restoring un's credibility

  1. 301 Posts.
    The post-9/11 world has witnessed unprecedented erosion in the role, authority and credibility of the UN. Today, the UN is no longer a meaningful arbiter on issues of global relevance and importance.

    Washington, not New York, is the focus of world attention for actual decision-making on these issues. Countries and leaders are increasingly looking towards the US for support and succour in their domestic and external problems.

    Unfortunately, the problems of the world are aggravating. There is no let-up in violence and the causes that breed violence and hatred. The war on terror has not gone beyond retribution and retaliation.

    The root causes of global conflicts and malaise remain un addressed. The humanity finds itself divided on religious lines. Might seen wrong by all has never been claimed so "right". Dialogue among civilizations is almost dead. Iraq is still burning. Afghanistan has yet to breathe peace.

    There is no prospect of long-festering issues coming to their just and final end. Inter-state conflicts and intra-state implosions continue to cause terrible human suffering and misery. The global development agenda has been set aside, if not shelved.

    The UN has never been so helpless and ineffective in meeting its Charter obligations. Its role has been circumvented by the unabashed use of power. The new unipolarity has brought ominous effect on the role and relevance of the UN leaving very little to be addressed meaningfully through multilateral approach.

    Today's UN is no more than a debating club, producing voluminous and repetitive documentation without any tangible results or follow-up action. By all accounts, it is today the largest consumer of printing paper and also the largest producer of waste paper. No wonder, some critics now like to see it as "a dustbin of history".

    The UN Security Council, responsible under the Charter for maintenance of international peace and security, has never lived up to its obligations with the veto-wielding powers controlling its reins only to secure their own "vested" interests. But today, it is even worse. The Security Council is left with no role in preventing conflicts or resolving disputes. Its deliberations are conducted in a theatrical manner through stage-managed debates and choreographed scenarios.

    Transparency and legality are no longer the norm in the Council's proceedings. In its open meetings, member states are heard not listened to. Its decisions on critical issues are made either in Washington DC or reached behind closed doors among the P-5 in the ante-rooms of the Council's chamber.

    To keep other members "preoccupied", an excursionist (and deviationist) culture has been developed involving frequent "missions" to conflict areas across the globe at high travel and per diem costs.

    To dilute its role on issues of global peace and security, there could not be a cleverer way than flooding the Council with too many peripheral issues. Instead of concentrating on its own area of primary responsibility, i.e. the issues of peace and security, the Council is more than often holding "thematic" non-consequential debates on such issues as small arms, WMD, HIV/Aids, children in conflicts, women combatants, refugees, human trafficking, narcotics, environment, economic and social issues such as poverty, hunger, disease, food security, organized crime, etc.

    These are very important issues but they belong to the jurisdiction of other UN bodies which are addressing them in accordance with their own mandates. By stretching the scope of its responsibilities beyond its charter role and engaging itself in too many areas, the Council is doing justice neither to its mandate nor to that of the really concerned bodies.

    In his annual reports during the last two years, Secretary General Kofi Annan has been depicting the gravity of contemporary challenges while urging the need for "radical reform" of the UN to make it more capable of meeting those challenges. No doubt, the events of the last two years have immeasurably shaken the international system which is no longer governed by rules, laws, values and cooperation.

    The secretary-general rightly urged the member states to take a "hard look" at the existing architecture of international institutions and judge whether these were adequate enough to meet the global challenges.

    On his own part, he established, in November 2003, a 16-member high-level panel comprising eminent persons of stature and experience to examine the gravity of the current and future threats to global peace and security and to identify the changes and measures needed to strengthen the existing multilateral institutions and processes.

    What now remains to be seen is the extent to which the panel has been able to assert its "collective" wisdom and rise above the respective national positions of its members in seeking to redress the flaws of the existing multilateral system.

    It is hoped the panel was able to extricate itself from the deep-rooted culture of "power and expediency" and would be making a strong case for "bold and radical "reform in the UN system. Half-baked approach and compromise formulas will not bring the real change in the existing multilateral mechanisms and processes that the UN needs to manage global issues of peace and development.

    While the world awaits the panel's assessment on the whole range of global challenges, there is very little prospect of an early inter-governmental consensus emerging on its recommendations in critical areas of concern to most countries. These include UN Security Council reform, criteria for use of force, nuclear non-proliferation, WMD threats and terrorism.

    With growing complexity and magnitude of global challenges including recurrent threats to and breach of international peace and security, the disillusionment and despair over the UN's capacity to manage these challenges is increasing.

    If the UN of the 21st century is to be prevented from meeting the fate of its predecessor, the League of Nations, its "structure and culture" will have to be adapted to the realities and challenges of today's changed world.

    This warrants an attitudinal change on the part of the governments and states which, instead of indulging in meaningless and ritualistic annual debates and sterile rhetoric, must take decisive steps to restore the UN's credibility and authority as an effective instrument of international legitimacy.

    Unilateral armed intervention under any pretext is a breach of moral and multilateral norms. The use or threat of use of force itself constitutes a threat to international peace and security.

    No country, however powerful or dominant, should resort to pre-emptive use of force unless it is authorized by the Security Council within the scope of Articles 42 and 51 of the UN Charter. Collective action based on collective interest should be the only legal option which must be pursued under the aegis of the UN Security Council.

    The UN needs reform that would make it stronger, more representative and more effective inter-governmental organization. The democratic principles of "sovereign equality and one-state-one-vote" should be accepted as the basis of its strength and participatory character.

    This would require restoration of the primacy of the General Assembly as the chief policy-making organ of the UN and democratization of the UN Security Council to enable them acquit their Charter role in pursuit of global peace and development.

    The General Assembly with its universal character and authority must be involved in all decisions of global relevance and impact, including the appointment of the secretary-general.

    In cases where the Security Council is prevented from acting effectively, the General Assembly should be able to operate under "Uniting for Peace" authority and adopt mandatory resolutions concerning global peace and security.

    The reform of Security Council would not be an easy task. It is a complex issue and has been the subject of protracted discussions at the UN for over a decade now. The vast majority of the UN membership would like to see the Security Council democratized through comprehensive reform encompassing its enlargement, decision-making including the question of the veto and the Council's working methods.

    There is a consensus on the increase in the non-permanent category of its membership to make it more broadly representative of the international community as a whole and of the geopolitical realities of the contemporary world.

    The overwhelming majority of the UN members, as reflected in the official NAM position, are against expansion in the permanent category. Similarly, there is strong opposition to the continuation of the veto power which is considered anachronistic to the Charter's principle of sovereign equality of states.

    Both the permanent membership and veto power, remnants of World War II, negate the principles of democracy and sovereign equality. An ideal solution would be the abolition of both the anomalies which only represent the vestiges of power and privilege. But in today's world, there is no scope for ideal solutions. The current veto-wielding powers will not give up their "veto power", nor permit any move for abolition of their permanent status.

    There is a growing demand for making the Council more representative of the current UN membership. An expansion in both categories is now indispensable. The NAM position that increase be made only in the non-permanent category is no longer tenable as more than 120 member states of the UN which obviously include a large number of NAM countries during this year's GA plenary session called for expansion in both categories.

    The panel is likely to propose an increase of nine additional members in the Council with varied alternatives for their allocation to different categories. Some kind of criteria would also be proposed to select or elect the new permanent or "semi-permanent" (renewable long-term) members.

    Instead of relying on the political, economic and military size and clout of the aspirants, it would be best to leave their selection to the regional groups which should be asked to present their respective "clean slates" for the permanent or semi-permanent category. In case a regional group fails to reach agreement on its nomination, the seat should go for open vote in the UN General Assembly.

    Any suggestion to create a new category of "veto-less" permanent members would make a mockery of the Security Council and the UN Charter. If the veto power cannot be rescinded altogether, let the new permanent or semi-permanent members also wield it.

    The use of this prerogative should, in any case, be rationalized by subjecting it to at least two concomitant negative votes of non-permanent members or one-fifth of whatever is the revised number of elected members and restricting its application only to Chapter VII decisions.

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