Positions of BRICS Nations on UN Security Council Reform

Published on 2nd April 2024

The expansion of BRICS with the accession of Egypt, Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia starting on January 1, 2024 will make it possible to use this format for deepening practical interaction with the new members on the UN agenda, including on the issues of reforming its main body – the Security Council. In the meantime, almost all newcomers, given their political and economic weight, are seriously competing with the “old-timers” of BRICS – Brazil, India and South Africa – who also claim a permanent membership at the UN Security Council.

The BRICS member states are paying increased attention to the UN reform. Brazil, India and South Africa should be mentioned in the first place, because these nations are seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Thus, the Johannesburg Declaration-II, adopted on August 23, 2023 as an outcome of the 15th summit of BRICS, expresses support for the reform of the UN, including the Security Council. For the first time, the BRICS document endorses the UNSC reform through expanded representation of developing countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America (including Brazil, India and South Africa) in all categories of membership, which implies permanent seats on the UNSC. In this regard, it can be assumed that the new member states will also try to chart their aspirations to enter the UN Security Council, or they will depersonalize the applicants by listing the regions whose countries may claim the prestigious status.

In the context of reforming the main UN bodies, the BRICS nations also refer to the 2005 World Summit Outcome. In the run-up to that event, some nations made a number of attempts, albeit unsuccessful, to propose their own vision for reforming the UN Security Council, which is to be discussed below.

The Group of Four

Brazil and India, together with Germany and Japan, formed the Group of Four (G4) in 2004 with the aim of obtaining permanent seats on the UNSC for its representatives. As a follow-up to the discussion initiated by the then UN Secretary General K. Annan on reforming the UN Security Council, in July 2005. G4 circulated a draft UN General Assembly resolution proposing to expand the Council to 25 members in the same year. The draft provided for an additional six permanent seats (two for Africa and Asia each, one for Latin America and Western Europe each [1]) and four additional non-permanent seats (one for Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America each). The document included a provision to extend the right of veto to new permanent members in the event that such a privilege is confirmed during the UNSC review 15 years after the decision on its enlargement. The decision was to be approved and passed if supported by a two-thirds majority vote at the UNGA. The next step would have been the election of new permanent members of the UNSC by direct secret ballot, followed by amendments to the UN Charter, which would have required ratification by the parliaments of two-thirds of UN member states, including all permanent members of the Security Council.

However, over time, the Quartet’s position has undergone some changes with a view to a broader support for the initiative, in particular from the African and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) group.

Thus, on December 13, 2023, during the first informal meeting of the UN General Assembly within the framework of intergovernmental negotiations on the Security Council reform (hereinafter – the first informal meeting of the UN General Assembly), representatives of all G4 countries advocated for the general expansion of the Council to 25-26 members. As for the greater number of non-permanent members, the need to pay special attention to small and medium-sized nations as well as small island developing states was emphasized there. The Quartet hopes that the 80th anniversary of the United Nations to be celebrated in 2025 will bring tangible results on the reform track.

The African Group

African countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa, submitted their own draft UNGA resolution in 2005, which envisioned the UNSC growing to 26 members, while granting the regional group two non-permanent and two permanent seats and all the prerogatives of the P5, including the right of veto. The draft also called for two permanent seats and one non-permanent seat for Asian States, one permanent and one non-permanent seat for Latin American States, one permanent seat for Western Europe and one non-permanent seat for Eastern Europe.

During the first informal meeting of the UN General Assembly, the representatives of Egypt and South Africa reaffirmed their positions (the representative of Sierra Leone spoke on behalf of the African Union) on the expansion of the UN Security Council with the “African” two non-permanent and two permanent seats, with the latter having the right of veto (if such an instrument is retained). However, the Egyptian side was cautious about the size of the Security Council, stating that “the final size of the reformed body is a matter to be determined through careful consideration and a focus on striking the right balance between equitable representation and effectiveness.”

Uniting for Consensus

The position of the Quartet members (as well as African nations) is not endorsed by a number of nations, including their regional rivals, primarily Italy, Spain, Argentina, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, Canada, Mexico and others. They form the so-called Uniting for Consensus group. In their draft resolution submitted to the UN General Assembly in 2005, they proposed an “interim” reform, whereby the number of seats on the UNSC was to be increased to 25 only in the category of non-permanent members, with a longer term of office and a possibility of immediate re-election. They also called upon the P5 to show restraint in exercising their veto power. In general, Uniting for Consensus has maintained this position up to this date, as confirmed on their behalf by the representatives of Italy and Mexico in the course of the first informal meeting of the UN General Assembly.

In this regard, Buenos Aires rejecting the invitation to participate in BRICS could be welcomed with relief in the capitals of those aspiring for permanent seats on the UNSC, since Argentina, as a member of Uniting for Consensus, would fail to obstruct their reform efforts.

Organization of Islamic Cooperation

Taking into account the accession of Iran, the UAE and Saudi Arabia to BRICS, which alongside Egypt are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (hereinafter – OIC), the speech of Bahrain on behalf of the OIC during the first informal meeting of the UN General Assembly is worth noting. He demanded permanent Arab representation in the UN Security Council with all the privileges, including the right of veto.

Also, the inability of the UN Security Council to resolve the situation in the Gaza Strip through Washington’s fault makes the voices of Arab states increasingly louder as they demand a reform of this body. Thus, the Saudi Foreign Ministry called for reform of the Security Council after the U.S. vetoed on February 20, 2024 the draft resolution penned by the Algerian delegation on behalf of the Arab Group demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone.

Russia and China

Russia has always been in favor of making the Security Council more representative while maintaining its compact composition to ensure an adequate and rapid response to the contemporary challenges and threats. The optimal numerical composition of the renewed Council, in Russia’s opinion, is “slightly more than twenty” members (“low twenties”), which runs counter to the proposals to enlarge this body to 25-26 members. As for modifying the methods of operation for the Security Council, the cornerstone of Russia’s interests is to preserve the current status and the prerogatives of permanent membership, including the right of veto.

The course taken by the Russian leadership at the beginning of the 21st century to support some of the countries seeking membership in an enlarged UNSC has recently undergone noticeable adjustments, following the developments in the geopolitical situation and the nature of Russia’s cooperation with the aspiring states. The Federal Republic of Germany and Japan, for instance, have been classified as unfriendly nations by the Russian Government’s Resolution No. 430-r, dated March 5, 2022.

Following the 15th summit of BRICS in Johannesburg, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov supported the candidacies of India, Brazil and South Africa “as states whose active role in this worldwide organization we appreciate and we want it to be bolstered in the Security Council.” Speaking about the claims of the Group of Four, Lavrov noted that its members “share the same interests in a situational sense, but there’s no way that Germany and Japan join the Security Council on a permanent basis in any meaningful way, since this would only exacerbate injustice. Neither Germany nor Japan will bring anything new to the Security Council’s deliberations as they are obedient to Washington’s orders, just like virtually any other Western state,” he emphasized.

China’s position on reforming the UN Security Council is reduced to general statements that boil down to strengthening the representation of developing nations. Thus, it can be assumed that the option of granting of permanent membership to Japan and Germany is essentially excluded. Another peculiar feature of China’s position is the aspiration for the so-called “package solution,” i.e. for transformations with the maximum backing of all UN member states, which is an elusive task. It is also important to bear in mind that Japan and India are members of the “Asian” analogue of NATO – the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) – and this cannot but alarm Beijing.

To summarize everything stated above, it is highly probable that the Russian presidency in BRICS will involve the challenge of bringing together the positions of both the “old-timers” and the new members on the UN Security Council reform, to achieve a consolidated undersigning of the relevant section in the final declaration of the Kazan summit to be held in October 2024. This will be a tough task without the political will of all BRICS members, and a reasonable compromise could only be possible if they are willing to bring their approaches closer.

1. Apart from Germany, only eight EU member states (Belgium, Greece, Denmark, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, France and the Czech Republic), which is only about 1/3 of EU’s total membership, co-authored the draft resolution at the time.

By Dmitriy Kiku

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Expert

Courtesy: The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC)

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