Member states should pressurise the P5 to voluntarily suspend their veto during voting for the expansion of the UNSC.


LONDON: The UN Security Council (UNSC) is not fit for purpose. How many times over the past 73 years since it was established has the UNSC served only the policies of its five Permanent members, leaving other equally worthy nations frustrated? History is littered with examples of crucial decisions being vetoed or delayed at the whim of one of the five, usually to serve its self-interest. Only a few weeks ago, when innocent people in Syria’s eastern region of Damascus were being murdered by government aerial bombs, Russia delayed the approval of humanitarian aid being delivered. Last November, Russia cast its 10th veto, blocking UN action designed to extend the investigation of the use of chemical weapons by its ally Syria. The United States is not without blame. In December 2017, the US vetoed a draft resolution calling on countries to avoid establishing embassies in Jerusalem, thus enabling President Donald Trump to do exactly that. Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 UNSC resolutions critical of Israel. China prefers to abstain rather than veto, having used it only 11 times since assuming the seat from Taiwan in 1971, the first being in 1972 over Bangladesh’s admission to the UN. France uses its veto sparingly, the last occasion being in December 1989 concerning the US invasion of Panama. The United Kingdom has used its veto powers 32 times over the 73 years, the most recent being with France in 1989.

Of the 195 countries in the world, 193 are members of the UN. The remaining two countries, the Holy See and Palestine, have non-member observer status. So why do the Permanent Five (P5) have so much power over this large organisation? To answer this you have to go back to 1945 when the victors of World War II (WWII), the US, UK, the USSR, France and China (Taiwan) ratified the UN Charter, awarding themselves permanent membership of the Security Council with the unique ability to veto resolutions. An outrageous example of the power of the victor. From the outset a further six of the 51 members of the UN were allowed to sit at the table, but without any veto. This number was increased to 10 in 1965, with a specific allocation; five from Africa and Asia, one from Eastern Europe, two from Latin America and the Caribbean and two from Western Europe, with a rotation every two years. India has served on the UNSC seven times, the most recent being 2011-2012.

Few countries dispute the fact that there is a glaring mismatch between the current structure of the UNSC and global reality in the 21st century. This weakness has been recognised since the 1996 reform. It took a further 27 years before the incoming UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali started his quest for reform. At that time two countries, Japan and Germany, used their financial contributions to demand a permanent seat, soon to be followed by India and Brazil, forming an interest group known as the G4. India’s bid to become a permanent member is now backed by four of the five permanent members. The fifth, China, has endorsed Indian candidacy provided that India revokes its support for Japanese candidacy, such is the antipathy between those two countries. Currently, 87 countries openly support India’s candidacy, to which should be added the African Union as a whole.

The world has moved on since WWII and it is time to modernise the antiquated structure of the UNSC. But what should be the criterion? Should it be based on countries’ contributions to the UN budget? If so, Japan and Germany, the second and third largest contributors to the UN budget respectively should qualify. India scores relatively poorly in this category, contributing Rs 244 crore in 2015-16, and is the 24th largest contributor. Should it be based on population? Here the lead contestant is unquestionably India, soon to be the country with the world’s largest population. Should it be based on a countries’ GDP? Here India again scores well, being fifth in the world behind the US, EU, China and Japan, but in front of Brazil and Canada. Should it be based on the possession of nuclear weapons? If so India would join the P5 together with Pakistan, Israel and, problematically, North Korea!

The agonisingly slow pace of UNSC discussions started by Boutros-Ghali in 1992 has led some countries to believe that this is simply a ploy to kick the problem into the long grass and maintain the status quo. The rules require that at least two-thirds of UN member states must agree to any reform together with all members of the P5. Provided a reasonable geographical distribution of seats is proposed, it should not be difficult to obtain agreement of most of the member states. The problem will be with the P5 and their veto.

Here’s what should happen. Member states should pressurise the P5 to voluntarily suspend their veto during voting for the expansion of the UNSC. The UNSC should be expanded to 24, with 12 permanent members consisting of the current P5 plus the G4 and three more countries based on geography, population size, financial contribution to the UN, and GDP. This P12 should then be augmented by a further 12 countries on a rotational basis every two years, much as at present. Finally, the issue of any veto for the P12 should be critically examined as it cannot possibly be considered democratic in the modern world.

India, the world’s biggest democracy, is in the front of the queue for admission to the enlarged UNSC and Prime Minister Narendra Modi should press hard for this expansion. If he is successful, and there is every chance that he could be, India would assume its rightful place on the world stage and history will acclaim Modi as one of India’s all-time greatest.

John Dobson worked in UK Prime Minister John Major’s Office between 1995 and 1998 and is presently Chairman of the Plymouth University of the Third Age.

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