February 27, 2024

Security Council expects the world to change but not itself

Representation in the UNSC should be regional, not solely dictated by national power, affluence and influence.
Keywords: UNSC, Influence, Power, Politics, Geopolitical, Fundamental, Ideology, National, Security, China, India
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‘Liberal abroad and conservative at home’ is the adage we may borrow to apply to the UN Security Council. Speaking before the US Congress on January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson had enumerated his Fourteen Point programme, the last of which called for a “general association of nations…formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.” That speaks about the fundamental principle that served as a lode star for the League of Nations in 1920 — the precursor of the United Nations.

While President Wilson spoke of “great and small states alike,” today, a century later, the UNSC would not allow India, the world’s most populous, and largest democratic country, a seat in its Security Council. Nearly, a hundred out of a total of 193 member states, and three or four out of the five permanent members of the Security Council, support at least formally India’s inclusion as the 6th permanent member of the UN Security Council.  

The lone permanent member of the Security Council openly opposing India’s inclusion as the 6th permanent member is China, the neighbouring country with which India has a 3,440 km (2,100 miles) long de-facto Himalayan border. Earlier, apart from China, the other four members of the SC also did not favour India’s inclusion as a new permanent member of the Security Council. This contravened President Woodrow Wilson’s concept of “great and small states alike.” However, when the big four relented, it was none but the Asian superpower that picked up the gauntlet of opposing India’s entry into the Security Council.  

The conscience of a majority of the UN member states is shocked that the only Asian SC permanent member, that itself has fought against the dictatorial arrangement and led the country successfully along a great revolution, should veto the adhesion of its neighbour that shares a heavy heritage of slavery to colonial rule. To what ideology does China belong? It is not clear to us. 

For quite some time a tussle is going on within the UN on the issue of re-structuring its almost century-old structure, including its Security Council.  A good number of member states demanding restructuring of the organization are pragmatists who take into account the new ground realities linked to unprecedented advancements in the areas of science and technology and their deep impact on all aspects of life. Moreover, the consequences of nearly fifty years of the cold war subsequent to WW II, the implosion of the Soviet State in 1991, and the rise of China as the new economic and military superpower, all have given a new direction to geo-political strategies and a tremendous boost to nationalist identities and aspirations. Surprising advancements in land, sea and air connectivity across the earth have shrunk it to the size of the proverbial global village.

Alongside this phenomenon, threat concerns to the global community have also appeared without a knock at the door and effective responses are needed, The Covid-19 Pandemic and the chaotic reactions of most governments to the alert has wrought havoc on human lives, resource, the economy and social behaviour. 

Understandably, the UN as an international organization has not and cannot avoid the impact of the changing world. More countries aspire to acquire nuclear capability and superpowers obstruct them or covertly patronise their aspirations as per their political or economic priorities. Many of the member states who pontificate at public platforms for regional and global peace and call to eschew state-sponsored terror shamelessly support terror, covertly or overtly, when they find that their larger interests are at stake or that their hegemony is challenged.

The question is: how long will this ostrich-like policy of the states be continued? We clearly see that resistance to a drastic change in the obsolete UN structure is increasing among member-states and at regional levels. These are very bad portents for the UN to retain its dignity and perpetuity. Regional blocs are gradually coming up, under the rubric of expanding trade and commerce, connectivity and related matters. Behind this rhetoric of regional bloc formation, there are plans that sometimes go squarely against the norms of a peaceful and united world.

Recently, the call by Wang Yi, the chief of China’s foreign policy staff has come as Beijing courts support from the so-called global south in the context of its growing rivalry with the West. The call is selective and dovetails China’s hegemonic designs: “The reform of the Security Council should uphold fairness and justice; increase the representation and voice of developing countries, allowing more small and medium-sized countries to have more opportunities to participate in the decision-making of the council” Wang Yi said. Obviously, he is speaking with an eye to smaller states of Africa where Beijing’s commercial interests and investments are prominent. He doles out suggestions about what the UN should do but does not feel any need to say what China should do. He does not speak of India, its landmass and demography, its economic status as the world’s fifth largest economy, its contribution to global causes and to the interests of developing countries. It is India that provided fifty thousand tons of wheat as humanitarian assistance to the Afghan Taliban government. Wang would not speak of India, a country that has so many times provided army contingents for the UN Peace Keeping Force as well as leadership and support to other UN agencies.   

The idea of restructuring the UN is not just naming the countries that should be or should not be at the decision-making level. It touches on more important and fundamental aspects. The foremost issue is the Veto power, which is opposed by a vast majority of the hundred and ninety-three members of the General Assembly. The exercise of the right of veto simply means thrusting the will of a great power (three of which at least are in decline) according to one and only one criterion and that is political and/or economic interest. The UN is politicized beyond imagination. None of its decisions or policies is free from political and business-related calculations. Along with politics favouritism and bribery are also reported to be rampant. Special Rapporteurs as well as country Rapporteurs are alleged to be falling for favours. Rules and regulations are made to the benefit of particular groups or beneficiaries outside the purview of all outside parties.  Many NGOs granted ECOSOC special status misuse their positions and do not hesitate to extract favours from their beneficiaries. On the other hand, NGOs are allowed one minute to make their presentation. It is laughable and a mockery of equal treatment.

All this calls for fundamental changes in the entire structure. It requires the abolition of veto powers because conferring veto power amounts to a blatant denial of democratic equality. It is also a blatant act of discrimination against those states which don’t enjoy it. Representation in the SC should be regional, not solely dictated by national power, affluence and influence. The Security Council should be dissolved and in its place a Consultative Forum should be constituted on the basis of regional membership, with a mandate to listen to complaints, deliberate on these and publicise advice or remedial measures which should not be binding on the parties. That forum should also play an impartial mediatory role where endemic disputes persist. It should include replicas of other organs of the current UN as well in one form or the other. Red tape-ism must be done away with and the custom of issuing advisories to the member countries should be abolished. Accessibility should be made easier. There could be other proposals and the best way to elicit them would be for the UN press department to issue an appeal for suggestions about UN reform to be submitted before a cut-off date.

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K N Pandita

K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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