Reform the UNSC

Reform the UNSC

For democratic order and peace

Due to its world-wide under-representation, and the hegemony of five nations, the UNSC’s centralised decision-making process remains uncertain and risky. (Reuters File Photo)

The Fragile States Index of 2018 notes “that there are signs of continued instability and potential conflict in many parts of the world, including the stable, developed, and prosperous nations”. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2017 captured data for the functioning of democracy and its legitimacy in 165 countries and two territories. The average global score of the index was 5.52 (measured on a scale of 0 to 10; 0 is the lowest and 10 is the highest) in 2016, which declined in 2017 to 5.48. This raises the question: Why is there a decline in democracy and peace globally? Why has the world become increasingly violent, as depicted by the Global Peace Index report of 2016, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP)?

It is necessary to explore the declining patterns of democracy that produce socio-political instabilities even in the developed nations. Interestingly, its roots are traceable in the centralized policies of the governing framework of global institutions such as the United Nations and its allied bodies. Let’s explore the dynamics and intricacies of the changing geopolitical scenario since World War II with specific reference to the UN Security Council (UNSC). Due to its world-wide under-representation, and the hegemony of five nations, the UNSC’s centralised decision-making process remains uncertain and risky.

The main problem with the current system is the capturing of governing capacity of international security relations by the elite class of countries. The elite decision-making structure does not suit the current global security needs. The failure to reform the UNSC is rankling many nations and causing dissatisfaction about this institution. The imbalances in power relationships among the five permanent members of the UNSC (P5) and the rest of the world needs to be corrected urgently. This is necessary to make the UNSC more democratic and give it greater legitimacy to govern, ensuring that the principles of international peace, security and order are respected universally.

The absence in the UNSC of the globally important countries – India, Germany, Brazil and South Africa -- is a matter of concern. The UNSC in its current form has become a constraint in understanding the international changes and dynamics in the area of human security and peace. The current needs of global governance for world peace and security are quite different and demand significant reforms in the UNSC’s governance mechanisms.

Germany and India have been strongly pushing the agenda of structural reforms of UNSC by mobilising like-minded nations. The argument is that in its present structure, the UNSC has been unable to meet and respond effectively to the challenges of international conflict and security, as can be seen in the case of the Rohingya and Syrian refugee crises. India, jointly with Brazil, Japan and Germany, demanded the immediate expansion of membership of the UNSC in both permanent and non-permanent categories. It also spearheads the 42 developing nations, from Africa, Asia and Latin American regions, pushing for urgent UNSC reforms. This is necessary as the geopolitical scenario of the world has shifted from the West to the East, more particularly to the Asian region since the beginning of the 21st century.

Being the sixth largest economy in the World, India’s demand for a permanent seat in the UNSC is objective and rational. India took active part in the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1947-48 and raised its voice passionately against racial discrimination in South Africa. India has played its part in formulating decisions on issues such as admitting former colonies to the UN, addressing deadly conflicts in the Middle East and maintaining peace in Africa. It has contributed extensively to the UN, particularly for the maintenance of international peace and security. To mention a few, so far, India has taken part in 43 Peacekeeping missions with a total contribution exceeding 160,000 troops and a significant number of police personnel. As of August 2017, India is the third largest troop contributor, with 7,860 personnel deployed with 10 UN Peacekeeping Missions. Way back in 1977, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said, “India is convinced of the necessity of supporting, strengthening and developing the United Nations as a universal organization, not only for preserving peace among nation-states and promoting respect for human rights, but also for fostering economic cooperation and harmonizing the actions of States. This is clearly a vital task facing the international community.”

India has argued that in its current form, the UNSC does not reflect “contemporary global realities.” The way India responded during the Arab Uprisings was significant in constraining military action to contain the socio-political instability. UNSC reforms have broader implications for enhancing the international legitimacy of the body through democratic governance reforms. The existing gaps in terms of the under-representation of globally important countries, especially from Africa, Asia and Latin American regions, and inclusion of voices of emerging economies, is crippling the UNSC as a global institution governing international peace and security.

Equitable representation

Equitable representation of all the regions in the UNSC is critical to decentralizing its governing power and authority over nations. This transformation will enable equal chance for nations of all the regions to raise their concerns impacting peace and democratic stability in their respective countries. The decentralization of the UNSC’s decision-making processes and other structural reforms are of vital importance because this alone will enable its transformation to a more representative, participatory body in addressing the challenges of global security, more so by promoting international peace and order through the deepening of democracy in the UNSC itself.

(The writer is PhD Fellow, Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru)