February 28, 2003

February 28, 2003 | WebMemo on International Organizations

More Is Not Better At U.N. Security Council

The United Nations Security Council is charged with maintaining international peace and is the only body that can initiate U.N. peacekeeping missions and impose UN economic sanctions. Yet the United States has been fighting an uphill battle to get the other members of the Council to fulfill its primary duty in regards to Iraq. Many members of the Security Council refuse to support forcefully disarming Iraq in spite of ample evidence of Iraq's violation of 17 Security Council Resolutions limiting its weapons. This impasse has raised questions about the effectiveness of the Security Council.

Unfortunately, most existing proposals for Council reform focus on increasing the size of the Council rather increasing its effectiveness. Proponents of expansion hold that the Security Council will be enhanced because greater representation will grant additional legitimacy to Council resolutions. But the Security Council has never been, and was never intended to be, a representative body. Consultation with or approval of all, or even a majority, of the member nations was not considered vital by the drafters of the U.N. Charter. If it had been, deliberations on the use of force would be conducted in the General Assembly, which includes representatives from every member state.

As explained in a 1997 Heritage Backgrounder, a larger Council would only exacerbate the problems illustrated by the current impasse over Iraq. Specifically, the paper stated that a larger Security Council would:

  • Undermine U.S. efforts to combat terrorism. The United States has used the U.N. as a platform from which to oppose state-sponsored terrorism. But it faced increasing opposition to its efforts to sanction terrorist states in the 1990s. Expansion would likely result in more states on the Security Council that oppose America's views on what terrorism is (the UN has yet to agree on a definition of terrorism because many states sympathize with terrorist groups) and its efforts to combat terrorism. 
  • Aid the spread of weapons of mass destruction. U.S. efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction would face greater difficulty in an enlarged Security Council. The Council passed 17 resolutions requiring Iraq to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction and submit to inspection by U.N. teams to confirm compliance but has shied away from enforcing those resolutions in the face of Iraq's clear non-compliance. A larger Security Council would make it more difficult to achieve strict enforcement mechanisms, as demonstrated by the disagreement many governments have with America's efforts to forcefully disarm Iraq if necessary.
  • Complicate and possibly prevent the formation of U.N. military coalitions to protect American security. Military action in the interests of the United States would be less likely to receive U.N. approval in an expanded Security Council as it would require the U.S to convince a proportionate number of additional nations to support military action - a prospect that the current debate shows is would not be easy. The situation would become more complex if the new permanent members on the Security Council were granted veto power.
  • Undermine the ability of the Council to act decisively. History and experience suggest that expansion will impede the ability of the Security Council to act promptly and decisively. Former U.N. Ambassador Charles Lichenstein noted that "nothing is more certain than that the resolutions of this larger Security Council would be either blander or fewer, or both," inevitably forcing the Council toward "impotence and irrelevance."

The Security Council is already subject to delay and indecisiveness. A larger Council would undermine its ability to act decisively as timely action would fall victim to gridlock and debate among nations that have little to contribute to the Council's ultimate responsibility - enforcement of peace and security. 

For a more in depth analysis see: Brett D. Schaefer, " The United States Should Oppose Expansion of the U.N. Security Council," The Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder #1140, September 22, 1997.

About the Author

Brett D. Schaefer Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: International Organizations