United Nations Must Be Reformed

Feature Article United Nations Must Be Reformed
JUN 20, 2020 LISTEN

Kenya was elected a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council by the General Assembly for a two-year term on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 with four other countries to join the 15-member Security Council of the United Nations in 2021.

Fifteen countries sit on the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful organ.

Five are permanent members, who have the right to veto resolutions: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Ten are non-permanent members elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms at each, five of which occur in alternative year.

Kenya joins in January 2021 with India, Ireland, Mexico and Norway. They will replace Belgium, Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa. Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Vietnam will remain in the Council till the end of 2021.

The UN Security Council is the organ of the global body charged with maintaining global peace and security.

Its decisions, by law, must be obeyed by all UN member states, giving its prestige and power.

Kenya’s membership of the Security Council, however, like the other ten non-permanent members, is meaningless without the necessary and long overdue reform of the UN.

Kenya is now among the 10 non-permanent members, that often worked alongside the permanent five (Russia, China, UK, US, France) to pass resolutions touching on global peace and security.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who led the campaign to have Kenya elected to the Council, said his country would advance the pan-Africanist agenda of global peace, solidarity and multilateralism. Citing Kenya’s long history of contributing troops to peacekeeping interventions, the President said Kenya had the right credentials to represent the African continent in the UNSC.

President Kenyatta spoke in the night of Tuesday June 16 during a virtual campaign meeting with permanent representatives of various countries to the UN hosted by Kenya ahead of the Security Council’s elections on Wednesday June 17, 2020.


The UN needs urgent reform. Without reforms in the General Assembly and in the Security Council, the UN will continue to serve the interests of only few people in the world. This reform needs to come within the framework of two key bodies: The General Assembly and the Security Council.

The Security Council requires expansion to cater for Africa, Latin America and Oceania. These are three regions of the world that were ignored when the Security Council was created on 24 October 1945. Latin America was perceived to be within the sphere of influence of the United States. From the historical precedent of the Monroe Doctrine, it was assumed that Latin America’s interests would be handled by the United States in the UN.

Africa, on its part, was assumed to have its interests covered mainly by the United Kingdom and France. These were the two major powers with vast control over the continent in 1945. The contemporary global order in 2020 has changed.

China was seen as a representative for the interests of Asia and Oceania in the 1945s. With these notions and assumptions now changed, there is the need also to reallocate seats in the Security Council and the power to be heard by majority vote without any veto by any single member.

There is a pressing need to have at least two permanent seats on the Security Council for Africa, two permanent seats for Latin America and two for Oceania region. Or the permanent members can remain the five, with ten members joining to serve two-year term as it is at the moment, but without veto rights from the permanent members. All draft resolutions should have equal rights and should be adopted by majority vote.

The veto power of the permanent members of the Security Council enables them to individually cripple the ability of the UN to enforce its Charter. Specifically, Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to tackle threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression. A veto from any permanent member of Security Council, will block the adoption of a draft resolution.

The number of the permanent members or the current rotation of non-permanent members and a simple majority vote without veto from the permanent members are required to make the UNSC more effective, representative and meaningful body of the world.

Expansion of the number of permanent seats on the Security Council or hold on to the current structure, coupled with a simple majority vote of the council on a draft resolution, without any veto power, will make the organization effective and allow it to have the bite required to handle the plethora of global issues facing the international community.

Currently, the population of all five permanent members on the Security Council is just over 2 billion. One country, China, makes up almost 70% of the 2 billion population of all five permanent members. Two billion represents less than 30% of the global population of 7 billion. Yet this minority of 2 billion uses the UN to dictate international policy to 70% of the rest of the world. This is undemocratic and against the tenets of fairness and international justice.

Africa has a population of 1.3 billion as at May 2020 or 16.72% of the total world population with no permanent membership or veto power in the UNSC; Latin America and the Caribbean is 654 million or 8.42% of the total world population with no membership or power. Oceania is only 42 million or 0.54% of the total world population.

Europe is 748 million or 9.78% of the total world population, and with two members and two veto powers; Asia is 4.6 billion or 59.76% of the total world population, but with one member and veto power; Russia is a country of its own with a population of 146 million or 1.87% of the total world population, a permanent member with veto power.

United States of America does not represent the interest of all the Americas. Currently, the USA has become more nationalistic, fighting for its own interests on global scale and representative for the gulf states and middle-eastern countries than global. The USA does not care for the interests of Middle and South Americas, rather it seeks to elect a wall to confine itself.

UK and France cannot represent Africa, they can represent Europe, but not Africa. Africa has long gained independence from these two colonial masters. For UN to maintain the idea of UK and France representing Africa is an insult to the continent and its people.

1945 is long ago. The 21st Century Africa is not colonial slaves of UK and France, unless the UN wants to remain in its resolution that Africa is still colonized by UK and France.

The UN General Assembly should make all the papers read year by year by all the member nations resolutions that require further and urgent consideration by a working committee of the UN for action and implementation. Until now the messages read by the member states are only ceremonial, decorative and a waste of time.

As at now, the UN General Assembly can only make recommendations to the Security Council, which can easily be vetoed or disregarded by any permanent member of the Security Council; United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom or France.

United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom and France are not good representation of the globe whose votes and vetos should determine the fate of the rest of all the people in the world. The Security Council needs to be democratised to accommodate a majority of the world that is still peripheralised in the decision making of the Council.

The UN must be modernized. The world in 1945 was quiet different from the world in 2020. In 1945, United States, Europe and the two Communist Blocks of Russia and China were the world. In 2020, there are six main blocks forming the globe; these are North America Block, South America Block, Europe Block, Asia Block, Africa Block and the Oceania Block. Each should be represented permanently in the Security Council.

Lastly, in relation to the General Assembly, the resolutions passed by this arm, which includes a majority of the world’s nations, need to be binding. Currently, General Assembly resolutions are considered recommendations. In contrast, resolutions adopted by the Security Council under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, are binding.

The General Assembly not only represents the majority of the world’s population, but also represents majority world opinion on major international issues.

Currently, non-permanent rotating membership seats on the Security Council are provided to developing nations like Kenya, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Vietnam. This comes across as contemptuous tokenism. It does not afford the weaker nations of the world an avenue to advance their interests.

Developing nations are played off against each other by major powers based on the allure of an ineffective non-permanent seat. There is nothing to celebrate over a non-permanent seat on the Security Council under the current UN structure.

Member states elected to be non-permanent members of UNSC only have a moment and national pride to celebrate, but nothing to offer to bring a change of global policies concerning peace and stability. For the vast majority of the world, especially in the developing world, the UN will remain a forum for empty speeches by heads of state that are turgid and needlessly self-congratulatory. The time for UN reform is now.