The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security and legal capacity to authorize the use of force and enforce its decisions in case of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression. It is composed of 15 members: ten non-permanent, elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly (without possibility of immediate re-election), and five permanent members, with veto power (China, United States, France, United Kingdom and Russia).
Each member of the Council is entitled to one vote. Decisions on procedural matters require affirmative votes of nine members. Decisions on substantial matters also require nine affirmative votes, including the concurring votes of the five permanent members, the so-called right of veto. When a permanent member doesn't support a decision but also doesn't want to suppress it through the veto, it can refrain from voting.
The composition and structure of the UNSC portray the post-Second World War context, in which the big winners of the conflict emerged as permanent members, and the developing countries, in particular those from Latin America and Africa, lacked adequate representation. Almost 70 years after the end of the Second World War, new global challenges require an updated Security Council to deal adequately with them.
In September 2008, the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus the Decision 62/557, which determined the start of intergovernmental negotiations regarding the reform of the UNSC based on the member-States' positions and proposals, and also established the informal plenary session of the General Assembly as the negotiating forum.
In September 2004, the Heads of State/Government of Brazil, Germany, India and Japan formed a group called the G4 to promote the reform of the Security Council. As basic premises of the UNSC reform, the group advocates for the expansion in the categories of permanent and non-permanent members, including a greater number of developing countries in both, in order to better reflect today's geopolitical realities. Based on the firmly shared recognition that they are legitimate candidates for permanent membership in an expanded Security Council, the four countries support each other's candidatures.
In 2005, the G4 and other 23 countries presented to the United Nations the draft resolution A/59/L. 64, which stipulated:
- The expansion of the UNSC in both the permanent and non-permanent categories (total of 25 members);
- The creation of 6 permanent seats: 2 for Africa, 2 for Asia, 1 for Latin America and the Caribbean, 1 for Western European and Other States;
- The creation of 4 non-permanent seats: 1 for Africa, 1 for Asia, 1 for Eastern Europe, 1 for Latin America and the Caribbean;
- Improvement of the working methods of the Security Council;
- That the new permanent members should have the same responsibilities and obligations (including the right of veto) as the current permanent members;
- That the new permanent members shall not exercise the right of veto until the question of the extension of the right of veto to new permanent members has been decided upon in the framework of the review of the reform, to take place 15 years after its implementation.
In a ministerial meeting held in the margins of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, in September 2013, the four Ministers reiterated their common vision of a reformed Security Council and highlighted the need to intensify efforts to translate the existing agreement into concrete outcomes at the latest by 2015 (70 years since the creation of the United Nations and 10 years after the 2005 World Summit). They also emphasized the importance of enhancing dialogue and outreach with other groups, especially with African countries and CARICOM members, and recognized the need for greater involvement of civil society in the discussions on the issue. The Ministers also reiterated that, given the overwhelming support by member states for an expansion of the Security Council in both categories of membership, permanent and non-permanent, this should be a key parameter in the negotiation process among member states.
In addition to engaging with the G4, Brazil has joined a group of developing countries that advocates the expansion of the Security Council in both categories of membership and the improvement of the organ's working methods. The so-called L.69 Group was named after the draft resolution (A/61/L.69) presented to the General Assembly in September 2007, proposing the following:
- The expansion of the UNSC in both the permanent and non-permanent categories;
- Greater representation of developing countries;
- Representation of the developed countries and those with transition economies reflective of contemporary world realities;
- Comprehensive improvement of the working methods of the Security Council, including insuring greater access of islands and small States;
- Provision for a review.
Since then, the group has increased and it currently comprises about 40 developing countries from various regions, including least-developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, the IBSA nations (India, Brazil and South Africa), among others. The group maintains an important dialogue with the African Group concerning the aspirations of the developing world in the reform process.
The African Union adopted a common position on the reform of the United Nations in March 2005 – the so-called "Ezulwini Consensus".
Regarding the reform of the Security Council, the document defended that the full representation of Africa in the organ means:
- not less than two permanent seats with all the prerogatives and privileges of permanent membership including the right of veto;
- five non-permanent seats.
According to the document, the African Union would be responsible not only for choosing the representatives of Africa in the UNSC, but also for establishing the criterion to be used in this selection.
In July 2005, this common position was formalized to the General Assembly through the A/59/L. 67 draft resolution, which supports:
- The expansion of the UNSC in both the permanent and non-permanent categories (total of 26 members);
- The creation of 6 new permanent seats: 2 for Africa, 2 for Asia, 1 for Latin America and the Caribbean, 1 to Western European and Other States;
- The creation of 5 new non-permanent seats: 2 for Africa, 1 for Asia, 1 for Eastern Europe, 1 for Latin America and the Caribbean;
- Improvement of the working methods of the Security Council;
- The concession of the same prerogatives and privileges as those of the current permanent members, including the right of veto, to new permanent members.
The common position of the African Group is coordinated by the African Union Committee of Ten on the UN reform (C-10), which is in charge of following the negotiations over the Security Council reform and reporting the developments in this regard to other African Union members by presenting a report for consideration at the Organization's summit meetings. The Committee was established at the African Union Summit in 2005 as a mechanism of consultation and promotion of the African position.
The C-10 is comprised of two countries from each African region (Northern, Western, Central, Eastern and Southern region):
- Equatorial Guinea
- Congo (Brazzaville)
- Sierra Leone
The latest summits of the African Union Heads of State and Government adopted decisions that reaffirmed the strong commitment of the group to the Ezulwini Consensus and reiterated the need for African unity in all matters related to the UNSC reform process, including "substantial and procedural terms".
The Uniting for Consensus Group (UfC) was created in the 1990s by countries opposing deeper reforms of the Security Council. The group was nicknamed the "Coffee Club", supposedly because its members would rather disrupt the meetings on the subject than engage in effective negotiations.
In July 2005, the group presented to the General Assembly the draft resolution A/59/L.68 (co-sponsored by Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Spain, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, San Marino and Turkey), which supports:
- The creation of 10 new non-permanent seats;
- The distribution of 20 non-permanent seats, according to the following pattern: 6 for Africa, 5 for Asia, 2 for Eastern Europe, 4 for Latin America and the Caribbean, 3 for Western European and Other States;
- Two-year terms with the possibility of immediate re-election for all seats.
In addition to this proposal, members of the group have already advocated also other different intermediate models, defending the creation of longer term seats.
The Small Five Group (Costa Rica, Singapore, Liechtenstein, Jordan and Switzerland) advocated the reform of the working methods of the Security Council, which, according to its members, should occur in parallel with and independently of the body´s expansion.
In May 2012, the group tabled the draft resolution L.42/Rev.2,with recommendations on the working methods of the UNSC. After fierce pressure from the permanent members, the group withdrew the draft resolution.
On May 2, 2013, the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group was officially launched. Coordinated by Switzerland, the group is composed of other 20 countries from different regions (Saudi Arabia, Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Slovenia, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Hungary, Ireland, Jordan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Portugal, Sweden, Tanzania and, as observer, Uruguay), that came together with the aim at reforming the UNSC working methods, following the efforts of the Small Five. The group advocates that the veto should not be used in cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In announcing the creation of the group to the member-States, the press and the civil society, the Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the United Nations emphasized that the group's activity will not focus the expansion of the Security Council and does not relate to the process of intergovernmental negotiations chaired by his Afghan counterpart, Ambassador Zahir Tanin. He also stated that the ACT mission is to ensure that the UNSC, with its current composition, work in a more transparent, inclusive, coherent, legitimate and responsible manner.