Un reforms

General Studies Paper 2

Context: It has been criticised that Conflicts like those in Sudan, Syria, Myanmar go largely unchecked at the United Nations.

UN Reforms

  • Demand of reform:
    • Reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) encompasses five key issues: 
      • Categories of membership,
      • The question of the veto held by the five permanent members,
      • Regional representation,
      • The size of an enlarged Council and its working methods, and
      • The Security Council-General Assembly relationship.
    • Why?
      • Changing world order:
        • In the 77-year-old history of the UN, the composition of the Security Council has been altered only once.
          • e., In 1963 when the General Assembly decided to expand the Council from 11 to 15 members, with the addition of four non-permanent seats.
        • Since then, the world has changed. The geopolitical relations in the world have altered, the economic responsibilities in the world in countries have also changed.
      • Equitable World Order: 
        • There is a need for a more equitable world in order to uphold the principles of democracy at the global level.
      • Inclusivity: 
        • Developing countries like the African countries, need to be made stakeholders in the multilateral institutions and involved in the decision-making process.
      • Mitigation of New Threats: 
        • With rising protectionism, increased incidents of terrorism and the threat of climate change, the multilateral system must become more resilient and responsive.
      • How?
        • Agreement of members:
          • Any reform of the Security Council would require the agreement of at least two-thirds of UN member states in a vote in the General Assembly and must be ratified by two-thirds of Member States.
          • All of the permanent members of the UNSC (which have veto rights) must also agree.
        • Expansion:
          • The expansion of the Security Council in both permanent and non-permanent categories, as well as reform in its working methods, is indispensable to making this body more representative, legitimate and effective.


  • Unchecked conflicts:
    • It has been criticised that Conflicts like those in Sudan, Syria, Myanmar go largely unchecked at the UN.
    • Some countries and non-state actors benefit from the conflict economy. They launder money, sell arms, supply fuel and exploit natural resources.
    • Whereas in the past the UN has played an important role in international diplomacy over the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and the Middle East.
  • Unable to discharge basic functions: 
    • The Security Council cannot discharge its basic function as one of the permanent members of the Security Council attacked its neighbour.
    • The Security Council should be the body to take action against the aggression. But because of the veto power, the Security Council cannot act.
    • The recent example being Russia’s:
      • Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN, attacked Ukraine in February 2022.
      • Russia has vetoed UNSC resolutions on Ukraine.
      • Russia also voted against a resolution in the UNGA which called on countries not to recognise the four regions of Ukraine that Russia has claimed.


  • Lack of Political Will: 
    • Although there is a general agreement towards change in the system, different countries have different perceptions of the requirement for change.
  • Coffee Club: 
    • It is an informal group comprising 40-odd member states, mostly middle-sized states who oppose bigger regional powers grabbing permanent seats, has been instrumental in holding back reforms to the United Nations Security Council over the past six years.
  • Chinese Opposition: 
    • China being a permanent member blocks the growth of India becoming a Permanent Member.
  • Operationalization of the reforms:
    • The challenge is also regarding how to operationalize these reforms.
    • The UN is structured in such a way that the decision-making process is distributed among a wide range of countries and constituencies with often competing and contradictory views and interests.
      • Russia and China, for example, did not attend the previous UN meeting on reforms.

Way ahead

  • Some of the UN’s specialized agencies like Unicef and UNHCR do an admirable job under exacting circumstances when no one else will do it.
    • They need to be further strengthened.
  • India has suggested that the UN reforms need to be “broad-based and all-encompassing” and the changes should not be restricted to its secretariat only.
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