By Pragya Dhoundiyal, Law Center-1, Faculty of Law, Delhi University.

The United Nations was established with the objective of maintaining peace in the world and to prevent any further outbreak of war. To give shape to this objective, the Dumbarton proposal suggested establishment of an executive organ of limited membership whose prime responsibility would be to maintain International Peace and Security. This gave birth to one of the main organs of the United Nations that was the Security Council. It consisted of 15 members, 5 permanent members and 10 non-permanent members, and the non-permanent members were to be elected by the General Assembly for a period of 2 years. The first Security Council came into existence on 12th January, 1946, when it only had 11 members. It was only after 1965, when an amendment was brought about that the number of members was raised to 15.

The 5 permanent members of the Council are The United States of America, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom. These are the five members that have the ‘veto power’ which is the reason why there has been a lot of debate on this issue. This issue gained importance especially after the Gulf War of 1991 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, when the balance of power shifted heavily towards the United States of America which became the undisputed leader in the world. All this gave rise to the feeling that it was about time that the Council expanded in size to become more democratic and representative in nature. Though there was some dilution in the powers of the permanent members after the amendment that was enforced in 1965, it does not seem to be sufficient for the needs of today’s world. Earlier, decisions on non-substantial and procedural matters both needed the affirmative of at least 9 members which should have included the votes of its 5 permanent members, however now at least for the non-substantial matters a decision can be taken simply on the basis of the votes by the non-permanent members as well.


The primary reasons why it is felt that expansion of the Council is required is because the membership of the Security Council has been enlarged from 11 to 15 only once since its establishment in 1965 when the UN membership was 113, which presently stands at 193. Logical consequence would have been the natural expansion to have proportionate representation in the Council, but the 5 permanent members are just not ready to share their power. The other severe imbalance is that of geographical representations. Africa and Latin America straightaway go unrepresented, whereas Asia that is the largest continent both in terms of population and area is represented only by China. These factors could have been sidelined if the Council was working the way it was expected to but this is not what has been observed in the past. There have been some serious charges of usurpation of power by the dominant forces; one such example was put on display when the coalition led by the United States was given a blank cheque for driving Iraq out of Kuwait. This showed that instead of trying to inhibit wars, it is still felt that war is one of the most effective ways of restoring peace. Besides this, there have also been moments of indecisiveness because of the veto power, which cost India and Pakistan dearly during the 1971 war, when Russia exercised its veto in India’s favour due to which the Security Council was not able to arrive at any decision. We do not need to look into the past as the situation prevailing in the existing time itself suffices to show how the Security Council has failed. The attacks on Afghanistan have left it completely torn; similarly the Middle East also does not present a very bright picture. The issue of refugees and the rising power of the Islamic State are some crucial matters that stare at us in the eye.

At times it is thought that it might be due to the veto power that the functioning of the Security was impaired because conflicts started arising between the powerful nations just after the United Nations was formed which made the Security Council a very weak organ, but the importance of veto cannot be undermined simply because of this reason. Veto ensures that the decisions taken are all after a consensus is reached, this might delay some processes but ensures the principle of consensus.

The United States of America did suggest including the developing nations as permanent members, who could be selected on a regional or a rotational basis. However, this proposal was outrightly rejected because of obvious reasons. It would be paradoxical to suggest a permanent seat on rotational basis.

It is in this backdrop that we need to assess the legitimacy of the demands made by G4. G4 or Group of Four that consists of Japan, Germany, Brazil and India have been demanding a permanent seat for each one along with the veto power. In the fragile ecosystem that exists today, it is better for the nations to function in a more cooperative manner rather than trying to establish their own autonomy. Japan and Germany being major economic powers should have anyway been incorporated way back. India and Brazil are both developing countries with such immense potential and resources that it would be a little difficult to fathom any major policy decision being taken without them. This involvement will not only enable and reinforce democratic and representative ideals but will ensure better tackling of such issues. There have also been talks of a possible parallel contender coming up as opposed to the United Nations if these emerging superpowers are not included, just like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank that came up when IMF and the World Bank were unable to perform.

The G4 was set up in 2004. It was at the 2005 World Summit that all the heads of State and Government called for UN reforms with a special focus on changes in the Security Council.

The issue of concentration of power with the five permanent members has now gathered heat and is once again in the news because the G4 summit was held after about a decade on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly session in New York, and this time the four nations have made pressing demands for a time bound action on the issue with support from various corners of the world. The reason why these four countries are the most deserving is because, Japan, Germany, India and Brazil are the third, fourth, seventh and eighth biggest economies, respectively and going beyond economy, even in terms of population India is second largest, with Brazil standing fifth, Japan tenth and Germany at the sixteenth position  in the world.

China has been vehemently against the idea of making India and Japan a part of the Security Council because of its regional politics and difference, which should be buried for the greater good of the society. The need of the hour is to put up a united front against the common enemies of humanity. The United Kingdom and France seem to be relatively neutral on the issue of expansion. However, with the pressure building and new concerns regarding climate change, terrorism, cyber and space there seems to be a hope of some positive outcome by the conclusion of the 70th session of the United Nations in 2016.