A new world order: On UN reforms

The permanent members of the UNSC must support the reform process of the UN

Published - September 23, 2020 12:02 am IST

At a special session marking 75 years of the United Nations on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for reform of its “outdated structures” , pointing out that in the absence of comprehensive changes, the world body today faces a “crisis of confidence”. While the words appear harsh given the occasion, they can hardly be faulted. India has been at the forefront of demanding reform in the UN, particularly its principal organ, the Security Council, for decades, staking its claim as one of the world’s largest economies and most populous countries, with a track record in promoting a rules-based international order, and contributing to peacekeeping through UN forces. The UN was born in the crisis of the World War era, and the realities of that time can hardly be compared to the present. The UNSC’s permanent, veto-carrying members, chosen by virtue of being “winners” of World War II — the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia and later China — can hardly claim adequate representation of the world’s leadership today. The UNSC does not include a permanent member from the African, Australian and South American continents, and the pillars of the multilateral order, such as the G-4 group of Brazil, India, Germany and Japan, have been ignored for long. Other, more representative options exist, and that has been the crux of the battle for change. Also, there is a deep polarisation within the UN’s membership, so decisions are either not taken, or not heeded. Frequent divisions within the UNSC P-5 end up blocking key decisions. These issues are underlined in a year where the coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to a standstill; yet, the UN, the UNSC, and WHO have failed to play an effective role in helping nations deal with the spread.

For India, what has been most frustrating is that despite the dysfunctional power balance that prevails, the UN’s reform process, held through Inter Governmental Negotiations (IGN) has not made progress over decades, despite commitments. The UN has chosen to “rollover” the discussions of the IGN, which are looking at five major issues: enlarging the Security Council, categories of membership, the question of the veto that five Permanent members of the UNSC wield, regional representation, and redistributing the Security Council-General Assembly power balance. It is some comfort that the UN’s 75th anniversary declaration passed by all member countries this week pledges to “upgrade the United Nations” with a commitment to “instil new life in the discussions on the reform of the Security Council”. Those words can only be realised if the UNSC’s permanent members recognise the deep peril the UN faces and support the reform process, an act that will require looking beyond their own interests for the greater good of the world and its peace-building architecture.

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