By Vivek Pattanayak*
An analysis of success and failures of UN and its system will invariably evoke the views in certain quarters that veto is the main culprit if there are failures of this historic institution created for preservation of peace in the world. Although it seems not serious another opinion is the institution better be disbanded as it represents only waste of taxpayers’ money. The body only meets for the members to agree to disagree is another cynical view. Opinion expressed since more than three decades is that the UN needs to be reformed. Of course, the meaning of reforms varies widely. One view shared by the Geneva Group is the budget should be trimmed under the principle of zero nominal growth. The same cohort at the same time insists on increasing effectiveness and efficiency of the secretariat with disdain for the principle of geographic representation in the international civil service. The US believes strongly in outsourcing of activities to corporate sector. Of course, it has a covert agenda to give the American companies the benefit of outsourcing, sometimes grudgingly to other Western companies as long as there is predominance of Anglo-Saxon group at expense of the French, German and Japanese. The Western Group, nevertheless, would like to buttress activities of UN by extra-budgetary funding under the umbrella of the world body but with their nominated staff in the international civil service also where necessary through companies and institutions selected overtly or covertly by them.
Reforms for countries like India, Germany, and Japan and of late Brazil and South Africa would mean expansion of the Security Council to give access to them as permanent members.
For developing countries, least development countries and island countries reforms would mean greater UN assistance for development.
As regards expansion of Security Council to have more permanent members there would be no unanimity among the existing permanent members whose assent is mandatory. China would not allow India and Japan to enter the club. Exclusion of India and Japan would not be acceptable to US, UK, and France.
As regards idea of reforms advocated by US, some of them have been already introduced like increasing efficiency in programme delivery, monitoring evaluation by independent body, digitization etc. Thinning of budget or so-called streamlining is a continuous and ongoing exercise of the Geneva Group not only in UN but across the UN System. Equitable Geographic Representation cannot be changed because it is based on the General Assembly Resolution where the Western Group is in minority.
The question of abolition of veto, however popular it may be outside the UN platform, is not realistic as all the existing permanent members would oppose and secondly the underlying doctrine that the UN was established based on the will of victor powers would be shaken. This would be preposterous for them. For the rest of members, meaning of victor power is anachronistic with elapse of more than eight decades. In the first place France and China were not really victor powers in the WWII. France got the status of permanent membership because of UK, and China then under KMT because of US. Now both the defeated powers, Germany and Japan are far stronger economically than UK and France. By Purchasing Power Parity GDP of India is more than them.
Assuming veto power is abolished by common consent, how will UN act to maintain peace. It has to depend upon major military powers to act against a recalcitrant state. When major power is wayward and becomes aggressor as it happened in Vietnam and then in Iraq, US being the guilty one and in case of the Soviet intervention inAfghanistan and now Russia’s so-called military operation in Ukraine, who would deploy armed forces. NATO, led by US is hesitant in the present conflict. Can major power discipline another major power? It can subdue another minor power only if it is alone without alliance of major power or powers?
Teeth of UN come out when there is unanimity among the permanent members. Bluntly speaking it is the big powers who can discipline a small defaulting power as it happened in the first Gulf war when Iraq had illegally occupied a defenceless Kuwait in a blitzkrieg. Iraq was alone.
Real politik governs the real-world although it may be a jungle law, as some may even say “world disorder”, which is nothing but might is right.
UN is not a world government. It is merely an association, or a club of sovereign states bound down by rules of the Club. Some, however, are elite members.
In the world today what are the conflicts about? It is concerning territory, religion, ethnicity etc. In future as Abdul Kalam predicted it would be for water or may be for source of energy. Can these disputes not be settled by negotiation, conciliation, mediation, arbitration, and adjudication? The UN Charter provides mechanism for the pacific settlement of disputes. When all these matters become emotional issues springing out of nationalism turning to become hyper-nationalism from where the rulers cannot escape without losing hold over powerlead to hostilities. Ego of individual ruler, rivalry in the ruling elite, and internal disenchantment can spark-off military action. Sometimes ultranationalism is generated to remain relevant to be in seat of power.
What is the status of people vis-à-vis these global bodies? While in the introductory sentence of the Covenant of the League of Nations, the words used were “High Contracting Parties”, the Charter of the United Nations in its preamble start with the words,“We the peoples of the world.” Do these words in the Charter make any difference? Are the people really represented in the United Nations, or only the governments whether they are in form of democracy, monocracy, aristocracy, plutocracy or stratocracy?
Is there any alternative to UN? Growth of multilateral bodies outside UN has taken place since the WWII namely European Union, Organization of American States, Organization of African Unity, Arab League, SARC (now moribund) and ASEAN and in addition to several Groups like G7, G8 (now defunct), G20, Shanghai Cooperation Organization etc. What role have they played? Certainly not peace keeping although they endeavoured to develop cooperation and understanding. Ofcourse, EU in spite of Brexit and threat of Grexit has played a magnificent part in uniting Europe in business, trade, strengthening human rights and creating plurilateral legislature and judiciary, a step towards a confederation.
Can UN be abandoned? The League Nations became moribund hence it had to be given a goodbye. Farewell to that first international organization established for peace after a devastating war in Europe was given only after a more devastating war covering both Europe and Asia with ushering in of UN. If there is WWIII leading to a nuclear holocaust will there be any victor?
For the present we should live with UN with all its faults.
*The author is a former bureaucrat and held important positions in aviation and power regulatory body. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.