Reforming the UN’s Security Council: The Outdated Role of Permanent Membership

Photo via Better World Campaign


Many argue the United States’ status as the global hegemon is descending, and that a massive global transition is upon us. The path to where this transition is taking global society is uncertain, and such uncertainty gives states that are hungry to be the next global leader—such as Russia, where Putin’s reminiscing on the days of the Soviet Union makes his imperial motives clear—an opportunity to act. The resulting international disorder is plaguing global society with incessant war in the name of land, power, and security. In times of instability, such as the one brought about by the current status of our global arena, states and their citizens should be able to turn to the United Nations to bridge amicable solutions. Unfortunately, this system, particularly its Security Council, proves outdated—and therefore requires reform. 

As the global order faces a transitional period, the key takeaway is that polarity is not fixed. Though consistent power struggles indicate a more significant, fundamental issue within our international system, calling attention to this is a more extensive but, unfortunately, less feasible agenda in the short term. Reforming the Security Council is a necessary step to the larger peace agenda. The council’s permanent members currently include the United States, China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom as permanent members, granting them veto power over important decisions and resolutions. The ten elected, non-permanent council members do not have the same privilege. Despite the ever-changing multi-national power dynamics, the body of the Security Council has only seen minor modifications since its inception, none of which reevaluate the status of permanent membership. The five permanent seats were established in 1946 and have since remained unchanged. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a prevalent and unmistakable example of the need for reform. As the United States moves out of the international limelight, Russia takes the opportunity to move in on Ukraine. Though Putin may have expected less pushback from the international arena given the global shift, many nations are militarily and politically supporting Ukraine to protect their sovereignty. Not only this, but it also takes a renowned stance against Putin’s disregard for global rules and his imperial agenda. While governments are working with the United Nations to move toward harmony, Russia’s veto power in the Security Council hinders the ability to take action. Russia has historically been the most active user of the veto and continues to misuse this power to “prevent several Security Council resolutions condemning the conflict.” This abuse of veto power tarnishes Russia’s image on the council and, as United States President Joe Biden mentions, defines the credibility and effectiveness of the entire council. As credibility diminishes, this setup is not only serving as ineffective to the war on Ukraine, but also hurting other global crises that need a stable and credible peacekeeping institution. The Unied Nations mustn’t become bannered as weak and ineffective. 

States within the Security Council have talked about expanding the council and welcoming new, permanent council members such as Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Nigeria, and South Africa. However, the reality is that it is not only necessary to expand, but to reevaluate the current permanent members’ position within the council—as well as what grounds they stand on. Russia’s recent behavior not only begs the question of the rightfulness of its role on the council, but has also allowed society to reevaluate the positions of the other states. The permanent position gives unfair opportunities to ascend the interests of their states, and Russia’s actions reinforce the need for reform in a world where the moral legitimacy of permanent membership status has proved outdated and unjust

Challenging the frameworks of the UN’s Security Council and the states formerly granted their privileged position is necessary. Demography tells us that by 2050, South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East will contain the populations with the largest working share. This will undoubtedly change the economic and political balance driving the modern world’s power dynamics. Though this change is happening fast, Security Council states are reluctant to acknowledge the vital need for total reform (not just expansion), giving the impression that they are unwilling to give up their privilege—even if it is the morally correct decision. If this behavior is not recognized, the future powers projected to run the world in 2050 will be silenced by outdated frameworks and institutionalized biases. This will stunt development, increase tensions between countries that have been overlooked repeatedly, and leave our multinational peace frameworks completely unproductive.