The UN Security Council non-permanent members

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Under the Article 23 of the UN Charter, the Security Council ‘shall consist of fifteen Members of the United Nations’. Ten of them are non-permanent (sometimes referred to as elected) members. Non permanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year term which starts on January 1, with five replaced every year. A two-third majority of the present and voting members of the General Assembly is required for legitimate election . Retiring members don’t have a right for immediate re-election . If a non-permanent member resigns before its term of office expires a by-election takes place, filing this seat until the original term ends . Rule 9244 of the General Assembly’s Rules of Procedure states that all elections shell be held by secret ballot and that there shall be no nominations. However, candidates for non permanent seats are usually asked about their availability.

The prior importance in the election of non-permanent seat is paid to ‘the contributions of Members of the United Nations to the maintenance of the international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organisation, and also to equitable geographical distribution’ . During the Dumbarton Oaks Conference the British representatives suggested that military contribution of States to the maintenance of the international peace and security should be put the highest premium on. The USA and the USSR, however, objected to the suggestion, and word ‘military’ was omitted. Later on, at the San Francisco Conference, Britain came out for adding ‘equitable geographical distribution’ to the wording of the article. Also the reference ‘to the other purposes of the Organisation’ was put in to guarantee paying financial contribution by the candidates for the seats.
Though the Charter does not indicate the amount of contribution, it is widely accepted that the military and the economic strength of the candidate-state plays a decisive role. One, nevertheless, should say that this hasn’t prevented a number of small states (Malta, Mauritius, Cape Verde, etc.), being an allies to the permanent members, from having served their terms in the Security Council, whereas larger or politically and economically developed states have never served at all .
The members are chosen by the informal regional groups and given confirmation by the General Assembly. African countries, the North and the South Americas as well as Asia and Western Europe choose two members each, and one member is elected by East European countries. The last seat rotates every two years between Africa and Asia. Thus, the current elected members are Algeria, Argentina, Benin, Brazil, Denmark, Greece, Japan, Philippines, Romania, and Tanzania. By January 1, 2006 five new members will have substituted those countries whose two-year term expires. In that way, Argentina, Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Ghana, Greece, Japan, Peru, Qatar, Slovakia, and Tanzania will be represented in the Security Council during 2006.
However, when the United Nations Charter entered into force, the Security Council had only eleven members, five permanent and six non-permanent ones.
After the first session of the General Assembly non permanent seats were distributed in the following way: Latin America – 2, Middle East – 1, Eastern Europe – 1, Western Europe – 1, The British Commonwealth – 1. The pattern was based on the informal ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ of the permanent members, which, nevertheless, has never been published and for some time in the past hadn’t been supported by some states . In fact, such an arrangement was necessary since gaining a qualified majority required for the election of non-permanent members could turn voting procedure into a long-drawn-out process and prevent the Security Council from working effectively. But due to the fact that non everyone was agreed to the idea, the subsequent sessions of the General Assembly were characterised by numerous occasions of inconclusive vote: the second session (1947) – 11 inconclusive ballots, the fifth session (1950) – 13 inconclusive ballots, the sixth session (1951) – 19 inconclusive ballots.
At the tenth session of the General Assembly in 1955, after the first ballot Poland and Philippines didn’t manage to obtain the required majority. Three ballots later, Poland withdrew in favour of Yugoslavia. Twenty five more inconclusive ballots followed, however, no consent was gained. The session, which was due to be closed on 10 December, was prolonged for 6 days.
On 14th December sixteen new members were admitted to the United Nations. Hence, the number of votes necessary for securing two-thirds majority changed as well. So when the Philippines won forty votes in the thirty second ballot, it still wasn’t enough. After two more unsuccessful votes the President of the General Assembly Jose Masa stated that he had held the consultation in his office with two contenders and it had been decided that one of the candidates would withdraw from the election while the second one ‘after completing the first year of the term… would offer its resignation…, and the vacant seat would then be filled for the remainder of the term by the election of the other candidate at the eleventh session’ . There were protests and reservations of some delegations, so consequently, Yugoslavia didn’t get forty votes required for the election (even though it won by thirty four to nineteen votes). Once again the session was extended until 20th December. On the morning of that very day, the Assembly finally elected Yugoslavia on the thirty sixth ballot.
Having served on the Council for a year, ‘Yugoslavia declared that it would not be in position to serve in 1957’ . As a result, a by-election was carried out and the Philippines was elected.
In 1959, during the fourteenth session Poland and Turkey competed for the last vacant seat in the Security Council. Firstly, Greece was believed to become Poland’s opponent, but at the last moment it withdrew and was substituted by Turkey. The seat informally ‘belonged’ to one of the East European countries. The problem was that Turkey had already been a candidate for one of the Vice-President of the General Assembly posts which was intended for ‘Western European and other States’. And even though, it then ‘switched its candidature to one of the Afro-Asian vacancies’, Turkey in such a way ‘was claiming to belong to three different regions at once’ .
The voting took a total of two month and consisted of fifty two ballots. The final ballot was conducted after Turkey and Poland had reached an informal agreement under which Turkey gave up its claims to the seat, and Poland undertook obligation to resign after one year. ‘Turkey would then be the only candidate for the vacancy thus created’ .
It follows that, despite the fact that the decision of 1955 to split terms between Yugoslavia and the Philippines was taken ‘in view of the unusual circumstances’ , the similar decision of 1959 was regarded to be a normal practice. Later the situation arose again when Liberia and Ireland, Romania and Philippines, Czechoslovakia and Malaysia split their terms in 1961-1962, 1962-1963, and 1963-1964 respectively.
In 1955-1960 it became obvious that after an increase in the number of the UN members it was hardly possible to achieve ‘equitable geographical distribution’ with only six non permanent seats. Moreover, the necessity of gaining qualified majority implied that ‘a determined minority of the UN members (one-third plus one) could, theoretically, prevent a vacancy on the Council from being filled and thus make it impossible for the Council to function…’ However, the enlargement of the Security Council wasn’t an easy decision. First of all, bigger Council would be less effective. Secondly, it was necessary to amend the Charter, which could be vetoed by any permanent member, to make affiliation possible.
Nevertheless, in 1963 a group of forty four African and Asian states propounded the idea of the Council enlargement to fifteen members. The General Assembly supported the initiative and decided to distribute elective seats under the following scheme: African States – 3, Asian States – 2, Eastern European States – 1, Latin American States – 2, Western European and other States – 2. The Soviet Union in the letter to the Secretary General U Thant expressed its concern over the issue and declared that it would be incorrect to agree to such an enlargement unless the matter ‘of Chinese representation had been rectified’ (at that time it still hadn’t been decided (until 1971) which government, national or communist, should represent China) . The latter, however, gave its consent to the enlargement, and the USSR had no option but to agree to the enlargement as well.
Amendments to the Charter came into force on 31st August 1965, having been ratified by more than two-thirds of the UN members, including all the permanent members of the Security Council. Accordingly, the first ten-member Council was elected in 1965 as well.
In 1979, a new proposal as to Security Council enlargement was made by a group of African, Asian, and Latin American States. According to it the number of the seats of non-permanent members had to be increased from 15 to 21 . The proposal suggested that the seats should be distributed in the following way: African States – 5, Asian States – 4, Eastern European States – 1, Latin American States – 3, Western European and other States – 2. The last, 16th seat ‘should alternate between Latin America on the one hand and Africa’, Western European and other States, ‘and Eastern Europe on the other, so that Latin America could claim this seat every other time, while each of the other three groups would only have the sea every sixth time’ . Consideration of this matter was postponed. In 1980, the advocates of the plan put forward a revised resolution, however, it was shelved once again .
The realities of the post-Cold War world and a new surge in United Nations membership resulted in more debate over further enlargement of the Security Council. There were calls for Security Council reform at a conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Jakarta in 1992. In response, the General Assembly established with Resolution 48/26 an Open-ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council with the purpose of considering and putting forward proposals on the enlargement of the Security Council and a reform of its procedures, including the power of veto .
A number of proposals were put forward by the Group as for the optimal size and composition of the Council. Those included suggestions that both permanent and non-permanent members groups should be increased. Others proposed an increase in one of the categories. Also new categories and types of membership were introduced .
The mechanism of members’ election was also criticised: larger states have been elected more frequently while a number of other states haven’t taken part into the work of the Security Council yet. One more problem was the lack of uniformity in the selecting candidates for non-permanent membership. It was suggested that selection procedures of different regional groups could be unified in order to ensure equal procedures in all regions. Since then the Group has produced several reports (the last dated 1st January, 2005). However, seeing as the Group was open to all members that wished to participate and operated on the consensus principle, much discussion took place but nothing was actually decided (except composing a detailed summary of the different proposals and discussions).
Nevertheless, in 1997, under the direction of a former President of the General Assembly, Malaysian Ambassador Razali Ismail, the Group formulated the first concrete proposal for Security Council reform (the Razali Plan). Having been elaborated in lengthy discussions with 165 UN member states, those proposals reflected the views of the majority. Its key points were: the creation of five new permanent seats on the Council, two for industrialized countries and one for each of the main regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America, including the Caribbean. These three regions together with Eastern Europe would also be allocated an additional non-permanent seat, while the Western European group would keep its current two non-permanent seats. With nine new seats, this would make for a 24-member Security Council. However, no vote has ever been taken on the Razali Plan. This was mainly because the United States, the Great Britain and Russia were strongly opposed to a Security Council with more than 21 members, and Non-Alignment Movement countries considered that ‘the Razali initiative put the viability of the Movement under severe strain and should therefore be rejected’ .
After the Iraq war, with a view to determining major threats to mankind, finding ways of tackling them, and making recommendations on institutional reform, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change consisted of internationally respected politicians and diplomats. The panel issued a report entitled “A more secure world: our shared responsibility” in December 2004. The report contains a plan of the Security Council enlargement reflected in two alternative models (A and B) outlining how this could be done .
Model A.

Regional group Current non-permanent seats Proposed new non-permanent seats Current permanent seats Proposed new permanent seats Total
Africa 3 (2+1*) 1 0 2 6
Asia and Pacific 2 1 1 2 6
Europe 2 (Western Europe)
1 (Eastern Europe) -1 3 1 6
Americas 2 2 1 1 6
Total 10 3 5 6 24
* – the seat rotates every two years between Africa and Asia (currently occupied by Africa)


Model B.

Regional group Current non-permanent seats Proposed new non-permanent seats Current permanent seats Proposed new four-year renewable-term seats Total
Africa 3(2+1*) 1 0 2 6
Asia and Pacific 2 1 1 2 6
Europe 2 (Western Europe)
1 (Eastern Europe) -2 3 2 6
Americas 2 1 1 2 6
Total 10 1 5 8 24
* – the seat rotates every two years between Africa and Asia (currently occupied by Africa)
Model A provides for six new permanent and three new non-permanent seats. Model B proposes no new permanent and only one new non-permanent seat. In addition, it creates a new category of eight four-year renewable-term seats.
As one can see from the tables above, the report also proposes changes to the current system of regional groups, suggesting that the present Western and Eastern European groups should be merged, and consequently, reducing the chances of all European states of being presented in the Council (the European group is the only one that loses non-permanent seats according to both models).
On 6th July 2005, Brazil, Germany, India, Japan and 23 other states submitted for the General Assembly’s consideration a draft resolution on the Security Council reform . The plan was called G-4 (Group of Four) draft (because of four abovementioned sponsors) and proposed to include six new permanent seats (African States – 2, Asian States – 2, Latin American and Caribbean States – 1, Western European and Other States – 1) without the veto right and four non-permanent seats (African States – 1, Asian States – 1, Eastern European States – 1, Latin American and Caribbean States – 1).
On 14th July 2005, African states, the members of the African Union, in their turn, introduced their vision of the draft resolution . In accordance with it, eleven additional seats (six permanent seats and five non-permanent ones) should be distributed as follows: African States – 2 permanent seats and 2 non-permanent seats, Asian States – 2 permanent seats and 1 non-permanent seat, Eastern European States – 1 non-permanent seat, Latin American and Caribbean States – 1 permanent seat and 1 non-permanent seat, Western European and Other States – 1 permanent seat. The draft also called for the veto right for new permanent members.
In order to win votes in the General Assembly, both, G-4 and African States, needed the support of each other. However, the parties failed to reach an agreement during talks and joint consultations (mainly due to disagreement over the veto right issue).
One more draft was put forward by the so-called United for Consensus group (Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, San Marino, Spain and Turkey) . The essence of the proposal was to include ten new non-permanent seats, so that African States would have six seats, Asian States – 5, Latin American and Caribbean States – 4, Western European and Other States – 3, Eastern European States – 2. Furthermore, the group suggested removing ban on immediate re-election of non-permanent members, and making it a subject of discussion for ‘their respective geographical groups’.
Nevertheless, none of the recent models has been put into effect yet. The problem is that even though every member of the United Nations understands the importance of the need for changes, the opposition between particular states or groups of states concerning different issues prevents the situation from developing more rapidly. Moreover, the permanent members see the evolution of the Security Council in a completely different way, which makes the process of development even more complicated. Still, the issue of the Security Council enlargement has been and is staying on the agenda of the General Assembly.
One more important point of non-permanent membership is its nature.
The phenomenon of non-permanent membership first appeared with the creation of the League of Nations. In contrast to the UN, the procedure of non-permanent members’ election was much simpler. Until July 1926 the non-permanent members were to be selected ‘by the Assembly from time to time in its discretion’ . In 1926, the Article 4 (1) was amended with the provision which demanded a two-thirds majority for the election of the non-permanent members. Also in 1926 the rotation system was introduced. Each year the Assembly elected three of nine non-permanent members for a three-year period. ‘This periode d’excercice was to be followed by a three-year periode de repos during which reelection was not possible’ . There was also the procedure which envisaged immediate re-election of a member, however, it was rather complicated and didn’t solve the disputes about Council membership .
Thus, the institution of non-permanent membership moved on to the United Nations and has been reflected in the Charter. Since then, there has been much debate over the equality among the Security Council members.
Some have been saying that even though all members of the United Nations were declared to be equal by the Charter, in fact they have never been . The first argument for this is that non-permanent members are deprived of the veto right. Secondly, the Article 27 (3) of the Charter itself contains ‘a strong element of in-built inequality. In practice, this built-in inequality is further increased by the concept of non-permanent membership and all that such rotation implies in terms of much more limited experience, expertise and other abilities to influence the decision making process’ in the Security Council. Finally, the principles according with which non-permanent members are elected have been continuously breached and, thus, ‘equitable geographical distribution’ has not been achieved since new nations have been joining the UN, starting from 1950s .
At the same time, other say that the idea of non-permanent membership was due to provide the principle of representativeness which was ‘a guiding idea behind the composition and decision-making of the Security Council, and Article 23 and 27 of the Charter as provisions giving effect to it by introducing special rights for certain states in accordance with their respective status and role’ . Hence, it’s quite natural that some states are in ‘an elevate position’ and other states have to recognise their ‘superior’ status. They also claim that the existence of the veto right does not contradict to the representativeness principle and constitutes rather an admissible exception.
At the same time, both recognise that the current Security Council should be changed. Both also admit that the status of permanent and non-permanent members should be reconsidered. The whole question, however, turns on the permanent members and their concurrence in the views with the majority of the UN members (which at the time being seems to be rather unreal).
To sum up, the concept of non-permanent membership first emerged in the beginning of the 20th century with the creation of the League of Nations. It presupposed that elective members should exist along with the permanent ones in order to provide for fair and equal representation of the states and decision-making process that would reflect the interests of all nations. Later the idea of seats rotation among the non-permanent members appeared.
After the Second World War, the concept was expressed in the Charter of the United Nations. Originally, the Charter provided for six non-permanent members. But after the number of states increased due to decolonisation, and Third World states requested a greater representation in the Security Council, the number of elected seats grew to the current ten. Since then the issue of the Security Council enlargement has been raised many times, especially in recent years. However, the number of both permanent and non-permanent members still hasn’t changed.
The conduct of the election of the non-permanent members is regulated by the Charter of the United Nations and Rules of procedure of the General Assembly. What is not covered by the formal legal acts is the practice of granting regional groups a certain number of non-permanent seats. The rule is the result of ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ which was concluded by the Security Council permanent members in 1946 and has existed since then. The current scheme of distributing seats secures two seats for African countries, two seats for the North and the South American Countries, two seats for Asian countries, two seats for Western European countries, and one seat for the Eastern European countries. The last seat rotates every two years between Africa and Asia.
Also, in 1955, there was the first occurrence of so-called ‘splitting the terms’, when Yugoslavia agreed with the Philippines that it would resign from the Council after one year in exchange for the Philippines’ withdrawal from the election (a step was taken as the consequence of the considerable number of inconsistent ballot). Though it was stated by Jose Masa (the president of the General Assembly at the time) that it shouldn’t set a precedent, it really did, and was regarded as the common practice in 1961-1964 already.
All decisions of the Security Council can not be passed without participation of the non-permanent members (though their powers are limited), despite the fact that they are often referred to as not playing any important role, that makes their taking part in the work of the Security Council indispensable.



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