By: Usamah Adenowo
A democratic United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is the key to reform. Unlike 1945, when peace was the need, present times combine security with needs for economic growth- through neutral leadership that is sensitive to the interests of United Nation’s (U.N) foremost contributors and the culturally diverse UN environment, and environmental sustainability- through universal alliance. However, chances for this reform are slim. Only one body is properly positioned to orchestrate a way.
WHAT TO DO
The democratic regime needed is expansion of permanent membership of the UNSC and the limitation of the veto. In expanding the veto wielders, topmost contributors of the UN’s most important resources (finance and military personnel) from all the continents should be considered. They need to be able to determine, fairly, how their resources are utilized.
In 1986, US refused to pay 50% of its annual contribution in protest at the influence newly emerging nations were attempting to get. It pointed out that “…smaller nations were trying to reform the way the UN was run (especially its voting system) without making the same financial commitments” (C.N Trueman). It should be that once there is a drop in contribution below the least quota set by the general assembly, the nation loses its permanent seat. Some may argue that the criteria for permanent membership should be purely continental representation. However, this may open the door for weak nations to wield exceeding power. We have learned from the failure of the League of Nations that nations with little contribution to the UN will be “far readier to add mandates or tasks for the U.N than to terminate existing ones.” (Funda Keskin).
There are also those who argue for permanent membership based on economic maturity. Therefore, Japan, Germany, India and the rest should become permanent members. This will only be a bigger representation of the power imbalance in the present UNSC. Wide usage of the absolute veto is one of the reasons the League of Nations failed. With continental representation founded on contribution quota, the veto should be limited such that a minimum number of permanent members, perhaps one-third, out of which representatives of 2 different continents are included have to cast the veto before a resolution can be blocked.
For amendment of the charter, a bigger quota, perhaps half of the permanent members should be the requirement for approval of an amendment. These will improve chances of the U.N responding to security threatening situations, even if some permanent members are interested.
Completely excluding interested permanent members from using the veto in matters that interest them may not be a good option. The P5 are likely to oppose such proposal from the onset. Diverse representation too will kill the UNSC’s occasional reluctance as concerned continents are more likely to champion their own causes passionately. Overall, resource contribution to the U.N will increase.
HOW TO DO IT
The General Assembly has been debating UNSC reform since 1993 to no avail and the non-permanent UNSC members can only present security related matters for debate. Though the Secretary-general can only implement resolutions, his neutral position gives him creative potentials that are only limited by his will. Dag Hammerskjold, second Secretary-General said: “The U.N is what member nations made it, but within the limits set by government action and government cooperation, much depends on what the secretariat makes it…it has creative capacity.”
The Secretary-General first has to come up with the expansion and veto limitation plan. He should not propose it but rather, act it within legal limits- too many proposals from the secretariat have been cast aside. He has to influence the P5 by first wielding control over the General assembly so a majority of the house will readily agree to his proposal and the rest will only need a debate to be convinced. Then, he should secure support of global leaders and international pressure groups. He also needs to find an alternative way to make the UN financially autonomous.
These combined should make the P5 feel dispensable. When they feel vulnerable, a plan that lessens their powers just a bit will not appear to do them harm. Negotiation should come in afterwards.
UNSC reform is indeed difficult and the secretariat, the only body positioned to reform it is almost impossible to wield. Change can happen though, if there is sacrifice and the plan has satisfactory ends each UN member can hold on to. The plan should be balanced- limiting but sustaining the P5’s power appreciably while creating a globalized representation for other nations.
Usamah Adenowo is a resident of Ojo, Nigeria