The divergent responses of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to the crises in Syria and Libya – a veto on action in the former case contrasted with authorisation for action in the latter – have once again provided a reminder of the power of the UNSC’s veto-wielding permanent members to determine when the UN’s collective security system may come into action.
The UNSC’s composition and working methods were established in 1945, and the size of its non-permanent membership has been modified only once, in 1963. While all UN members appear to agree that the UNSC needs to reflect today’s geopolitical realities, there is fundamental disagreement among them over how to accomplish this objective. A wide range of proposals have been made over time. But for more than two decades the entrenched positions of three main groups – the Group of Four (G4), the Uniting for Consensus (UfC) and the African Union (AU) groups – have dominated the debate, with one stalemate following another.
Several scholars have therefore suggested pursuing more attainable aims, such as reform of the UNSC’s working methods, rather than its expansion. EU Member States are deeply split, both on UNSC reform and the concept of an EU seat in the UNSC, which has been strongly advocated by the European Parliament.