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|Posted Monday, March 17, 2003|
If the U.N. Were Being Created Today ...
Diplomats and Scholars Give Their Ideas for a Unified Organization That Everyone Might Listen To
The threat of war between the United States and Iraq has deeply shaken the United Nations. Although feverish diplomacy is still continuing, it looks increasingly doubtful that the 15-member Security Council will endorse a resolution authorizing war. President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and Prime Minister José María Aznar of Spain will meet tomorrow to try to devise a proposal to win United Nations support. But the Bush administration has already made clear that it is only continuing diplomatic efforts at the request of Britain and Spain, and that it will go ahead with a military campaign with or without the permission of the United Nations.
With many people questioning the continuing relevance of the organization, Arts & Ideas asked scholars and diplomats: if the United Nations were being created today, what would you want done differently? Patricia Cohen compiled the responses.
|Keeping the Peace|
There are two issues that need rethinking if the United Nations is to remain a relevant international player in the coming decades. One is the veto of the Permanent Five in the Security Council; the second is peacekeeping.
First, the Security Council is still hostage to institutional arrangements most clearly the veto that no longer dovetail with the existing international conditions or the real distribution of power. Clearly, the Permanent Members will not give up their veto power voluntarily, and the United Nations Charter allows them to block any proposal that the veto be removed. Regardless of the debate on the expansion of the permanent members to include new powers (Japan, Germany or the European Union) and a fairer regional distribution (India, Mexico or Brazil, South Africa), the question thus becomes whether they can willingly agree to a more constructive interpretation of the veto's nature and the uses to which it can legitimately be put. Permanent membership in the Security Council and its associated veto power is a privilege, not a right.
Second, a new vision of peacekeeping is required, one that fully embodies regional solutions to regional problems by regional organizations. This approach has proved its merits in confronting ethnic and religious violence in East Timor (where Australia led an Asean peacekeeping and nation-building operation) and in the continuing European peacekeeping presence in Kosovo. Ironically, much of this "new" vision of peacekeeping is provided for in the United Nations Charter (in the long-ignored Chapter 8). This approach would align national interest with humanitarian or peacekeeping interventions and strengthen the Security Council's legitimacy, in cases of humanitarian horrors, as the sole arbiter of armed interventions. JORGE G. CASTAÑEDA
Mr. Castañeda is the former foreign minister of Mexico.
|Change of Pace|
I'll start with one thing I would not change: the preamble. Beginning with the immortal words "We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war," the preamble is a magnificent testament to the soaring aspirations of the United Nations' founders. The charter's Chapter 1, "Purposes and Principles," also stands up very well nearly 58 years later.
But the one fix I would make is in Chapter 18, "Amendments." The charter is too hard to change: amendments require a vote of two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly, plus ratification by the legislatures of two-thirds of the members (which would mean a staggering 128 parliaments today), including all the five permanent members of the Security Council.
This is virtually impossible to achieve, which is why the charter still carries the baggage of outdated language (the clauses referring to "enemy states," for instance, which were meant to apply to the Axis powers defeated by the "United Nations" in World War II); moribund institutions (like the Trusteeship Council, which continues as one of the United Nations' "principal organs," even though there are practically no trust territories left after decades of decolonization); unimplemented provisions (like the articles in Chapter VII calling for states to conclude agreements with the United Nations to provide land, sea and air forces on call to enforce the peace); and bodies that never fulfilled their original purpose (like the military staff committee created in Article 47 to provide "strategic direction" to the Security Council's nonexistent armed forces).
And I haven't even mentioned Security Council reform.
A simpler amendment procedure would have made the charter more of a living document, responsive to the changes in the United Nations itself and in the international community it seeks to reflect and shape. SHASHI THAROOR
Mr. Tharoor is the Under Secretary General for Communications and Public Information at the United Nations. These are his personal views.
|An Island of Its Own|
If the present United Nations charter of 1945 were perfectly respected by all, the result would not be so bad. But let us dream about some ideas to improve its structure and behavior in order to obtain a viable and more credible United Nations:
Mr. Lewin, a former French ambassador to India and Austria and a former spokesman for the United Nations secretary general, is currently chairman of the French United Nations Association.
|Veto the Veto|
To reflect the 21st-century realities and to improve this world body's effectiveness, two things are needed at the United Nations: reforming the Security Council's composition and abolishing the right of veto.
Permanent Security Council membership must be expanded from five people to seven. The United States, China and Russia should stay; British and French seats must be combined into one, and given to the European Union (which will greatly stimulate its foreign and security policy integration); Japan, India and Brazil should be welcome to join as new permanent members. The eight elected seats would be filled on a regional quota basis: three for Africa, two for Asia, two for North and South America and Oceania, and one for European countries outside of the European Union.
The veto right should be abolished. In the current and likely future absence of a major conflict among the leading powers, the veto is no longer needed to protect their supreme national interests. The most important Security Council decisions regarding the use of force would require a qualified majority of votes, but no nation would be able to block it.
Even a reformed United Nations, however, will remain a world forum, not a world government. It will not diminish the obvious primacy of the United States. It is time the United States, a prime creator of the United Nations and other international institutions, organized a new global concert involving all the major powers to take care of the challenges and threats to all. The only system that can work should be based on a leadership provided by the United States and the legitimacy furnished by the United Nations. DMITRI V. TRENIN
Mr. Trenin is the deputy director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and a former officer in the Soviet and Russian armed forces.
A capacity to collect, analyze and publicize critical information about international conflicts has been lacking at the United Nations since its inception. Such information, neutrally acquired and channeled, might often have helped limit sterile debates about "the facts." What I have in mind is something akin to the Congressional Budget Office in Washington, useful to and respected by most policy actors at any given time.
The need for more high-quality analysis of conflict-relevant information was raised by Lakhdar Brahimi (now the United Nations special representative in Afghanistan) regarding peacekeeping reform, but member states shot it down because they did not want inconvenient information on their individual countries highlighted for the Security Council and more broadly. Members like to keep the Secretariat as subservient as decently possible. This is a shame, particularly with a secretary general as professional and rightly admired as Kofi Annan.
As it is, the United Nations community relies on the media, some reports from United Nations field staff (since everything leaks at the United Nations, they should probably not even be filing these reports, given potential retribution from affected states), intelligence provided by members (sometimes manipulated and unreliable) and advice from international nongovernmental organizations and local nonprofit groups. A good new initiative, the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum, under the umbrella of the Social Sciences Research Council, aims to make available to the United Nations the very best academic expertise from all over the world on urgent security challenges.
But this is not good enough. The United Nations needs to have authoritative analysis generated internally and available to its decision-making bodies and to Mr. Annan's staff. Disagreements among countries would continue (as on the findings of United Nations inspectors in Iraq), but they would be better informed, and we might get better decisions out of the Security Council and other prominent United Nations bodies. DAVID MALONE
Mr. Malone, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, is president of the International Peace Academy.
The United Nations is indispensable, though by and large outdated and ineffective. Created to stop wars between states, it is ill prepared to address such internal policies of its own members as ethnic cleansing (Milosevic's Yugoslavia), nurturing and arming terrorism (the Taliban's Afghanistan) or the strivings of a dictator to acquire weapons of mass destruction (Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or Kim Jong Il's North Korea).
The task of promoting democracy in the nations, chasing terrorists across the borders, not to speak of regime change as a last resort to stop a fire-breathing dictator, is hard to trace in the charter. Yet these seem to be exactly what is required if we think of nations really united to keep peace in the present century.
The window of opportunity to reinvent the United Nations as a new coalition of freedom-loving and action-oriented states, that was open by democratic revolution in Russia in the early 1990's, has been largely missed. Russia was too weak to lead the way and met with spectacular shortsightedness in the United States and the West.
Looking at the present Security Council, I just imagine how many vetoes would've been cast if someone had proposed to take an action against the Taliban on Sept. 8, 2001! Much more than threats to use the veto in the Security Council or "go it alone no matter what others think" is required from world leaders and diplomats if the opportunity is not to be missed again. ANDREI KOZYREV
Mr. Kozyrev was the Russian foreign minister under President Boris Yeltsin.
If we had to reinvent the United Nations charter today, we would certainly come up with something worse. The same could be said of the United States Constitution. That is reason to move cautiously in the direction of change.
Both instruments were products of a brief moment when, after intense wartime suffering, communities sought a better future by pooling some of their sovereignty in a grander union. Such creative moments cannot easily be replicated.
Still, creative moments do tend to create freeze frames. In both instances, the pooling of sovereignty required some political deals that, when locked into the foundational instrument, increasingly became anomalous.
While some inequalities may at one time have been necessary compromises, their effect has subsequently been vastly distorted by changing circumstances, including alterations in relative population size, power and affluence.
In the United Nations, the distortion is now so great as to be destructive of its institutional legitimacy. Five countries (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) have permanent seats on the Security Council and can veto any substantive decisions.
Meanwhile, countries like India, Brazil, Nigeria, Japan and Germany are excluded from this circle of five that holds most of the cards. How could this be mitigated?
Inequalities and privileges can be defended, but only by reference to a legitimate principle. For example, the charter could justify the allocation of exceptional political power to the 5 (or 9 or 12) states that had voluntarily assumed the greatest share of the United Nations' burdens: by their contributions of budgetary support, development assistance, peacekeeping personnel, etc. These could be recalculated every 5 (or 10, or 15) years.
Exceptional responsibilities may warrant exceptional power. Unfortunately, the power distribution locked into the Charter in 1945 reflects only history, while defying contemporary realities. We should not destroy or reinvent the United Nations, but rather strive to shore up incrementally the legitimacy of its most important organ. THOMAS M. FRANCK
Mr. Franck is professor emeritus at New York University School of Law.
The United Nations is a crucible of complexity, best defined by the paradoxes that surround its identity. It is both an antique, run by the victors of World War II, and a receptacle of hopes for the future. Statesmen deposit their global visions in the United Nations. It is both a sunrise organization, providing the only village council for our shrinking global village, and a sunset organization, based on the strange principle that nation-states pursuing national interests will somehow take care of our global commons. There are no quick fixes. The problems are not structural. They are political.
The organization can survive and thrive if its members carefully manage one critical paradox: balancing principle against power. In theory, the United Nations should promote charter principles. In practice, it cannot ignore geopolitics. It needs the commitment of major powers, especially the sole superpower. Though it is the most benign power in history, the United States has, often unwittingly, done much damage to the United Nations. Yet with its enormous global interests, especially post 9/11, no country would benefit more from a norm-driven world than the United States.
The General Assembly can both create and sustain global norms. But this assembly is now moribund. Imagine an assembly led, rather than ignored, by the United States. Imagine the United States promoting the principles of good government and rule of law through the assembly. This would change the current negative chemistry of the world. The United Nations can serve some strategic interests of the United States. What the organization needs in return is leadership, not reform. Only the United States can provide it. KISHORE MAHBUBANI
Mr. Mahbubani is Singapore's ambassador to the United Nations and the author of "Can Asians Think?
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, Arts & Ideas, of March 15, 2003.
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