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Since the end of World War II, the international community has addressed threats to world security through a variety of multilateral mechanisms and institutions. While the primary source of legitimacy for international action remains the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), its composition and structure have not kept pace with dramatic growth in UN membership from 51 to 192 states. Nor does the UNSC reflect shifts in the global distribution of power. Furthermore, the UNSC’s power still resides with the original five permanent members (P5)—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States.
“An unchanged UNSC will become increasingly ineffective in addressing today’s security challenges, which demand cohesive, broad-based, multilateral responses,” argue Kara C. McDonald, a former international affairs fellow, and Stewart M. Patrick, director of the International Institutions and Global Governance program, in a new Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Special Report.“The Security Council is not in immediate crisis, but neither is the status quo indefinitely sustainable,” the authors emphasize. They urge the United States to use its unparalleled global leverage to enlarge the UNSC to incorporate emerging and established powers.
Thus far, the United States has been mostly reticent in the debate. A notable exception was President Barack Obama’s speech to the Indian Parliament in November where he endorsed an eventual permanent seat for India on the Security Council. McDonald and Patrick recommend that the United States build on this momentum by spearheading a “criteria-based process” for UNSC enlargement that would “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 unpopular agreements, and the institutional wherewithal to participate in a demanding UNSC agenda.”
In the report, UN Security Council Enlargement and U.S. Interests, McDonald and Patrick propose the United States should
—Declare support for limited UNSC enlargement based on criteria rather than entitlement. President Obama should present an outline for UNSC reform in a high-profile public speech pledging U.S. support for modest UNSC enlargement based on a demonstrated commitment and ability to fulfill the obligations of permanent membership.
—Reach executive branch consensus on criteria for UNSC enlargement. The National Security Council should organize an inter-agency review to draft membership qualifications for aspirant countries, establish parameters for negotiations, and formulate a diplomatic strategy to achieve U.S. goals.
—Initiate discreet dialogue in capitals with the P5 and major aspirant states. “Any proposal to reform the council will quickly acquire enemies if it bears a ‘made in the USA’ stamp.” Consensus will be best achieved outside of the General Assembly through bilateral conversations with the P5 countries and aspirant countries, including Brazil, India, Germany, and Japan.
—Prepare the ground with Congress. As UNSC enlargement would require amending the UN Charter and consent by two-thirds of the U.S. Senate, the Obama administration must cultivate bipartisan support to ensure that negotiating goals are actualized.
For the full text of the report, visit: www.cfr.org/un_security_council_csr/
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. 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. McDonald 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 CFR senior fellow and director of the International Institutions and Global Governance program. 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 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 PhD 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 the forthcoming book Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security.
The International Institutions and Global Governance (IIGG) program at CFR aims to identify the institutional requirements for effective multilateral cooperation in the twenty-first century. The program is motivated by recognition that the architecture of global governance— largely reflecting the world as it existed in 1945—has not kept pace with fundamental changes in the international system. These shifts include the spread of transnational challenges, the rise of new powers, and the mounting influence of nonstate actors. Existing multilateral arrangements thus provide an inadequate foundation for addressing many of today’s most pressing threats and opportunities and for advancing U.S. national and broader global interests.
Council Special Reports (CSRs) are concise policy briefs that provide timely responses to developing crises or contribute to debates on current policy dilemmas. CSRs are written by individual authors in consultation with an advisory committee. The content of the reports is the sole responsibility of the authors.
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.