In 1992, India and the Non-Aligned Movement proposed to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) a discussion on expanding the UN Security Council (UNSC). The member-states in the world organisation had, especially after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, almost quadrupled from the 51 founding members (India among them) that created the UN in 1945. But the number of non-permanent members in the UNSC increased only once -- in 1965, following the de-colonisation in Africa and Asia -- from 11 to 15 members.
The UNGA decided to add to its agenda the “Question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council”, and a year later, with another resolution, established an ‘Open Ended Working Group’. However, in the 30 years since then, all attempts to reform the UNSC have failed, and not only because the permanent members (P-5) showed zero desire but also because the world community has been divided between two models, one based on six more permanent members (including India) and the second based on a longer-serving renewable membership.
Another problem with the UNSC, apart from its obsolete composition, is the right of veto, which continues to block crucial decision-making when mass atrocities occur. In Syria, a quarter of a million died and 12 million (half the Syrian population) were displaced because the Russian and Chinese vetoes prevented any meaningful action to stop atrocities and make Bashar al-Assad accountable. The Chinese veto helped the military in Myanmar to engage in genocidal policies against the Rohingya minority, and the Sudanese government to massacre people in Darfur. The attempts to address Israeli atrocities in Gaza were vetoed by the US. Most notoriously, direct acts of aggression by the P-5 – the US and Britain in Iraq in 2003; Russia in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014 -- faced the obvious paralysis by veto.
In the last two months, several General Assembly resolutions condemned the Russian aggression, suspended Russia from membership in the Human Rights Council, demanded a vetoing P-5 member to explain its veto in GA Special Sessions. These are welcome, but they did not produce a strong deterring effect. Russia continued to massacre civilians. It seems impossible to eliminate the veto within the current UN Charter, where all changes need ratification by each of the P-5. Moreover, a new Cold War and the deep global division is expected to last for years, if not decades.
Two possible scenarios follow from this: (1) live with the current Security Council, unable to prevent or stop the next atrocity; (2) create a new organisation where a responsible majority of states maintains and restores peace and security without being blocked by a veto. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed the second, but the response so far has been silence. The fundamental question still remains: How many catastrophes, like those in Syria, Ukraine, Myanmar and elsewhere, do we need to witness before we make a more radical and needed change?
Several arguments have been voiced against creating a new global organisation.
First, that the current UN still does good work on everything else apart from peace and security. True, but why do we assume that the new UN will not do the same, or even better? Clearly, a lot of capacity, experience, best practices and human resources will move from the current to the new UN. Willing governments can certainly continue their multilateral efforts within the new organisation.
Second, that the new UN will not be all-inclusive, as China, Russia and a few others would remain outside. True, but the current UN was also far from inclusive until 1955. The new UN will be open for all, including Russia and China: they are most welcome to join, accept the new realities, and enjoy all opportunities in the new UN.
Third, what if China and Russia create a separate body and divide the world? Possible, though the world is already divided, and it won’t be anything dramatic if Russia, China and a few others meet somewhere else annually, separately. Imagine, 160+ countries in the world gathering together and working in the new UN, moving the agenda forward, while being open to the remaining 30+ to decide when to join. The choice for these 30+ will be either to remain dependent on Russia and China, or to go with the rest of the world. Let’s try and see if China, first, and Russia (under a different leader) later, decide not to stay isolated and join the new UN and benefit from all multilateral opportunities there.
Countries, like India, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Nigeria whose claim to UNSC permanent membership have been brushed aside repeatedly over the last 30 years, can lead the process. France and Britain, who have never used the veto anyway since 1975 and 1989, respectively, can also champion the new world body.
(The writer is Executive
Director, Centre for the Study of United Nations, O P Jindal Global University, Haryana)