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UNSC expansion: India still far away from a permanent seat

Kanwal Sibal | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 4:35 IST

The resolution

  • UNGA resolution of 14 September is an important step towards the reform of the UN Security Council
  • Expansion of the UNSC has been considered since the end of the Cold War

  • The present composition doesn\'t reflect global power equations

  • India has been eyeing a permanent seat at the UNSC. 80 countries support its bid

The positions

  • US wants a limited expansion of the UNSC-- from 15 to 21
  • China is opposed to Japan\'s candidature. It has been ambiguous about India

  • Russia\'s support for India is nuanced. UK and France favour India\'s inclusion

The hitches

  • There needs to be consensus on various issues concerning the expansion
  • Even after consensus is reached, it has to be ratified by the 5 permanent members

  • This process will take time. India\'s permanent seat may not materialise any time soon

The expansion of the UN Security Council (UNSC) has been under discussion since the end of the Cold War. The vast majority of UN members acknowledge that the UNSC needs restructuring as it no longer reflects the changes in global power since 1945.

The size of expansion and countries to be included as new permanent members remains a contentious issue, primarily because of resistance from US, China and Russia and the 25 member Uniting for Consensus (UFC) group comprising of countries like Pakistan, Italy, Mexico, Egypt, South Korea and so on.

Who stands where

The US wants a limited expansion of permanent and non-permanent members-from 15 at present to 21, which is impractical. This will neither accommodate the minimum number of aspirants or ensure adequate geographic representation.

China is openly opposed to Japan's candidature and less frontally so to India's. It uses equivocal, and patronising language when it comes to our candidature.

Russia is reticent about Japan's candidature and its support of India's candidature is nuanced. It is responsive to the negative arguments of the UFC countries. It insists that contrary to the Charter requirement of 2/3rd of the membership voting in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in favour of UNSC expansion, the decision should be taken by "near consensus".

France and UK have expressed firm support for expansion and for India. By this they earn India's political goodwill without being obliged to deliver as the final decision on expansion is not in their hands, and India understands this.

We have been politically lobbying with countries for some years now for supporting our candidature, and have rallied about 80 countries behind us so far, which is a positive achievement.


Way back in December 1993 the UNGA had decided to establish an "Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters related to the Security Council" to consider all aspects of UNSC expansion.

In January 1994 the Group began its "open-ended", inconclusive, deliberations. This continued until 2008 when inter-governmental negotiations (IGN), strongly backed by India, were mooted by the UNGA president on the basis of a task force report. UFC countries led by Pakistan and Italy, Russia, China and the Arab League had opposed the move on the ground that no meaningful negotiations could take lace in the absence of an agreed negotiating text.

What the resolution means

With the UNGA resolution of 14 September a significant forward step has therefore been taken as a negotiating text for Security Council reforms will now be presented to the 70th session of the UNGA beginning this week.

We have called the resolution "historic and path-breaking" noting that this was "the first time in the history of the intergovernmental negotiation (IGN) process that a decision on UNSC reform has been adopted through an official document" and that this decision has set the IGN process formally on an irreversible text-based negotiations path.

It is important to understand though that this "negotiating text" is not an agreed one. It is a "Christmas tree" text, a compendium of views obtained from member countries on the issue.

The L 69 group of 41 developing countries from Africa, Latin America, Caribbean and Asia-Pacific, on Security Council reform have their own view. The group had circulated a draft resolution on the subject in 2012. In 2013 the Caribbean Community countries had passed a similar resolution. In 2005, the African Union adopted a common position on Security Council reform, but the African countries have not been able to agree on specific candidatures from Africa. They want two permanent seats on an expanded Security Council.

US wants a limited expansion of UNSC. China opposes Japan's inclusion and India's to a lesser extent

The G4 countries - India, Japan, Germany and Brazil - have been active in seeking UNSC expansion to make it more "representative". In 2011 the G4 circulated a resolution for expansion in permanent and non-permanent categories which obtained support from about 80 countries. India assesses that it would have 2/3rd support in the UNGA for its candidature in the event of a vote.

The negotiating text circulated in July this year presumably carries all these different views, including those of the UFC. For the first time, different countries have submitted written suggestions. Significantly, US, Russia and China have not contributed their views to the negotiating text.

The text was passed unanimously. Concerns that countries like China, that have called the process propelled by the UNGA president "not fair, not transparent", could call for a division and set back the process were not substantiated for lack of support among the larger membership. Pakistan too failed in mustering opposition to the resolution.

The road ahead

Key permanent members and the UFC countries would not have wanted even this progress to be made as they fear they could lose control of the process. The majority believes that the UNSC is no longer representative as a body, with the developing world and entire continents excluded from membership. The UNSC has lost legitimacy as a result.

To restore legitimacy and effectiveness, and prevent deadlocks that arise because of its 1945 structure and the legacy of Cold War politics that vitiates decision making even now, a more broad-based membership is required.

Individual powers would then find it that much more politically difficult to act unilaterally or outside the UN framework.

During the 70th UNGA session, various issues will have to be discussed- the scope of expansion, working methods of the Security Council, its relationship with the UNGA, veto powers and so on.

To arrive at a consensus text would be an extremely difficult task. Therefore, to imagine that India is closer to permanent membership in the near future would be a mistake. Even in the medium term it may not be possible.

After a consensus text is agreed, the five permanent members have to approve and ratify the amendment to the charter.

Of course, with the will of the international community clearly expressed in a UNGA resolution, it will be very difficult for any P-5 country to veto it, without creating a crisis. But we are a long way from this at present.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been raising the issue of UNSC expansion as well as support for India's candidature with his international interlocutors. He has welcomed the latest UNGA resolution.

The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.

First published: 16 September 2015, 11:48 IST
Kanwal Sibal @CatchNews

Kanwal Sibal is a former foreign secretary of India, who was in office from July 2002 to November 2003. He's also served as India's ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia.