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Kazakhstan’s Call for UNSC Reform: Is the World Bigger than Five?

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In recent years, debates on the structure of the United Nations (UN) Security Council (UNSC) have gained momentum. This is because the UNSC was established after the Second World War, taking into account the structure of the world system of that period. Therefore, the UNSC has been inadequate in solving many of the problems encountered in the recent past and has failed to perform a successful test. The conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are examples of this.

Moreover, the “absolute veto” power of the five permanent members of the UNSC – the United States (US), the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China – renders the UNSC dysfunctional and makes it difficult to adopt certain resolutions. For instance, Russia or China, or sometimes both, voting against North Korea’s actions that threaten the nuclear security environment prevents the imposition of sanctions on Pyongyang. It is possible to replicate this situation with examples from other countries in different crises. Moreover, given the power struggle along the US-Russia-China line, expecting the parties to agree on critical issues may be interpreted as an overly benevolent approach. Therefore, there is a strong need for reform in the UNSC.

Due to this situation, different states have occasionally made statements drawing attention to the need for reform in the UNSC. In this sense, it can be said that the actor that most clearly expresses this demand is Turkey with its statement “The world is bigger than five”. In fact, this demand is not unjustified.

This situation also brings the function of the UN into question. For instance, countries such as Germany and Japan, which are among the world’s largest economies, are now demanding permanent representation in the UNSC. Similarly, South Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa are also demanding permanent representation. The justification for this demand is also clear.

As an example of the debate on this issue, in November 2008, Brazilian President Lula da Silva said, “We can no longer postpone the fundamental reforms (necessary) to ensure peace and promote security.”[1] In June 2011, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said: “The UNSC is in urgent need of reform to regulate imbalanced power relations. We reiterate that UNSC reform is urgent.”[2] In September 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the following statement in his speech at the 69th UN General Assembly:[3]

“We must reform the UN, including the UNSC, and make it more democratic and more participatory. Institutions that reflect 20th century conditions will not be effective in the 21st century.”

In 2018, then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad drew attention to the need for reform in the UNSC, saying:[4]

“Five countries cannot claim the right to hold the world hostage forever on the basis of a victory they won 70 years ago. They cannot morally defend themselves. They cannot advocate democracy and regime change in countries around the world and reject democracy in this organization.”

On the other hand, as mentioned above, the need for reform in the UNSC does not only come from the representation dimension, but its decision-making mechanism is also criticized. For this reason, the US and Russia have also been calling for the reform of the UNSC. For instance, in February 2019, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that the UNSC is insufficient in representing the developing regions of the world and called for reform, saying, “Nearly one-third of the UNSC is represented by the European Union (EU) countries.”[5] In the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine War, the US criticized the veto power of the permanent members to impose sanctions on Moscow, and in September 2022, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas Greenfield made the following outburst:[6]

“Any permanent member state that uses its veto to defend its aggressive actions has lost its moral authority and must be held accountable.”

Most recently, on 8 June 2023, the President of Kazakhstan, Mr. Kassym-Jovert Tokayev, brought the fading but necessary debate on UNSC reform to the agenda and reminded the need for reforming the UNSC in his speech at the Astana National Forum, while noting that the UN is the only “global organization” with sole authority. In his speech, Mr. Tokayev emphasized the need to reform the structure in order to ensure that medium-sized powers are represented and their voices are heard more strongly.[7] Therefore, Kazakhstan’s exit is very important in terms of reminding the reality that the world is bigger than five.

As a result, on the occasion of his speech at the Astana International Forum, the President of Kazakhstan drew attention to the need for reform of the UNSC and brought this issue, which has been on the agenda at various times, back to the agenda of the international community. The justification for this demand cannot be denied. Kazakhstan’s demand is essential for the sustainability of the peace and security environment. Otherwise, the UN will turn into an organization that cannot fulfill its function and the international security environment will face extremely serious challenges.


[1] “Brazil’s Lula Urges G20 to Follow up Reform Pledge”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/financial-g20-lula-idUSN1826524320081118, (Date of Accession: 10.06.2023).

[2] Global Times, http://world.globaltimes.cn/africa/2011-06/660842.html, (Date of Accession: 09.06.2023).

[3] UN, https://www.un.int/india/2004/ind984.pdf, (Date of Accession: 09.06.2023).

[4] “Malaysia PM Mahathir’s Speech at the United Nations”, Channel News Asia, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/asia/in-full-malaysia-pm-mahathir-s-speech-at-the-united-nations-800896, (Date of Accession: 09.06.2023).

[5] “Rusya’dan BMGK’de Reform Çağrısı”, NTV, https://www.ntv.com.tr/dunya/rusyadan-bmgkde-reform-cagrisi,-vE7JAZ4ZUynwxotXgWZag, (Date of Accession: 10.06.2023).

[6] “ABD, Çin ve Rusya’ya Karşı BMGK’de Reform İstiyor”, Independent Türkçe, https://www.indyturk.com/node/555331/d%C3%BCnya/abd-%C3%A7in-ve-rusya%E2%80%99ya-kar%C5%9F%C4%B1-bmgk%E2%80%99de-reform-istiyor, (Date of Accession: 10.06.20232).

[7] “Касым-Жомарт Токаев призвал реформировать Совбез ООН”, Central Asia, https://centralasia.media/news:1935207, (Date of Accession: 100.06.2023).

Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN, 2014 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2017 yılında Giresun Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası Güç İlişkileri Bağlamında İkinci Dünya Savaşı Sonrası Hegemonik Mücadelelerin İncelenmesi’’ başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora derecesini ise 2021 yılında Trakya Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı‘nda hazırladığı “İmparatorluk Düşüncesinin İran Dış Politikasına Yansımaları ve Milliyetçilik” başlıklı teziyle alan Başaran’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Uluslararası ilişkiler kuramları, Amerikan dış politikası, İran araştırmaları ve Afganistan çalışmalarıdır. Başaran iyi derecede İngilizce ve temel düzeyde Farsça bilmektedir.