(CNSNews.com) – President Biden said on Wednesday the U.S. supports increasing the number of U.N. Security Council permanent seats to include “nations we’ve long supported” as well as additional permanent members from Africa and the Latin America-Caribbean region.
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly, he was wading into a decades-old debate that has taken on a renewed sense of urgency by frustrations over Security Council deadlock and the invasion by Russia, one of the five veto-wielding permanent members (P5), of a neighboring sovereign state.
Biden said he believed that “the time has come for this institution to become more inclusive so that it can better respond to the needs of today’s world.”
The P5 should “refrain from the use of the veto, except in rare, extraordinary situations, to ensure that the council remains credible and effective.”
“That is also why the United States supports increasing the number of both permanent and non-permanent representatives of the council,” Biden continued. “This includes permanent seats for those nations we’ve long supported, and permanent seats for countries in Africa [and] Latin America and the Caribbean.”
According to a senior White House official, it was the first time ever that a U.S. president has spoken, in a General Assembly speech, about a desire to see a reformed Security Council with more permanent and non-permanent members.
Biden did not name countries, but the senior official, who briefed on background after the speech, confirmed that the “nations we’ve long supported” – and continue to support – for permanent seats are Germany, Japan, and India.
The White House official was more cautious when it came to candidates from Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, saying that “there are challenges in figuring out what exactly” representation from those two regions would look like.
Longstanding aspirants from the two regions include South Africa, Nigeria, and Brazil.
“The question now really is where do China and Russia land on this question,” the senior official said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has once again underlined the problems of a stalemated P5 when in late February, Russia vetoed a resolution condemning the action.
In a video message to the Security Council in April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy challenged the council to reform, or “dissolve” itself.
In his address to the General Assembly session on Wednesday, Zelenskyy took aim at Russia’s status in the Security Council, and called for drastic action.
“So long as the aggressor is a party to decision-making in the international organizations, he must be isolated from them – at least until aggression lasts,” he said. “Reject the right to vote. Deprive delegation rights. Remove the right of veto – if it is a member of the U.N. Security Council.”
Competing interests, regional rivalries
The council’s makeup largely reflects the balance of power at the end of World War II, with the veto-wielding P5 comprising the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China.
Another 10 rotating seats are held by member states elected by the 193-member General Assembly for two-year stints. They do not have veto power.
Discussions about reforming the council have been underway since the 1990s, gaining impetus every few years, for example after the Iraq war in 2003. In 2005, then-secretary-general Kofi Annan put forward a package of reform proposals, although they ultimately made little headway.
A new push came with “intergovernmental negotiations” in 2009, and then another in 2019, when Secretary-General Antonio Guterres placed council reform on his personal agenda.
For decades the campaign has been hampered by competing interests, regional rivalries, and disputes over whether any newcomers should enjoy the same veto power as the P5.
Changing the council composition would require an amendment to the U.N. Charter, which in turn would need to be ratified by two-thirds of U.N. membership, including all five permanent council members. (The charter has only been amended five times, including a 1965 amendment that increased the council membership from 11 to 15.)
The so-called G4 – Germany, Japan, India, and Brazil – are at the forefront of the push for new permanent members. Each backs the other three, and the G4 also supports two permanent seats for (unspecified) African nations.
In 2005 a loose grouping emerged of countries which for reasons of current or historical grievances objected to some of the G4 candidacies. It included Pakistan, South Korea, Italy, and Argentina, which are reluctant to see an elevated status for India, Japan), Germany, and Brazil respectively.
In other proposals over the years, Australia said in 2003 that Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, deserved a permanent seat; the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2013 called for a permanent council seat for the Islamic bloc, which it proposed could rotate among its members; and the African Union has called for at least two new permanent seats for African countries.
China and Russia have spoken in principle in support of a “more inclusive” Security Council
“The Security Council should be more inclusive of the interests of all countries, as well as the diversity of their positions,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said a recorded address to the General Assembly two years ago.
“At present, the makeup of the Security Council is out of balance between the north and the south,” Chinese U.S. Ambassador Zhang Jun told the General Assembly last November.
“Reform should correct the over-representation of developed countries, earnestly improve the representation of developing countries, correct the historical injustice suffered by Africa, and give more opportunities to small and medium-sized countries that come from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Arab countries and small island countries to serve in the Council and play their important role.”
Japan is not likely to be on Beijing’s list of prospective members, however. During the Kofi Annan push in 2005, millions of Chinese Internet users signed online petitions against a seat for Japan.
U.S. support in principle for a permanent seat for Japan reportedly dates back to the Nixon administration.