Will UN reform be possible?
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Last week, during the ongoing UN General Assembly meeting, many world leaders, including President Trump and President Kagame, in their speeches, called for the UN reform so as to have a stronger, more effective and efficient, more just and greater driver for peace and harmony in the world. A reform plan is now being championed by the current Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres. But, of course, this isn’t a new idea; it started way back in the tenure of Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, where various attempts were made but all were dead in the water. During the tenure of Ban Ki-moon, he almost never made any push for such. However, some States raised the reform proposal, but it barely had support of the major States, the veto-wielding powers.
Just in the ongoing UN General Assembly meeting, about 128 countries were invited to attend last Monday’s reform meeting after signing on to a US-drafted 10-point political declaration backing efforts by Mr. Guterres “to initiate effective, meaningful reform.” UN Security Council veto powers – Russia and China – didn’t sign the declaration. Obviously, this implies the unwillingness of changing the status quo. But, does it mean that the other three veto powers (the USA, the UK and France), which attended were bona fide to the reform? To me, on the face of it, they may be ostensibly supportive, but, in actual sense, they may not afford to lose such a unique status (of veto powers). I could be wrong in my subjective judgment, but given the past history where all previous reform plans were unsuccessful, I have misgivings whether this time round they really mean what they say.
The question isn’t about lack of unanimous support for the reform but the issue is whether veto powers can afford to forfeit their privilege. And this privilege isn’t at all in the best interest of other UN member States; it is rather a privilege they acquired, as the drafters of the UN Charter, when the rest of the world was in umbra to serve their selfish interest. Wielding veto-powers doesn’t and will never serve general interest of the global society.
Historically, when World War II broke out it depicted an utter failure of the so-called League of Nations. The League of Nations was therefore hobbled both by the wicked and the greedy, and by the disinterested, the cowardly, and the weak. In particular, the absence of the U.S. and other major powers had undermined both its legitimacy and its ability to put its principles into force. By then US President Roosevelt intended to remedy these flaws. Shortly after World War II, a new idea was developed to have a more effective and robust organization to ensure global peace and security. By efforts of the Allied powers such as the UK, France, Russia, the United States and China gave birth to the United Nations (UN).
The UN was created supposedly to maintain international peace and security. A primary responsibility of the UN Security Council today. Other responsibilities to do with economic, social, cultural are of secondary importance. It is worth noting that the most immediate motivation for the creation of the UN was to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, reaffirming faith in fundamental human rights.
Turning back to the reform, the Five Permanent Members, known as P-5, have consistently, but covertly and cynically, resisted the amendment of the UN Charter to scupper any attempt to bring on board other members.
Like this column previously noted, if the veto powers decide not to allow any other members on board – through wielding veto – no possibility of bypassing the UN Charter. Any amendment of the UN Charter, as set forth in Article 108 of the Charter, requires a vote of Two-Thirds of the members of the General Assembly, including all the permanent members of the Security Council. In other words, for any resolution to pass requiring reform or amendment of the UN Charter it has to be passed unanimously by P-5, or by abstentions of P-5 members, which is considered as an affirmative vote. Though literally it’s not a vote, it has been indisputably accepted as a vote.
Though today the USA is seemingly supportive of the reform, it remains uncertain given its hard-lobbying tactics to persuade, or through vote-buying, some of the developing countries to vote against any move to bring on board other members to the P-5.
The bone of contention lies with unfettered powers of the UN Security Council. UNSC has, however, recorded some successes and huge setbacks, which gave rise to divergent questions regarding its effectiveness and legitimacy. Most critics are on UNSC’s insufficient power or inadequate representativeness as the source of its problem and generally have recommended enlargement of the Council’s permanent membership as the solution.
In truth, the Council lacks power sufficient to fulfill its duty of maintaining international peace and security. For example, since the Council was given mandate pertaining to global peace and security the world has witnessed numerous horrific crises, especially in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur-Sudan, Burundi and Syrian.
UN reform is fundamentally needed more than ever before.