If the world was a kingdom, the throne could perhaps be the UN Security Council. It is apparent that the UNSC decides when to go to war, when not to, and when to stop or prevent a war. Today, as in 1945, five countries sit on that throne. And India has, for the umpteenth time, asked the United Nations to include it as a permanent member of the Security Council. "Tomorrow could be too late," it said.
But just how credible is the warning? India is not engaging in any formal discussion or lobbying for the expansion of the Security Council. Effectively, India has temporarily given up its demand to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Yet, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj presented India's cautionary message at the UN: "Step by slow step, the importance, influence, respect and value of this institution is beginning to ebb... The United Nations must accept that it needs fundamental reform. Reform cannot be cosmetic. We need to change the institution's head and heart to make both compatible to contemporary reality. Reform must begin today; tomorrow could be too late. If the UN is ineffective, the whole concept of multilateralism will collapse. India does not believe that the United Nations should become the instrument of a few at the cost the many."
India's warning isn't far off from what the top generals of the parliament of humanity have reiterated in the last few months.
"The very survival of the United Nations is at stake"
In November 2017, the then UN General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak had pointed out that "more and more, we are hearing calls for the UN to change and evolve at a faster pace. We must remember that the UN Security Council is the body charged with maintaining international peace and security. Its decisions can mean the difference between life or death. Moreover, this is why we must answer these calls for change -- particularly in relation to the UN Security Council. If we don't, the continued relevance and, frankly, the very survival of the United Nations is at stake."
Yes, the outgoing president of the General Assembly of the UN said that.
But who is listening? Let's break down the problem.
The question: Why does the world find itself in conflict after conflict despite having a Security Council that 193 countries recognise?
The short answer
It has five permanent members who have a veto power and that veto power for millions is often the sound of death. It also has 10 elected members who are members on a rotational basis.
The long answer
Those five members do not adequately represent the world.
Seventy-three years after it was formed, the UN Security Council is today the diplomatic battleground of stalemates across the world. It has taken, if anything, baby steps and continues to fail the world in the following cases, at least:
- Since 2011, it has not managed to stop Yemen from becoming a conflict zone which represents the world's worst humanitarian crisis currently.
- For decades now, it has not managed to stop the bleeding in the frustrating landscape of the Middle East for good.
- Or end what current Secretary General Antonia Guterres called "the prolonged nightmare" in Syria and prevent what the UN itself has called "genocide" in Myanmar.
- From Congo to North Nigeria, to Sudan, Africa continues to become the new Middle East in terms of conflict.
- End hostilities between North Korea and South Korea.
- End the killings on either side of the India-Pakistan border.
The reasons the Security Council has failed:
Too many to state here, but the main theme put out by the Secretary General of the UN no less, is multilateralism, the need for the Security Council to reform, to expand, be a representative of 193 members instead of just five. Africa has no representation, South America has none, Asia has too little, and Japan and Germany perhaps deserve more. India has 1/6th of the world's population.
What the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told me:
"The Security Council is not one of the areas that I lead. It is a member states organisation. I do believe that there will be no reform in the UN that is complete without reform of the Security Council because (the) Security Council we have today still represents to a large extent the world after the Second World War, and so there is an imbalance in the way the Security Council today works in relation to what the world really is. But it is not easy to reform Security Council because we need a 2/3rd majority of the General Assembly and the agreement in that 2/3rd majority of the five permanent members of the Security Council, so this is an area where I cannot do much except telling member states that they must do everything possible to make sure that this reform also moves forward."
Where do countries stand on Security Council reform?
United States, Russia, France, China and the UK remain the five permanent members of the Security Council. This has not changed since its inception on October 24, 1945 after World War II was won. It has been 73 years and multiple shifts in the power dynamics of geopolitics since then. Germany and Japan have regained the status of powerhouses, yet the five continue to possess the remote control that decides the fate of the World, that is the veto vote.
India, Japan, Germany and Brazil form the G4 who stake a claim for a permanent seat at the UNSC. They even suggest a compromise -- give us a permanent seat without the veto power.
Italy, Pakistan, South Korea, Colombia and Argentina are some of the countries who form the United for Consensus (UFC) movement, nicknamed the Coffee Club, who oppose the expansion.
The UFC group is seemingly threatened by the increased regional influence the G4 could get and believe they themselves should get a permanent seat at the Security Council.
The bottom line is that Italy feels threatened by Germany, Pakistan by India, Argentina and Colombia by Brazil, and South Korea by Japan.
What is the official process for Security Council reform?
Security Council has to pass the proposal (where it can be vetoed)
130 "yes" votes needed out of 193 in General Assembly (2/3rd majority)
Ratification of the amendment of the UN charter with the same 2/3d majority
Then each country will have to submit ratification of its own parliament, or highest law-making body. This would take years.
What is one of the proposals for the Security Council's expansion?
Increase the Security Council from 15 (five permanent plus 10 rotational) members to 26 (11 permanent and 15 rotational)
The four more permanent members will be Germany, Brazil, India, Japan and two African countries that the African Union decides on
What will it take for Security Council reform to happen?
The G4 will have to begin thousands of backroom discussions to get the 130 countries on their side. That consensus is the only legitimate force that could see none of the Security Council members exercising their veto power.
Will the permanent five (the US, the UK, Russia, China and France) allow the expansion?
In the words of numerous senior journalists who have covered the UN for decades, "expansion in the UN Security Council is not going to happen" or "at least not in my lifetime".
Do the G4 including India have a 2/3rd consensus, 130 votes?
This is perhaps a mystery. Sources within the G4 have said they have the numbers but as Ali Iftikhar, a UN Journalist since 1971, told me, "If they have the numbers, the support of the 130 members, then why are they waiting?" Top sources in India's Foreign Ministry told NDTV, "We have the numbers, but numbers alone are not enough; we need complete consensus". To the question on how that will happen, the source told me, "We will continue to try. Independence also came about like this, a persistent effort."
Africa is a sticking point
The African Union has demanded that it is left to them to decide who the two permanent representatives from Africa will be. Given the volatile conflicts in Africa, this suggestion doesn't inspire confidence amongst the G4 or the P5 (permanent five members). Add to that while the G4 nations are willing to give up the veto power for a permanent seat, the Africans are not.
What the French President told me:
"I am not in charge of the timetable (of when Security Council reform will happen) and I am not the one to lead it, but I will support it. It is for the Secretary General to explain and say when it will be feasible, but I do believe we have to broaden our ways to cooperate and different fora of regulation, that's why I do support the fact that we have to reform and we will make some proposals to the other members, in order to take into consideration this new reality."
Russia's take on the future of UN
This UNGA, at a press conference, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was asked, "Given the political trends dominating the world today, what do you think of the future of the United Nations?"
He laughed and then said, "I think that the UN has a future, and this future will probably be not so easy. On the one hand, yes indeed the US is attacking multilateralism, they want for their sovereignty to prevail, and probably they mean first and foremost their own sovereignty to prevail in all international matters. However, I am convinced that there is an objectively new world order taking shape when Asia Pacific, China and India are vibrantly developing, when there are so many resources. Well, the resources are only starting to be used in Africa, the potential of the Latin American continent, on the whole the Asia Pacific region, it would be impossible to control all these processes from one centre and to dictate to all one single avenue for behaviour. All these sanctions and threats strive to make the country trade not with everyone but only with themselves. This is all temporary and in any case they will have to sit down and agree and to find the balance of all key stakeholders without forgetting other countries as well, that's the UN."
For perspective on the effectiveness of the UN or its Security Council, today, it can't even free two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar. Ending age-old conflicts, preventing the deadly birth of new ones, denuclearisation, climate action, and most off all a United Nations that represents all, in the form of Security Council expansion, is a long way off.
(Amitoj Singh is associate editor and principal anchor, NDTV 24x7)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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