The United Nations Security Council, a key player of international affairs with the task of maintaining international peace and security, is facing increasing scrutiny regarding its effectiveness amidst 21st-century global challenges. Criticisms of its structure highlight issues of inadequate representation, abuse of veto power by the Council’s five permanent members, and an outdated composition that impedes addressing contemporary threats. Past reforms, notably the 1963 expansion of non-permanent seats, whilst slightly improving representation in the Council, failed to decentralise power from the permanent members. Geopolitical constraints, historical alliances, and emergent threats further hinder the Council’s capacity to resolve conflicts swiftly and adapt to evolving global dynamics. Efforts for reform, led by groups like the G4, advocate for expanded representation and inclusivity, but hurdles persist due to diverse member interests and the veto power of the P5. The urgent need for a reformed UNSC capable of addressing modern challenges prompts ongoing discussions and efforts for structural reform, despite existing complexities and historical impediments.


The creation of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 1945 marked a turning point in the sphere of global power. For the first time in history, a small group of countries would be held responsible for maintaining international peace and security. Since then, the Council’s structure has remained unchanged, with 5 permanent members (P5, the United States, Russia, France, United Kingdom and China), holding unrivalled power when it comes to passing resolutions brought before the Council. While there are 10 non-permanent, or elected, members that hold rotating seats in the UNSC, their influence remains limited. The P5 retains power over the rest of the countries, often pushing them into a secondary role, restricting the ability of other UN member states to make substantial changes to the Council’s design and procedures. The result is a system in which most voices are diminished by the influence of more powerful states. This further undermines the UNSC’s ability to address issues the world currently faces, due to the shifting global political climate of the 21st century. Addressing the structural flaw is essential in creating a more responsive and effective Council that can keep up with the contemporary challenges to international peace and security.

The progressions brought by the 21st century have caused important shifts in the tectonic plates of the international system. There are constant shifts in the economic and political order and increasing depth to the problems that pose a threat to international security. War is no longer the only threat we face; the evolution of technology, organised crime, climate change and other social issues push us to reconsider the nature of the threats that can destabilise international security in the 21st century. 

The UNSC is an entity that is internationally recognised, designed to ensure world peace and prevent international conflicts. However, its system tends to be compromised by ‘the lack of unanimity of the permanent members’, such that the Security Council frequently ‘fails to exercise its primary responsibility’ as the P5 tend to place their own interests over the goal of international peace (Carswell, 2013, pg.469). Carswell brings up the issues of how reform would be made, and the ideal ways in which it would work could also contradict articles on the correct system of the UNSC. Similarly, Patrick et al. (2023) bring up similar reforms in adding more seats to the UNSC, both permanent and non-permanent. There is an emphasis on adequate representation to address the socio-political changes but the discussed reform often excludes other forms of change necessary for addressing current issues. The ability to propose policies and resolutions is often forgotten as many countries and scholars just push for greater representation. 

The Council currently allows for the P5 to work towards their own agendas. Both permanent and non-permanent states benefit from being a part of the UNSC, giving some elected states better access to powerful countries, as argued by Danyal and Dunton (2023). There are also benefits that the permanent members gain, although mostly through their influence on veto powers, often pushing agendas that would benefit their countries and allies the most (Cox, 1992). Both of these scholars lean into discussing the way countries benefit from being a part of the Council, but fail to adequately address how these relations and policies negatively affect other countries; countries that may need aid and have no way of getting it or those negatively affected by vetoes are powerless even in their voice. 

There is a big emphasis on the lack of reform in the structure of the UNSC and how it can be developed to become more representative. What are the changes that need to be made in order to adequately represent the problems we face in the 21st century? The UNSC was revolutionary for its time – it became a symbol of peace, a way to represent many different groups, while also ensuring the position in global politics of the great powers of the post-war period. What may have been a resolution and symbol of peace in the 1940s may be of limited effectiveness in the 21st century. This paper explores some of the Council’s main limitations and contemplates the potential for reform that may better represent the current world order and the contemporary threats to international peace and security.

The Anachronism of Representation

Reforms aimed at broadening representation within the UNSC have been somewhat successful. In 1963, the total number of member states increased from 11 to 15, with non-permanent seats rising from 6 to 10, and specific seat allocations for each region established in the same session (Danyal and Dunton, 2023). The current distribution allocates 5 seats to African and Asian countries, 1 to Eastern European countries, 2 to Latin American countries, and 2 to Western European countries. However, this division hinders equal representation, with the two largest continents sharing only five seats. European countries, despite representing fewer people, hold three seats distributed among smaller regions. Even after this 1963 reform, discontent persisted, with states asserting increasing power expressing reservations about those granted access to the UNSC.

Moreover, the evolving economic landscape challenges the position of the P5 in the Council. Initially representing the military and economic powers of the time, the P5 now contends with changes in economically powerful nations. Germany and Japan, major contributors to the UN and pivotal players in the global economy, lack formal veto power within the UNSC despite their significant global influence (Weiss, 2009). The G4, comprising Germany, Japan, India, and Brazil, advocates for their representation as global powers, offering economic and political influence to enhance the UNSC’s effectiveness (Binder and Heupel, 2020). These nations, with substantial populations and economies, seek reform without necessarily pursuing veto power, emphasising information access to boost their effectiveness while relinquishing the omnipotent authority held by current permanent members.

Information asymmetry further compounds challenges for non-permanent members. The passing of historical and current resolutions to elected members provides the P5 with informational advantages, placing new members at a disadvantage in policy deliberations (Hurd, 2002). The G4 contends that to truly impact and represent, like the P5 are currently able to do, access to all information and policies held by permanent members is essential. Non-permanent members often find themselves disadvantaged, subjected to policies with inadequate information, and struggle to reform within their limited tenure. The G4 strives to address this fundamental struggle, aiming for equal access to information and policies to represent their interests effectively.

Current UNSC dynamics reveal a tendency for member states to use their positions of privilege to advance their political and economic interests. The P5, who enjoy veto power, often wield it to safeguard their political interests, even at the expense of other nations. This is particularly evident during wartime deliberations, where the P5 may veto aid, ceasefires, or other crucial measures for peace. Contrarily, non-permanent members, despite facing biased decisions, receive more aid from international and US-based foundations (Dayal and Dunton, 2023). The structural disparity in permanent membership perpetuates biased resource allocation, favouring countries that may not urgently require assistance over those in immediate need.

Dealing with Deadlocks

The Council’s current design and structure frequently leads to deadlocks that impede reform efforts, especially as a result of the entrenched power wielded by the P5. The Council’s very framework, including the veto power, acts as a barrier to reform, bolstered by the P5’s staunch efforts to retain their disproportionate influence. An example is seen in the Uniting for Peace resolution, wherein a proposal attempted to grant the General Assembly a role in maintaining international security when the Security Council faced unanimity issues. However, this encroachment on the Security Council’s primacy led to the resolution’s limited impact, showcasing post-WWII countries’ reluctance to cede power and reinforcing internal challenges hindering reform.

Moreover, certain deadlocks appear inherent in the political architecture of the UN’s Charter, as outlined in articles 10, 11, 12, and 14. While Articles 10 and 11 allow the General Assembly to recommend collective measures, the resolution’s effectiveness hinges on the binding nature of the measures, rendering the Assembly’s power theoretical. Articles 12 and 14 limit the Assembly’s role by stipulating non-intervention in disputes unless requested by the Security Council, emphasising the Charter’s intentional opacity and the unequal distribution of power. This intentional ambiguity, coupled with structural power imbalances, underscores the necessity for reform while highlighting its improbability. As a result, attempts to revise the Charter risk dismantling existing multilateral cooperation structures rather than promoting a fairer institution (Dayal and Dunton, 2023).

External deadlocks stemming from dwindling multilateralism exacerbate the Council’s outdated structure, failing to align with current geopolitical realities. The efforts of aspiring non-permanent members, like the G4 (Brazil, Japan, India, and Germany), seeking permanent membership, are counterbalanced by opposing factions like the ‘Uniting for Consensus’ group, who ‘believed this extension would only give ineffective privileges to some countries while leaving the majority of the countries out’ (Okhovat, 2011, pg.33). As one Australian official describes, ‘the Uniting for Consensus countries are united not by consensus but by their opposition to one of the G4s’ (Ibid.).

The Geopolitical Constraints to Multilateral Cooperation

Internal geopolitical tensions within the UNSC often hinder the Council’s ability to fulfil its mandate to maintain international peace and security, mainly because of the ‘the lack of unanimity of the permanent members’ (Carswell, 2013, p.469). Multilateralism, defined as collaboration among multiple states for a shared goal, especially pertaining to international peace within the UNSC, encounters challenges due to influential states’ inclination to reject the UN as a vehicle for international action, preferring collective dominance in global affairs (Cox, 1992, p.5). Notably, the P5 tend to leverage their influence within the Council to further their individual agendas, as exemplified by the Russian Federation’s veto in September 2022 against the resolution addressing the peace and security of Ukraine (Dayal and Daunton, 2023). This veto prioritised state interests over resolving an international conflict, undermining the Council’s foundational purpose.

Moreover, the economic decline of some P5, particularly the UK after the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, coupled with the rise of emerging economies like Brazil, challenges the P5’s ability to uphold the global economic structure within the UNSC. This shift prevents these declining powers from maintaining economic multilateralism, potentially leading to collective dominance by influential states like the USA, hindering the redistribution of power within the Council despite emerging economies’ increased global influence.

Additionally, historical alliances among the P5 engender internal divisions within the Council, evident during the Cold War era and persisting today. Conflicting interests between the USA, Russia, and China were evident in the May 2022 meeting called by the USA to sanction North Korea (Dayal and Daunton, 2023). Russia and China opposed the sanctions, highlighting the US’s supposed focus on military development and alluding to a ‘cold war mentality,’ exacerbating tensions within the Council. Despite such discord, alliances between some of the permanent members, exemplified by the UK’s support for the draft, remain present, illustrating the persistent geopolitical divisions that impede effective global conflict resolution.

Moreover, the emergence of non-state threats like terrorism complicates the UNSC’s ability to respond effectively, as conflicts caused by such entities pose challenges distinct from traditional inter-state conflicts. These threats undermine international law, making it challenging to protect civilian populations affected by such conflicts. Similarly, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their potential global impact pose challenges outside the scope of traditional conflicts, necessitating the UNSC’s attention to prevent global divides and alliances, yet testing its capacity to respond adequately to emerging threats. The case of the conflict between Israel and Hamas showcases the complexity in addressing conflicts involving non-state entities, impacting civilian populations and demanding humanitarian aid.

The multifaceted nature of emerging threats, such as terrorism and nuclear proliferation, presents a formidable challenge for the UNSC’s traditional conflict-resolution mechanisms, highlighting the Council’s potential struggle in effectively addressing these evolving global challenges.

Furthermore, the evolving geopolitical power dynamics globally indicate the obsolescence of the UNSC’s structure. The P5, chosen at the Council’s inception after World War II when preventing further conflict held paramount significance, wielded immense global influence. However, over time, their significance has waned considerably, with emerging nations like Brazil gaining increasing prominence in global politics and the world economy. Concurrently, other states seek to augment their power and influence through various means, including conflicts. This collective shift in global power dynamics underscores the necessity for structural reform within the UNSC, enabling it to aptly represent contemporary global affairs and effectively resolve international conflicts.

The Past, Present, and Future of Security Council Reform

As it has been discussed so far, the UNSC is critical to preserve international peace and security. However, facing 21st-century emergent threats, concerns mount regarding the effectiveness of the Council’s current design and structure. Criticisms often centre on its outdated composition, inadequate representation, and the abusive leverage of veto power by the five permanent members (Patrick et al., 2023). These limitations hinder the UNSC from dynamically reflecting global power shifts and emerging moral authorities, leading to frequent diplomatic stalemates. The Council has encountered several setbacks, including the United States’ unapproved invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Russia’s direct assault on Ukraine in February 2022, backed by its veto power (Patrick et al., 2023). These incidents, violating the UN Charter and international law, remain unaddressed despite widespread condemnation from member states, prompting questions about the Council’s ability to ensure security, as raised by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in April 2022. Such stalemates and failures drive the urgent need for reform.

A significant turning point in the evolution of the United Nations Security Council occurred with the pivotal 1963 reform. Initially comprising only six non-permanent states, the UNSC witnessed a surge in General Assembly membership as newly decolonised countries joined the U.N. This surge highlighted the demand for broader representation and participation in global decision-making processes. The Non-Aligned Movement, led by decolonised countries, exerted pressure for reform, leading to the General Assembly’s 1963 resolution. This resolution expanded non-permanent seats from six to ten and introduced geographical divisions through competitive elections (Dunton and Dayal, 2023). The reform allowed for more creative and innovative usage of the chamber and offered possibilities for multilateral action, albeit without shifting power away from the P5.

Despite the apparent enhancements post the 1963 reform, challenges persist in implementing further reforms within the UNSC. Complexities stem from diverse member state interests and perspectives, compounded by the veto power wielded by the P5. This veto power obstructs reform efforts, enabling any permanent member to block resolutions despite majority support from member states (Patrick et al., 2023). The consensus requirement among the P5 complicates decision-making processes, impeding the UNSC’s ability to adapt to global changes and demands for reform. However, past instances of significant reform within the UNSC signify its capacity to evolve and meet international community needs.

Advocacy groups like the G4, comprising Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan, play pivotal roles in championing UNSC reforms. These nations advocate for increased representation and inclusivity, proposing expansions in both permanent and non-permanent seats to mirror contemporary geopolitical realities and regional representation (Patrick et al., 2023). The G4’s pursuit of equitable representation across regions like Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America aims to augment the legitimacy and effectiveness of the UNSC. Garnering support from some current permanent members, including the United Kingdom and France, and regional powers such as the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the G4 seeks to fortify its proposals and steer discussions towards a more balanced and representative Council.

Undoubtedly, the urgent need for structural reform within the United Nations Security Council persists. Despite challenges like the lack of consensus and P5 reluctance to cede veto power, the growing momentum for change is undeniable. Advocacy groups like the G4 persist in their efforts to increase inclusivity and representation. Ongoing discussions and diplomatic efforts underscore an acknowledgment of the imperative need for reform. With sustained negotiation, collective diplomacy, and the collective will of nations, there lies hope for a reformed Security Council capable of effectively addressing the multifaceted challenges of the future.


This article argued that the UNSC, conceived during an era focused on controlling global powers and preventing escalated warfare, is ill-equipped to tackle 21st-century threats to international peace. Its lack of accurate representation often yields policies with unintended negative consequences, while power imbalances stifle proactive action. The Council’s structural reform, last witnessed in 1963, falls short of reflecting the voices and powers shaping today’s world. Current powers primarily address long-established security issues, and the P5’s unrivalled veto power hampers progressive change, leaving elected members to tirelessly campaign for reforms. The UNSC grapples with threats beyond traditional classifications, like technological, social, and political transformations, posing new challenges that the Council struggles to address promptly or effectively. Delays and inconsistency plague policy formulation when both war and non-war-related threats are on the table.

The dominion of the P5 extends beyond restraining elected members; it stifles policy proposals from other permanent members. Formed to mirror the post-WWII political climate, the P5 fails to effectively tackle modern issues given the dominance of different global powers. Historical rivalries further obstruct progress, with proposals from the US often vetoed by Russia and China, and vice versa. The Council’s limited nature renders it ineffective, as seen in instances like Russia vetoing a ceasefire against Ukraine, highlighting its struggle to address numerous security issues. Even with the consensus of member states, reforms face significant hurdles, frequently shut down without thorough consideration or discussion.

As the world rapidly evolves, the structures developed to address WWII-era conflicts prove inadequate for resolving present-day disputes. The laborious process of navigating the current reform structure obstructs necessary changes, leaving numerous unanswered issues with no alternative resolution system in sight. The pressing need for an evolved, responsive UNSC capable of addressing contemporary global challenges looms large, necessitating concerted efforts to overcome systemic barriers hindering meaningful reforms.


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