United nations was not created to create heaven on earth, but to prevent it from becoming hell.Dag Hammarskjöld
Objective of United Nations
As mentioned in the preamble, the envisaged role of UN is to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war. It also aims to promote the respect for human rights, recognition of equality of status of nations, big or small, social progress and better standard of life in larger freedom.
The three pillars of UN system are 1) Protection of World Peace. 2) Protection of Human Rights. 3) Promotion of development.
The actual record of UN has to be measured with respect to the United Nations achievements in realizing the core objectives.
1] UN’s achievement in maintaining peace.
Unfortunately because of east and west conflict, UN could not take any effective role in its prime objective. Collective security has remained paralyzed and at present, the commitment of countries for peacekeeping is weakening. UN could not play any effective role towards the resolution of crisis. E.g. in Korean Peninsula, Between India and Pakistan. Even the Palestinian issue remains unresolved.
2] UN’s role towards the protection of Human rights
Rohingya crisis, crisis in Syria, crisis in many countries of Africa show the failure of international community towards protecting the human rights. Even human rights regime has become prey to the geopolitical ambitions of great powers.
To certain extent, if there is some achievement of UN, it is in the field of development. We can say the most successful UN agency has been WHO.
However UN’s role as a major platform for development partnership has been taken by other institutions. Even WTO, IMF has sidelined UN with respect to development agenda.
UN is facing multiple crisis and is in the need of urgent reforms. In the age of America first, USA has even threatened to come out of UN also. UN has been a platform to establish the hegemony of USA. However once USA realized that other countries prefer to utilize the platform to counter US hegemony, USA started undermining the platform. USA has been the biggest defaulter in paying the membership dues.
One of the major weakness of UN is finances. As per 2013 data, UN budget was $45 bn, which implied per capita expenditure of $6 per person per year. It is highly inadequate considering the global challenges. We are living in a age when multilateralism as such is coming to an end. Like NAM, UN is also facing the crisis of credibility and relevance.
Gareth Evans, the former foreign minister of Australia was right in his assessment of UN when he held that ‘no other body invokes as many dreams yet so many frustrations like United Nations‘.
No other body invokes as many dreams yet so many frustrations like United NationsGareth Evans, former foreign minister of Australia.
Do we need UN?
According to former Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, ‘we need more UN than less UN‘. The rise of global threats have gone beyond the capacity of single nation including the superpower to deal on its own.
Has UN failed?
It is not UN’s failure, it is our failure. We can quote former US president Truman. On the event of inauguration of UN he held that
UN is malleable to the wishes of those who are running the institution. It cannot be more successful than what we desire. We should not forget the sacrifices of those, because of whom we are here and creating this body. If we do not fulfill the objectives of UN, we will be betraying such men and women who sacrificed their lives in hope of peace and justice.Truman
Why reforms are needed?
Some form of the institution of global governance is always needed. Even if we end UN, we will have to recreate UN. Hence it is better to reform UN. Reform is natural in the evolution of any institution so that it remains relevant.
What reforms are needed?
1] Institutional reforms.
2] Reform of UN Charter.
Art 2(7) prohibit UN from intervention in domestic affairs.
UN charter still mentions certain states as enemy states ( Axis powers) they are all now UN members, aspiring for permanent membership.
3] Reform in General Assembly
No reform is needed but better coordination is required between general assembly and security council.
4] Reforms in UN Security Council – Discussed in detail below.
5] ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council).
Number of agencies have grown too much in number with huge overlapping. Hence streamlining is needed.
6] Trusteeship council
This body has no work now. It has long completed its work. Either abolish this body or give new mandate to the body. E.g. Governing the global commons. (Space, Antarctic etc.)
7] UN Secretariat’
Address Red tapism, right sizing of bureaucracy, greater representation from developing countries, training and capacity building
It needs more budget, however Trump administration has announced the cut of $600mn.
Refer separate article on UN Peacekeeping.
9] Financial reforms
Increase the budget. All countries should pay their due in time. Ensure independent source of income. E.g. Towing tax (tax on international financial transactions). Handling corruption.
How to reform?
Institutional reforms except secretariat reforms requires amendment of UN Charter.
Art 108 of UN charter deals with amendment. It is extremely rigid. That is why UN Charter has been reformed only for five times since its birth e.g. to increase the strength of non permanent members in UNSC, to increase the strength of members of ECOSOC.
Proposal for amendment has to be initiated by 2/3 members of General Assembly, passed by 2/3 members. This 2/3 requires consent of P5 also.
Then it has to ratified by the domestic ratification procedure in 2/3rd of the countries.
UNSC – United Nations Security Council
Importance of UNSC
UNSC is considered as the nucleus of UN System. It is the only body of UN which has teeth to bite. The permanent members of UNSC posses veto powers. It provides them with ultimate weapon to stop functioning of UN against their national interest. UNSC has a major say in all critical appointments in UN and UN functions.
Need of reform of UNSC
There is a huge disappointment with the functioning of UN, primarily because permanent members didn’t allowed UN to function by using veto powers.
None of the UNSC decisions go without criticism and allegations because of their partial nature. Like during cold war, UNSC remained divided between T2 and T3.
In present times, there is an urgent need for a credible institution of global governance which can be considered as impartial.
There is a lack of transparency and accountability in the functioning of UNSC. There is poor coordination between UNSC and UNGA. UNSC in its present configuration cannot be called as representative globally. There is need to reform the manner in which veto power is exercised.
P5 members were given veto powers because of their power status during establishment of UNSC. This hardly represents present reality. Britain and France are powers of gone era. There is entry of new players like India, Japan, Germany etc.
Most urgent reforms.
1] Veto reforms
The inclusion of veto was the controversial even at the time of inception of UNO. It was included on the insistence of former USSR which was skeptical towards western countries. Experience of League of Nations has proved that it would not be wise if USSR is kept out.
The veto issue creates problem because it has not been used in a principled manner. P5 countries enjoy veto powers, which can actually be called as ‘double veto’.
Concept of double veto.
The total strength of UNSC is 15.
The subjects in UNSC are categorized into two types.
A) Procedural matters – on procedural matters, affirmative vote of any 9 members is sufficient.
B) Substantive matters – In this case, the affirmative vote of 9 members is needed subject to the condition no permanent member uses veto.
However, the decision regarding which matter is substantive and which is procedural is decided by P5. Thus P5 have veto in two stages and hence it is called as double veto.
Suggestion is to:
1] Eliminate veto. But none of the P5 country will agree.
2] No new permanent members should be getting veto.
3] General assembly should be given power to override veto in case there is a deadlock.
2] Membership reforms.
In 1945, strength of UNGA was 51, that time there were 5 permanent members and 6 non permanent members in UNSC.
In 1963, strength of UNGA became 113, and so the strength of UNSC was made 15, 4 non permanent members were added.
Present strength is 193 but there is no change either in permanent or non-permanent members.
If we see the present composition of P5
1] Africa, where most of the actions of UN are concentrated, has no representation.
2] Latin America has no representation.
3] Asia is under represented.
4] Europe is over represented.
If security council represents great power status, present configuration does not meet the reality. France and Britain are the powers of bygone era. It is anachronistic if India the country possessing third largest army, de facto nuclear weapon state, emerging economy and the country with second largest population is not represented despite immense contribution and commitment to UN. Similarly Japan and Germany are large contributors to UN budget without having a final say on the use of the budget.
If more number of countries are added, it will enhance the credibility of UNSC. The presence of neutral countries like India, Brazil will dilute the polarization.
Hence to keep UN relevant, it has to reform itself.
How to reform?
Membership reform will require the amendment of UN charter. It seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Reforms are next to impossible.
The history of membership.
India itself proposed its candidature in 70s however India didn’t had good relations with the western block, there was no hope for India’s inclusion.
In 1991, USA itself initiated the reform process. After Germany and Japan’s contribution in 1989 Gulf War, USA proposed their inclusion as a permanent members. USA was looking at the burden sharing and to bring its allies. USA was in good relations with China, Russia was also not in a position to oppose, it was the best time to induct Germany and Japan.
India was the spoiler in USA’s plan.
India objected the inclusion of Germany and Japan without its own inclusion. India argued that the seat at UNSC is not at sale to be given to the highest bidder. International community cannot ignore the contribution of India in strengthening UN towards world peace.
India proposed itself to be the most eligible candidate. Besides the credential discussed earlier, India is best suited because, no other civilization has a cosmopolitan outlook like India and it is constitutionally committed to strengthen international law and peace. (Art 51)
Response of international community:
1] Lukewarm response because till then, India neither had significant relations with west and India’s relations with Russia had also changed considerably. (Russia had pro west policy).
2] Hence India changed its strategy of going alone, decided to form a coalition known as G4 countries. (Brazil, India, Japan, Germany).
Response for G4 proposal.
1] Formation of coffee club. Pakistan, Italy, Argentina, Turkey formed a club with other countries opposing the candidature of G4 countries.
2] Coffee club maintained the position that G4 countries are not the regional leaders rather hegemonic powers. If they will be given permanent seat, it will not consolidate the peace in the region rather it will destabilize the regional stability.
To assure coffee club, G4 proposed that they will not ask for veto for 15 years.
Response of African Union.
Ezulwini consensus of African Union. It proposed that there must be two members from Africa and there would be no expansion without veto. However, still there is no consensus among African countries over which two countries will be represented from Africa.
Demand from Muslim Countries
OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) and Arab League proposed the representation of Muslim countries because most conflict prone region is middle east and lot of UN intervention.
What are other problems in reform?
1] If Germany is present, Europe will become more overrepresented.
2] Since European Union has formed common foreign and defense policy, it has been proposed that all European seats should be merged and create a seat of EU to be occupied by these countries, by turn. Neither Britain nor France agreed.
3] No consensus over the candidates from Latin America and Africa.
4] Coffee club has brought ‘uniting for consensus resolution’ which suggests that any amendment for expansion of membership will be done only by consensus in General Assembly. However according to G4 countries, there is no need for consensus, charter provides for decision by majority.
5] So far, there is no formula agreed by all countries.
7] At present, the smaller island nations of Pacific and Caribbean have also proposed their representation.
8] Once former Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed two formulae.
A) 9 new members – G4 + 2 from Africa + 3 non permanent + NO VETO to new members.
India supports this formula.
B) 9 new members – 8 semi permanent + 1 non permanent
Pakistan Supports this formula.
In 2015, UNGA adopted the resolution for ‘text based negotiations by consensus’. Now each country will give written submissions and discussion will be on the formal text.