The United States and its allies are beating a drum that finds no receptive ears. Most States Have Other Priorities
UN High-Level Week – an annual gathering of senior representatives of member states to address the General Assembly – takes place in New York. It is a period of more or less long speeches and intense contacts between ministers, or even heads of state, depending on the status of the heads of delegation. The more tense the international situation is, as it is currently, the more valuable the opportunities presented.
The question that resonated was that of Security Council reform. This isn’t the first year, or even the first decade, that the subject has been talked about, but the current surge of interest is understandable. In conditions of confrontation, the work of the body is extremely complicated – opposing camps among the permanent members block each other.
This irritates other states which do not benefit from a special status, because the big five have given themselves a right of veto. They now care more about how they compare to each other, and the problems of the rest of the world matter less.
The decisions of the General Assembly are not binding, but faithfully reflect the actual distribution of opinions. However, the conflict is also spreading there. For example, Western countries, led by the United States, have considerable opportunities to influence developing countries. But ultimately there is more room for maneuver, which means that the space for democratic expression of will is a little wider.
Disagreements among members are innumerable, but more and more states are united by a particular position: the rejection of an arrangement based on the balance of powers of the middle of the last century, as it emerged after the Second World War.
It’s hard to argue with that. Even the size of the UN itself has almost quadrupled and the diversity of states has increased significantly. Hence the calls, launched shortly after the end of the Cold War, to adapt institutional design to new realities.
However, the practical implementation of this wish faces a number of problems. First, any reform of the Security Council is only possible with the consensus of the five permanent members; it is impossible to bypass at least one. And they a) are not willing to share their privileges, b) have different ideas about the nature of the transformation of the highest political body of the UN. Second, even if one imagines a compromise in principle between the five main members, there will be endless debate over the parameters of enlargement: who exactly is worthy of joining the ranks of the “immortals” and why. Geographic location, population, economic size, military power: what should be the main criteria? And which specific countries should represent their regions and communities – Africa, Asia, Latin America, Arab world, etc. ? It is difficult to imagine agreement on all these issues, even in times of peace, let alone today.
Overall, reform of the UN Security Council seems unlikely. But that doesn’t mean the debate on the issue won’t become more vocal. Emerging centers of influence, from India to Turkey, from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, from Argentina to Nigeria, and others, are increasingly emphasizing the question of justice.
Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s slogan “the world is bigger than five” is, as might be expected, consistent with the wishes of the majority of the General Assembly.
And there is now fierce competition for the sympathies of this majority (usually called in the West the Global South). It is in this context that high-level calls for Security Council expansion must be seen. This inspired US President Joe Biden to make such a call – proposing that the long-discussed quartet of India, Brazil, Germany and Japan be admitted as permanent members.
There is no point in seriously considering the implementation of such an idea. Because it’s just a slogan and it’s not meant to be achieved.
However, it is not unimportant. In a situation where the entire international system has begun to collapse, a purely protective stance of defending the status quo at all costs is not promising. This will most likely end in a spontaneous change in the situation, or even a collapse.
Russia has never opposed Security Council reform, but until recently its proposals were rather ritualistic. They now take a more concrete form: for example, remarks that Western countries are already over-represented on the Security Council and that any expansion should therefore not increase the proportional representation of that community. At the same time, we have traditionally expressed the fear that enlargement, and even more so the granting of a veto to new members, would lead to a devaluation of the Security Council as such.
It probably will. But, I repeat, it will not be possible to maintain its value as it has been measured for decades anyway. The UN and its structures, like any institution, are linked to their times. Exclusive status is of course a pleasant phenomenon. But this is also conditioned by changing circumstances. Leaving aside the question of prestige, Russia wants a significant expansion of the Security Council based on the principle of fair proportionality – so that the whole world is represented.
As the events of the last 18 months have shown, with the exception of a certain part (by far a minority), most of the world is not hostile to Russia, but rather neutral and focused on its own interests.
However, resentment among U.S. allied states makes diplomatic work more difficult. But it’s still better than a dead end.