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UN Security Council Enlargement and U.S. Interests

Authors: , and , James H. Binger Senior Fellow in Global Governance and Director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program

UN Security Council Enlargement and U.S. Interests - un-security-council-enlargement-and-us-interests
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Publisher Council on Foreign Relations Press

Release Date December 2010

72 pages
ISBN 978-0-87609-477-8
Council Special Report No. 59


The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) remains an important source of legitimacy for international action. Yet despite dramatic changes in the international system over the past forty-five years, the composition of the UNSC has remained unaltered since 1965, and there are many who question how long its legitimacy will last without additional members that reflect twenty-first century realities. There is little agreement, however, as to which countries should accede to the Security Council or even by what formula aspirants should be judged. Reform advocates frequently call for equal representation for various regions of the world, but local competitors like India and Pakistan or Mexico and Brazil are unlikely to reach a compromise solution. Moreover, the UN Charter prescribes that regional parity should be, at most, a secondary issue; the ability to advocate and defend international peace and security should, it says, be the primary concern.

The United States has remained largely silent as this debate has intensified over the past decade, choosing to voice general support for expansion without committing to specifics. (President Obama's recent call for India to become a permanent member of the Security Council was a notable exception.) In this Council Special Report, 2009−2010 International Affairs Fellow Kara C. McDonald and Senior Fellow Stewart M. Patrick argue that American reticence is ultimately unwise. Rather than merely observing the discussions on this issue, they believe that the United States should take the lead. To do so, they advocate a criteria-based process that will gauge aspirant countries on a variety of measures, including political stability, the capacity and willingness to act in defense of international security, the ability to negotiate and implement sometimes unpopular agreements, and the institutional wherewithal to participate in a demanding UNSC agenda. They further recommend that this process be initiated and implemented with early and regular input from Congress; detailed advice from relevant Executive agencies as to which countries should be considered and on what basis; careful, private negotiations in aspirant capitals; and the interim use of alternate multilateral forums such as the Group of Twenty (G20) to satisfy countries' immediate demands for broader participation and to produce evidence about their willingness and ability to participate constructively in the international system.

The issues facing the world in the twenty-first century--climate change, terrorism, economic development, nonproliferation, and more--will demand a great deal of the multilateral system. The United States will have little to gain from the dilution or rejection of UNSC authority. In UN Security Council Enlargement and U.S. Interests, McDonald and Patrick outline sensible reforms to protect the efficiency and utility of the existing Security Council while expanding it to incorporate new global actors. Given the growing importance of regional powers and the myriad challenges facing the international system, their report provides a strong foundation for future action.

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Kara C. McDonald is a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State, and currently serves as the U.S. deputy special coordinator for Haiti. McDonald was an international affairs fellow from 2009 to 2010 and director for United Nations and international operations at the National Security Council from 2007 to 2009. She served as acting senior director for democracy, human rights, and international organizations during the transition to the Obama administration. Prior to serving at the White House, she was a special assistant to R. Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department, where she advised on African affairs and the United Nations, including negotiations in the Security Council on Iran, North Korea, Lebanon, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Kosovo. From 2004 to 2006, McDonald was deputy director for planning in the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) at the Department of State. She has served in and advised on multilateral operations and complex contingencies for more than ten years, and chaired interagency policy committees on peacekeeping and peace-building operations, strategy in the multilateral environment, aid effectiveness, and governance in postconflict. Prior to joining the Department of State, McDonald managed elections and political process assistance to central and eastern Europe for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Her overseas assignments have included Romania, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Haiti, Macedonia, and Croatia. She holds a BA in French and comparative literature from the University of Michigan and an MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She speaks French and Romanian.

Stewart M. Patrick is senior fellow and director of the International Institutions and Global Governance program at the Council on Foreign Relations. His areas of expertise include multilateral cooperation in the management of global issues; U.S. policy toward international institutions, including the United Nations; and the challenges posed by fragile states. From 2005 to April 2008, he was a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, where he focused on the linkages between state weakness and transnational threats. He also served as a professorial lecturer in international relations/conflict management at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. From September 2002 to January 2005, Patrick served on the secretary of state's policy planning staff, with lead staff responsibility for U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and a range of global and transnational issues. He joined the State Department as a Council on Foreign Relations international affairs fellow. Prior to government service, Patrick was an associate at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University from 1997 to 2002. He graduated from Stanford University and received his doctorate in international relations, as well as two MA degrees, from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar. He is the author of The Best Laid Plans: The Origins of American Multilateralism and the Dawn of the Cold War and of the forthcoming Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security.

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