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A seat for India on the UN Security Council?

Earlier today, President Barack Obama endorsed giving India a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. In an address before the Indian Parliament, Obama noted:

As two global leaders, the United States and India can partner for global security —- especially as India serves on the Security Council over the next two years.  Indeed, the just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate.  That is why I can say today, in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.  (Applause.)Now, let me suggest that with increased power comes increased responsibility.  The United Nations exists to fulfill its founding ideals of preserving peace and security, promoting global cooperation, and advancing human rights.  These are the responsibilities of all nations, but especially those that seek to lead in the 21st century.  And so we look forward to working with India —- and other nations that aspire to Security Council membership -— to ensure that the Security Council is effective; that resolutions are implemented, that sanctions are enforced; that we strengthen the international norms which recognize the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all individuals.

Interesting.

Since the Clinton Administration, the United States has supported permanent seats for Germany and Japan. Now, the United States is formally supporting an Indian seat on the Council. Could this happen?

To begin with, it might be useful to recall that under the Charter of the United Nations, it is necessary to amend the Charter to add permanent members. This is no easy process. Article 108 provides:

Amendments to the present Charter shall come into force for all Members of the United Nations when they have been adopted by a vote of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly and ratified in accordance with their respective constitutional processes by two thirds of the Members of the United Nations, including all the permanent members of the Security Council.

Thus, to add permanent seats, not only must  two-thirds of all UN members agree, but each of the current permanent members has to agree. Under the present Charter arrangement, there are a total of 15 members on the Council– the five permanent members and 10 states elected on a rotating basis by the General Assembly. It seems unlikely to me that a two-thirds majority of UN members wiould agree to add any new permanent members unless additional rotating members are added to keep them in the majority on the Council. Moreover, I cannot imagine anyone wanting to give the veto to additional states. As a consequence, the only proposal that would seem to stand a chance of receiving both a two-thirds vote and the approval of each permanent member would be something like this:

  • Add five new permanent members, without veto power (likely– Japan, Germany, India, a Latin American state (probably Brazil), and an African state
  • Add six new rotating members

This would bring the total number of states to 21 and maintain a majority of non-permanent members.

So, to reiterate the question, could this happen?

I am inclined to believe that serious Security Council reform can take place only with a real commitment by the United States to comprehensive UN reform. Such reform will require American leadership and the collaboration of each of the permanent members– including China and Russia. I am not sure that domestic US politics are well-suited for such an undertaking at the present time. But we shall see.

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2 Comments

  • Chaz P says:

    I think your assessment of how absolutely huge an endeavor this would require is spot on. A small facebook debate (amongst your former students, no less) suspected that it had something to do with the DEA link to the Mumbai bombings:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/08/world/asia/08terror.html?_r=2

    Originally I suspected our diplomatic penitence would involve more sharing of nuclear technology, but the timing of the two is too close (and too out of left field) to be completely disregarded.

    • Chaz P says:

      I should amend the above to explain that I don’t mean to suggest we’ll actually spend our global political capital on this in the short term, but that it was 1) a diplomatic freebie, because delivery through our sole efforts isn’t realistic, and 2) allowed Obama to possibly begin to outline an Obama doctrine of increasing (although diluting) influence in the global system.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.