The Relative Gains theorem and the stalling United Nations Security Council membership reform

Nikola Pijovic
2.354 773


The United Nations Security Council is the heart of our current global security order. This executive board of fifteen countries is the central transnational organ which discusses and sanctions global breaches of international peace and security. However, over the past two decades, and especially since the late 2004 United Nations high-level panel report on UN reform, there have been growing calls for the Security Council's reform. Reform is often perceived as necessary because the current structure of the Council, and especially its five permanent seats is seen as out of date and not in touch with contemporary geo-political realities, and representation on the Council is seen as largely undemocratic. However, in the background of all efforts to reform the SC are considerations of power and prestige. Ranging from the current permanent five members to the candidate states who fancy themselves worthy of Security Council permanent membership, most actors involved seem guided in their decision making processes by considerations of relative gains and balance of power. This is why applying the realist, or neorealist, theorem of relative gains may be insightful in analyzing the power-plays related to SC reform. The paper first offers a brief overview of the applicable theoretical framework for examining SC reform, and then outlines a background to the actual proposals for that reform. This is followed by a discussion of how perceptions of relative gains are influencing SC membership reform debates, and how these perceptions translate into concrete action of undermining membership aspirations.


United Nations,Security Council, Reform, Realism

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