Monday, January 10, 2011

Survey of Candidates for Permanent Seats of the UN Security Council

I have been considering the question of the expansion of the permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council since the issue arose several years ago. It came up again recently in the voting for the rotating membership of the Council. It arose again, on United States President Barak Obama’s trip to India, when he reiterated American support for that large state to be given a permanent seat at the Council.

The five Permanent Members have veto power, unlike the ten rotating members. The current Permanent Members are all great powers: the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. They all have major economies (they rank first, fifth, sixth, twelfth and second, respectively in GDP), significant conventional military forces, and international influence. Additionally, all of the Permanent Members have significant nuclear weapons stockpiles and the ability to deliver them with ballistic missiles. It would be difficult to conceive of any modern state as a great power without nuclear weapons.

A survey of the usual candidates for additional permanent seats, as well as a few other candidates, plus the objections to their nominations would be illuminating:

Of all the candidates for permanent membership, India is the lone great power. It is an emergent economic power (with a GDP similar to Russia’s) that meets the other criteria to some degree, with a significant conventional force with strong participation in UN peacekeeping missions and some international prestige. It also has nuclear weapons. However, awarding it a permanent seat on the Security Council could appear to be rewarding India for its illicit acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Pakistan, India’s mortal enemy, and possibly other Muslim states would object to an Indian permanent seat.

Germany and Japan
These two states are economic great powers (with the second and fourth highest GDPs, respectively).

They both have relatively weak conventional forces and no nuclear weapons, however. More importantly, they both have constitutional restrictions on their combat roles that even limit their participation in peacekeeping. Italy objects to Germany's candidacy for permanent membership because of its relative lack of participation in international peacekeeping, especially compared to the Italians. Theoretically, the Italians would have to object to Japanese membership for the same reason. In addition, Japan remains hated in East Asia for its history of imperialism and what its neighbors regard as its failure to acknowledge its crimes. China and the Koreas would vehemently object to Japanese membership, even apart from Japan and South Korea's territorial dispute.

Italy is an economic great power (it has the seventh highest GDP), with a significant conventional military force and international influence. Indeed, it has been the leading power behind international peacekeeping (which are often UN missions), as well as participating significantly in both the Afghan and Iraqi battles in the War on Terrorism.

Italy, however, does not have nuclear weapons.

Australia is relatively similar to Italy in regard to sending its troops into peacekeeping or combat roles.

However, its economy is half the size of Italy’s, slightly behind India’s. Australia does not have nuclear weapons.

Like India, Brazil is an emergent economic power.

Brazil, however, does not meet the other criteria. The recent decision of its outgoing president not to extradite a suspected terrorist to Italy guarantees Italian opposition.

Although all of these candidate states have larger GDPs than Russia, given that the Security Council is tasked with security, an adequate degree of military power and diplomatic prestige would seem requisite, in addition to economic might. In conclusion, there is currently no ideal candidate for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, although India comes the closet. It would be difficult to nominate only one or two of them, and not most of the rest. The objections that would be raised against these candidates could cause a coalition to coalesce around opposition to any expansion in the number of permanent Council members, at least for now.

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