The United States Should Oppose Expansion of the U.N. Security Council


The United States Should Oppose Expansion of the U.N. Security Council

August 11, 2005 6 min read

In the next few months, the United Nations General Assembly is expected to consider several proposals to expand the U.N. Security Council from the current 15 members.[1] The problems of the United Nations are myriad, but few would be resolved by expansion of the Security Council. The Bush Administration has stated that expansion should only be considered if it does not impede the effectiveness of the Council.[2] However, even a modest expansion of the Council fails that test in that it would undermine the Council's effectiveness, dilute U.S. influence in the Council, and likely result in a Council more hostile to the United States on many key issues. The Administration's should work with Congress to clearly state U.S. opposition to any expansion of the Security Council.


Voting Record in the General Assembly

The voting records of the key Security Council contenders-Brazil, Egypt, Germany, India, Japan, Nigeria, and South Africa are the lead contenders for new permanent seats-should be cause for concern to the Bush Administration as it considers expansion of the Council. Analysis of actual votes (not including consensus votes) in the General Assembly over a six-year period (1999 to 2004) reveals that five of the leading candidates voted against the United States more than 50% of the time on average. The votes are compiled annually by the U.S. Department of State.[3]


Only Germany (55%) and Japan (50%), voted with the U.S. at least half the time. Brazil, the only contender from Latin America, voted with the U.S. just 29% of the time, while India, often touted as a major future ally of the United States, voted alongside the United States just 20% of the time. The record of the three leading African contenders for Security Council seats is equally poor. Nigeria and South Africa voted just 25% of the time with the U.S., while Egypt, a huge beneficiary of American aid, only managed to side with the U.S. in 18% of the votes.

Chart 1


Voting Record on Key Issues

Every year the State Department identifies key votes in the  U.N. General Assembly of fundamental national interest. Support for the U.S. voting position on key issues over the past five years among the key Security Council contenders has been low (Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, India, and Egypt) to middling (Japan and Germany). South Africa and Nigeria voted against the U.S. position on average 80% of the time in key votes between 2000 and 2004. India voted with the U.S. just 19% of the time, and Egypt in just 16% of votes. The Brazilian record was slightly better, voting 35% of the time alongside the U.S. The U.S. did not receive a single vote of support from Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, India, or Egypt on any key vote in 2001. While the voting record of Germany and Japan is considerably stronger (Germany voted with the U.S. 64% of the time, and Japan 66% of the time), their voting coincidence can hardly be considered reliable.


Worse than the actual record is the fact that these countries' opposition to U.S. priorities is increasing. Germany, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, and Nigeria have sharply reduced their level of support for the US on key votes since 1999. In 2004, Nigeria, India, South Africa, and Egypt voted with the U.S. on just two occasions in key votes, and Brazil on only three votes. Germany and Japan's record was slightly better, with four out of ten votes in alignment with the U.S. [4]


undefinedThe record speaks for itself. If these countries gain permanent seats on the Security Council, support for U.S. proposals would be unlikely to increase.



It is in the U.S. national interest to have a Security Council that is lean and effective and able to play a positive role on the international stage. Current proposals to expand the Security Council are likely to have the opposite effect and will undoubtedly weaken and dilute the Council's ability to act effectively in the face of growing threats to international security.


Security Council expansion will also make it far more difficult for the United States to work through the Council. With the exception of Germany and Japan, the voting records of all the other main contenders for Security Council positions indicate that they are likely to vote against the U.S. on most key issues likely to come before the Council. This will result in a larger, more unwieldy Security Council that is likely to be less supportive of U.S. policy priorities. Worse, an expanded Council would be subject to greater gridlock that will paralyze the Council and decrease the probability that it will act quickly or effectively to address threats to international peace and security. The ultimate result will be to make the Security Council less relevant and increase the likelihood that crises will need to be addressed outside of the U.N. framework.


Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy of the Shelby and Kathryn Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, and Brett D. Schaefer is Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics (CITE), at The Heritage Foundation. Heritage Research Associate Anthony Kim and Heritage Intern Sarah Liston contributed to research for this paper.

[1] Secretary General Annan and advocates of Security Council expansion were hopeful that the General Assembly would vote on a proposal by September, but the failure of any one proposal to elicit support from the necessary two-thirds of the General Assembly has made that goal unlikely. Annan has announced that he hopes that the issue will be resolved by December 2005. See Edith M. Lederer, "Annan Extends Target for Council Expansion," The Washington Post, August 10, 2005, at

[2]See U.S. Department of State, "U.S. Priorities for a Stronger, More Effective United Nations," June 17, 2005, at /static/reportimages/33168646376F63B391EBAF6BD56EC783.pdf.

[3] U.S. Department of State: Voting Practices of the United Nations, at

[4] In 2004, the 10 key votes were: the U.S. Embargo of Cuba; Human Rights in Sudan; Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; Division for the Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat; Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty; Work of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices; Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance; Enhancing the Role of Organizations to Promote Democracy; Human Rights in Iran; and International Trade and Development.


Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow

Brett Schaefer

Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs