French and EU President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a call from the floor of the UN yesterday to expand the Security Council and G8.    Declaring that, “The 21st century world cannot be governed with the institutions of the 20th century,” he argued that inclusion of today’s emerging powers is not just “a matter fairness” but a necessary condition for “being able to act effectively.”  “We cannot wait any longer to enlarge the Security Council. We cannot wait any longer to turn the G8 into the G13 or G14 and to bring in China, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil,” said Sarkozy.


While these remarks have been widely reported in the Indian and African press, they’ve drawn little attention in the West. Perhaps this is because Sarkozy has been floating the idea without much traction for some time and that the idea, with variants on which rising states should be included in the expansion, has been bandied about for as long as I can remember. 

And for good reason.  Sarkozy and other advocates of expansion are absolutely right when they say that, were we creating these institutions today, we’d do it differently. After all, The Security Council is a creature of the closing days of World War II and the G8 was an outgrowth of the 1973 oil embargo.  Both the international security climate and the global economy have evolved rather markedly in the ensuing decades.  That said, they are horses of different colors and must be evaluated independently.

Expanding the Security Council

While academically sound, this proposal is a non-starter as a matter of practical politics.  While it’s doubtful that, if starting from scratch, we’d chose to give the U.S., U.K., France, China, and Russia a veto power while leaving Germany, Japan, and India on the outside looking in, it’s is a Pandora’s Box we can not afford to open.  Presumably, no current Permanent Member will be kicked off.  Who, then, to let in? 

Sarkozy suggests the Group of Four — Germany, Brazil, India, and Japan — plus “a major African country” to be named later. Germany and Japan, both of whom have robust economies and are solid democracies with strong institutions, seem obvious.  India, much less so, but it does have a population approaching one billion and has been a democracy (more or less) for decades.  Brazil is the Latin American choice du jour, although it’s hardly in the same league as the others.  And, yes, we’d almost have to include an African representative out of diversity.  Nigeria, with its oil wealth, is the obvious candidate but only because the field is so weak. 

The politics of expansion are just too messy.  Once we establish the principle that the Permanent Member club is open to periodic reexamination — but, of course, not contraction — it’s difficult to see how it ends.  Nigeria and Brazil are the logical diversity candidates, although that wouldn’t have been the case a decade ago and might not be a decade from now.  And if we let in two states with relatively small economies and no global military reach, how do we deny at least a half dozen other applicants?

And that’s the not worst of the problems. 

It’s difficult to argue against Sarkozy’s charge that the current arrangement is lacking in “fairness.”  It’s even harder, though, not to laugh at loud at the suggestion that  adding more members will enhance the Security Council’s  “being able to act effectively.”  If it can’t achieve consensus with five members with veto power — and, on major matters, it never has absent brief periods when the Soviets were boycotting or the Russians were too needy to offer resistance — how will it do so with ten?

Of course, we could add additional permanent members but not grant them a veto.  But that would just rub their nose in the fact that they’re not really part of the club. 

Expanding the G8

Here, Sarkozy is on firmer ground.   The forum now known as the Group of Eight, or G8, has always been fluid.  It began in 1974 as an informal gather of five members — the U.S., U.K., West Germany, Japan, and France — known as the Library Group.  It expanded to include Italy and to be called the Group of Six the following year and became the G7 the year after that with the addition of Canada.  Although not meriting enumeration as a “G,” the president of the European Commission has been an informal member since 1977.  And, of course, Russia has been attending the meetings since 1994 and became a formal member in 1997, bringing us to 8 “Gs.”

The so-called Plus Five (Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa) have occasionally been invited to meetings in the past.  There’s no real reason that they couldn’t be formally given “G” status and the group’s name changed.   Indeed, there’s already a G20, which was created at the 1999 meeting “as a new mechanism for informal dialogue in the framework of the Bretton Woods institutional system, to broaden the dialogue on key economic and financial policy issues among systemically significant economies and to promote cooperation to achieve stable and sustainable world growth that benefits all.”

Further, it’s hard to justify excluding China, ranked fourth in the world in GDP, from a list of major economic powers.  Indeed, by that measure, Spain (8th) and Brazil (10th) should be included, too, to justify the inclusion of Russia (11th).  Adding India (12th) would bring in all the countries currently over a trillion U.S. dollars in nominal annual GDP.  The only outlier on Sarkozy’s list is South Africa, ranked 30th in the world.  It would be hard to justify including them and not including South Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and even Iran.  

Still, this is a matter of deciding where to draw lines and precisely how to measure what constitutes a major economic player.  Bringing the likes of China, India, and Brazil into the mix — especially if made contingent on playing by certain agreed upon rules — simply makes sense.   Unlike the UN Security Council, where the inclusion of additional Permanent Members makes the job harder, expanding the number of players in the G(insert number here) could make it easier to decide upon common goals and create a roadmap for achieving them.

NATO and the EU

As an aside, I would note that much the same arguments could be made vis-a-vis NATO and the EU.   Both institutions have vital roles in the Western community and membership in both can be a powerful carrot to encourage hard economic and cultural choices being made in the “right” direction.   It’s far less complicated, however, for the EU to expand its membership, particularly into places like Ukraine and Georgia, than it is for NATO. 

While both the EU and NATO have evolved well past their original missions, the former remains, at its core, an economic cooperative while the latter is, at its core, a military alliance.    Not only is Russia less likely to feel threatened when one of their neighbors is brought into a free trade area than a military organization once aimed at them, but it’s far less burdensome to add a new trading partner than to expand the circle into which the vow “an attack on one is an attack upon all” can be taken seriously.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.  

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