permanent member in the U.N. Security Council that opposes India joining the Council as a permanent member, according to The Economic Times of India.