7 Expert Takes on Expanding the UN Security Council

Toward the end of his three-day visit to India this week, President Obama announced to parliament that the U.S. would support India in its bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Next year, India will begin its two-year term as one of ten non-permanent members of the Council.

The announcement was a strong gesture of support for a key regional security partner and an economic ally, but potentially troublesome considering the state of affairs between the U.S. and Pakistan. Obama skipped Pakistan on his tour of Asia, and former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was quick to point out the perceived snub.

China, one of the five permanent members, could potentially put up a fight to oppose India gaining veto power.

The Atlantic asked seven experts on international relations to weigh in on the key angles surrounding the story: what the announcement means for other nations looking for permanent Security Council seats, China's reaction, and the future of the Security Council itself.

When will India get a permanent seat on the Security Council?

John Negroponte (research fellow and lecturer in international affairs, Yale University, and former Deputy Secretary of State): There's no way of knowing. The group in charge of [considering the proposed change] is called the Open-Ended Working Group. There's a certain irony there.

Daniel Drezner (professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and blogger): Right after the US moves its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem: it has been promised for decades by presidential candidates but never comes to fruition. Ten years would be a really optimistic estimate.

Who else should get a seat on the Security Council?

: I think we should keep the number of seats at 15 but have more permanent members. But it would take a significant amount of diplomatic effort to modify the charter.

Drezner: Brazil and Japan, and the EU should have one seat. No African or Mid-East country is a really obvious candidate -- no one state or supranational organization possesses the requisite power.

Graham Allison
(Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School): If you are trying to make the Security Council reflective of the world we live in today, it should include at least India, but also a state from Africa (Nigeria or South Africa), and one from South America, most likely Brazil.

Andrew Bacevich ( Professor of International Relations and History, Boston University): Who should? India, Germany, Japan, Brazil. Who will? None of them.

Is the UNSC in danger of becoming irrelevant?

Cheng Li (Director, National Committee on U.S.-China Relations): It's too early to say it's become irrelevant... [I think] its importance will be increasingly felt in the years to come.

: I don't think the Security Council is any less relevant than the United Nations in general. But the role of the UN is precarious. Would the UNSC be better with the addition of a few more seats? Probably not.

Drezner: I'm not sure about its [overall effectiveness] going forward. It can move along well on issues like terrorism but will underwhelm on issues that infringe on national sovereignty: separatist movements, democracy promotion, etc.

: The UNSC matters -- it just doesn't matter all that much.

Thomas Pickering (Chairman, Board of Directors, American Academy of Diplomacy, and former U.S. Ambassador): The danger is that the Council becomes too large and irrelevant that way.

What is China's next move?

Nicholas Burns
(Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School): It might coalesce with Pakistan to [oppose] India joining, but China will not want to be too public in opposing India.

: China will hope [the UNSC] will be more representative... of the world, but on the other hand they think it's a privilege to be one of the five members. In [that] way, it's not in China's best interest to expand.

: The Chinese don't think reform is imminent, so they will regard this announcement as symbolic. Expect private commentary that says it's not a great idea, but the government at large is not going to make a big deal of it.

: If they're smart, they will simply ignore the issue.