Should Brazil become a permanent member of the UN

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Without adapting the Council to the geopolitical realities of the 21st century, i.e. in particular an adequate representation of the global South and the key contributors to the United Nations system, the Security Council runs the risk of losing legitimacy and authority.

The discussion about the reform of the Security Council gained momentum in the early 1990s, after the end of the East-West conflict. In 2005, an agreement was within reach. The negotiations, which have been taking place in an informal plenary session of the UN General Assembly (IGN) since 2009, have so far yielded no tangible results. There is still strong resistance from the opponents of new permanent seats who insist on consensus before a concrete text can be negotiated. The 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in 2020 is an important milestone and an occasion for concrete steps.

G4: Germany, Japan, India, Brazil

The most active groups within the IGN are the G4 - Germany, Japan, India, Brazil, the African Group, the Consensus Group (Uniting for Consensus, with e.g. Italy, Pakistan, Mexico, South Korea, Malta, Turkey), the L.69 Group, which is particularly committed to greater representation of developing countries in the Security Council and the ACT Group (Accountabilty, Coherence, Transparency), which is particularly committed to improving cooperation between the Security Council and other UN organs and reforming working methods.

The vast majority of the member states of the United Nations support reform of the Security Council, including its enlargement, in both categories (permanent and temporary seats). However, there is still no consensus on the concrete form of the reform. On September 14, 2015 - despite opposition from the reform opponents - a "framework document" with all reform positions was unanimously transferred to the 70th General Assembly for the first time (69/560). The aim remains to work out a text as a basis for concrete text negotiations in order to be able to move from repetition of known positions to real negotiations on a text - the usual modus operandi in the UN.

The President of the 74th General Assembly has appointed the Ambassadors of Poland and the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations as the presidents of the IGN for the 74th General Assembly.

On September 23, 2020, the G4 partners (Germany, Brazil, India and Japan) will meet at foreign ministerial level. They reaffirm their intention to continue to work together to promote reform of the UN Security Council.

Declaration by the G4 Foreign Ministers of September 23, 2020 PDF / 468 KB

As the fourth largest contributor, leading donor of development aid, but also an important political actor in many areas of the United Nations (examples: human rights, climate, disarmament, peacekeeping), Germany has an interest in striving for a permanent seat. This is also because our international partners and the German public repeatedly ask us to influence the Security Council. This is only possible as a member.

Together with its G4 partners, Germany therefore continues to actively advocate reform of the Security Council. The 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in 2020 is an important milestone and an occasion for concrete steps. Under the new President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir from Turkey, Germany and its partners want to achieve concrete progress in the 75th General Assembly.

How is the United Nations Security Council composed?

  • The United Nations Security Council currently has 15 members:
    five permanent members (China, France, Great Britain, USA and Russia)
    and ten non-permanent members. These are currently:
    Germany, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Indonesia and South Africa (until the end of 2020) and Estonia, Niger, Tunisia, Vietnam, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (until 2021).
  • The non-permanent members are elected by the general assembly for two years according to a fixed regional key. Re-election immediately after a term of office is not possible.
  • When the Charter of the United Nations was adopted in 1945, the Security Council had only six non-permanent seats in addition to the five permanent ones - a total of eleven seats. In 1963, the General Assembly decided to add four additional non-permanent seats, which came into force in 1965. The Security Council has existed in its current composition since 1966.

Why does the Security Council need to be reformed?

  • The United Nations Security Council is the central organ of the international community for peacekeeping and conflict management. It adopts resolutions that - unlike those of the General Assembly - are binding on all member states. It thus has extensive powers and, if necessary, can also intervene in the sovereignty of the states, e.g. by imposing sanctions.
  • It is important and right that the Security Council have these powers. It is the heart of the international security architecture. In order for its resolutions to be respected and followed by all states, it must have the necessary authority and legitimacy. This assumes that it is representative.
  • In its current composition, however, the Security Council reflects the geopolitical conditions of 1945. In essence, the expansion of 1963/65 to include non-permanent seats has not changed anything. In its current composition, the Council is no longer representative of a world in which 142 additional states have been admitted to the United Nations since 1945. Africa, in particular, is not represented in the Council to the extent that it is today and is therefore calling for the composition of the Security Council to be adapted to the new realities.
  • In addition to a geographically balanced distribution of seats, the United Nations Charter also attaches particular importance to states that make significant contributions to the United Nations should be members of the Security Council (Art. 23 UN Charter).
  • If the Security Council is not reformed, there is a risk that decision-making processes will be shifted to other forums, even if these do not have the binding effect and legitimacy of the Security Council. This is in nobody's interest.

Why does Germany want a permanent seat?

  • The Federal Government is striving to reform the Security Council in order to reflect the geopolitically changed framework conditions since 1945. According to Art. 23 of the UN Charter, the contributions of the member states to the realization of the goals of the United Nations also play a decisive role. The Federal Government is striving for a permanent seat for Germany as part of a comprehensive reform of the United Nations and is also committed to other reform steps. With its commitment to the implementation of the reforms initiated by UN Secretary General Guterres, Germany is underscoring its will to support strong institutions capable of acting at the center of the multilateral, rule-based world order.
  • The role of Germany has changed fundamentally since 1945. The "enemy state" of 1945 and the accession country of 1973 has become one of the most committed representatives of effective multilateralism under the umbrella of the United Nations. Germany’s role is one of the realities of the 21st century. That is why Germany has been named as a candidate for a permanent seat by other member states of the United Nations since the beginning of the reform discussion.
  • Germany makes important contributions to the work of the United Nations. It is not only the second largest contributor (voluntary and regular contributions combined), but also makes a diverse contribution to the realization of the fundamental goals of the United Nations in other ways: By sending troops to international peace missions such as MINUSMA in Mali or UNIFIL in Lebanon, through funds for development cooperation, sustainable development, stabilization and humanitarian aid and by advocating the protection of human rights.

What does the G4 proposal contain?

  • As early as 2005, Germany, together with India, Brazil and Japan (G4), worked out a draft resolution for a Security Council reform, which among other things contains the following elements:
  • Expansion of the Security Council by six permanent members (two seats each for Asia and Africa and one seat each for the Western Group and the Latin American-Caribbean Group),
  • Expansion of the Security Council by four to five non-permanent members (one seat each for Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and one or two seats for Africa),
  • Reform of working methods.

Wouldn't Europe be over-represented with another permanent seat?

  • Article 23 of the United Nations Charter provides that the Security Council should include states that make significant contributions to the work of the United Nations. Only in second place is the geographically balanced distribution of seats as a criterion.
  • Europe, especially the member states of the EU, are among the strongest pillars of the United Nations: The states of the EU finance over a third of the budget of the United Nations and they provide well over half of the funds for global development cooperation.
  • A reform as envisaged in the G4 proposal would not increase the relative seat share of the EU member states. So far, two to four EU member states can be members of the Security Council at the same time - in addition to the permanent member France, one to three non-permanent members who represent the Western Group and / or the Eastern Europe Group in the Council. After the reform, they would probably take up to six or seven of the 25 or 26 seats. That would not be an increase, but rather a slight decrease to less than a third of the seats.

Why is the federal government not demanding a permanent seat for the EU?

  • According to the coalition agreement, the federal government is aiming for an EU seat in the future. For the future, provided that the European Union and the United Nations continue to develop accordingly, the Federal Government is striving for a permanent seat for the European Union. However, the Charter of the United Nations does not provide for membership for regional organizations; the European Union only has observer status in the General Assembly of the United Nations. In the foreseeable future, therefore, only a reform of the Security Council with expansion to include nation states is conceivable. We are continuing to work to ensure that the Member States speak with one voice on all questions relating to the common foreign and security policy.

  • So far, only states, not international organizations such as the EU, can become members of the United Nations. If one wanted to change the Charter of the United Nations on this point - for which there are high hurdles according to Article 108 of the UN Charter - the almost insoluble question would also arise, which of the numerous other international organizations could otherwise acquire a seat and membership.

Can a veto prevent the reform of the Security Council?

Reform of the Security Council requires an amendment to the United Nations Charter. The procedure for this is regulated by Article 108 of the UN Charter, which provides for two stages:

  • First step: The General Assembly, in which all 193 member states each have one vote, must adopt the reform with a two-thirds majority of the member states (i.e. at least 128 states). This changes the Charter of the United Nations as a treaty under international law.
  • Second step: This change must then be ratified by at least two thirds of the member states, including the five permanent members of the Security Council, in accordance with the national procedures. With the only enlargement of the Security Council to date, this took about a year and a half. At this step, all permanent members must also ratify.

That means: In the first step there is no special approval requirement of the five permanent members of the Security Council (P5). In a second step, the P5 parliaments could prevent an amendment to the Charter from coming into force by non-ratification. Even if permanent members voted against an amendment to the charter in the General Assembly, this does not automatically mean that these states will not ratify the change after all: In the decision on the expansion of the Security Council in 1963, for example, only one permanent member voted “yes”. In 1965, just a year and a half later, all five permanent members had finally ratified the amendment to the charter.

Should new permanent members also have the right of veto?

  • The right of veto is perceived by a large number of member states as anachronistic. Many have spoken out against extending the right of veto to new permanent members as part of a reform, and there are initiatives not to apply the right of veto in the event of mass atrocities. The G4 proposal from 2005 stipulates that new members initially forego exercising their right of veto, and that the question will then be clarified in a review conference 15 years after the charter change came into force. The draft resolution presented by the states of the African Union in 2005 provides for equal rights and obligations for all permanent members of the Security Council, including an extension of the right of veto for as long as it exists.

For further reading

Statement by Ambassador Heusgen on behalf of the G4 on November 25, 2019 in the debate in the UN General Assembly on the reform of the Security Council. PDF / 328 KB

The United Nations Security Council

Documents from the last 25 years on the discussion about reform of the Security Council

Previous draft resolutions on reform of the Security Council: