Stewart M. Patrick, James H. Binger Senior Fellow in Global Governance and Director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) includes fifteen members, including five veto-wielding permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and ten non-permanent members, with five elected each year to serve two-year terms.
The UNSC is unlikely to be altered any time soon. Any resolution to expand the UNSC would need to garner the support of two-thirds of the 193 members of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), or 129 votes, as well as endorsement by the five permanent members to succeed.
Ultimately, an effective United Nations depends on a Security Council that reflects the world as it is—and whose members are willing and able to meet their heavy responsibilities. UNGA membership, however, remains deadlocked, with three blocs each vying for its preferred proposal. The first is the so-called "G4" coalition of aspirants to permanent (or long-term) membership—Brazil, India, Germany, and Japan, plus their allies. The second is the so-called "Uniting for Consensus" coalition, led by the G4's regional rivals (including Mexico, Pakistan, Italy and South Korea), which advocate for increases in the number of rotating, elected UNSC seats. And the third is the Africa bloc, committed to a formula (the "Ezulwini Consensus") that insists on at least two new permanent seats for Africa.
The Obama administration, despite endorsing India's eventual membership and reaffirming support for Japan in 2010, has since been silent on the issue. Looking back, historians may well view current U.S. inaction as a missed opportunity. As I argued in a 2010 Council on Foreign Relations Special Report with Kara C. McDonald, the United States may never be in a better position to exert influence over UNSC expansion.