The UN has not stopped conflicts and crises so it is time to change it
Botswana plus 192 other nations attended the biggest réunion diplomatique of the year in New York last week. Even the most casual observer could not fail to see that the world of diplomacy is still dominated by the diplomatic protocols of the Old World. The 78th annual meeting to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) means that the UN has been around for 78 years.
The United Nations (UN) was founded in 1945 with the aim of promoting international cooperation and maintaining global peace and security. Central to its mission is the UN Security Council (UNSC), which is the principal UN organ, is vested with immense authority. However, the composition and structure of the UNSC have remained largely unchanged since its inception, despite a vastly different world order. This feature argues that reform of the UNSC is long overdue, necessitated by shifting power dynamics, enhanced global interconnectivity, increased demands for representation, and the imperative for more effective decision-making.
Shifting power dynamics
The UN has not adjusted to shifting power dynamics. The geopolitical landscape has undergone substantial transformations since the establishment of the UN. The world has witnessed the emergence of new global powers and regional influencers. The current UNSC structure does not accurately represent the contemporary distribution of power, rendering it obsolete and inadequate for addressing present-day challenges. Countries like Brazil, India, Germany, Japan, and South Africa—among others—have demonstrated their capabilities and potential contributions to global peace and security, warranting their inclusion as permanent members. The UN has not adjusted to enhanced global interconnectivity. The advent of the digital age and globalization has brought nations closer, intertwining their destinies in intricate ways. Issues such as climate change, terrorism, and pandemics transcend national borders, demanding collective and coordinated efforts. The current UNSC is designed for a world more isolated than interconnected, hampers the ability of the UN to effectively address such interconnected challenges.
Today’s interdependent reality
A reformed UNSC that reflects today’s interdependent reality would ensure better international cooperation and collective action. The present composition of the UNSC, established in a bygone era, lacks inclusivity and representation, perpetuating an unjust distribution of power. Africa, with its diverse nations and complex challenges, is notably underrepresented, undermining the credibility and legitimacy of the Council’s decisions. Reforming the UNSC to include permanent seats for African nations, among others, would enhance its legitimacy and foster a sense of fairness and representation in the global decision-making process. Effective Decision-Making The effectiveness and efficiency of the UNSC are vital for the successful resolution of conflicts and crises. However, the current structure, characterized by the veto power of permanent members, often leads to paralysis and inaction.
Proactive decision making
A reformed Council should aim to mitigate this issue, promoting more proactive decision-making and fostering a consensus-driven approach. The inclusion of new members with fresh perspectives can stimulate innovative approaches to addressing global challenges. The need for reform within the UNSC is a pressing and imperative matter. The world has evolved significantly since the Council’s inception, and as such, its structure and composition must evolve too. Embracing these changes will ensure the Council is equipped to address the challenges of our contemporary interconnected world, promoting global peace and security effectively. A reformed UNSC is not just a demand for equity and representation; it is a necessity for a better, more cooperative, and harmonious global future.
Conflicts and crises
Since its establishment in 1945, the UNSC has encountered numerous conflicts and crises around the globe. However, the effectiveness of the UNSC, particularly in resolving conflicts involving its permanent members, has been marred by their veto power, rendering the Council ineffectual in numerous instances. Since Feb. 16, 1946, when the Union of Soviet Social Republics (USSR) cast the first veto, it’s been used close to 300 times by members of the permanent five, most frequently by Russia (120 times) and the U.S. (82 times), according to data from the Dag Hammarskjöld Library.
What the UN Charter says about the Veto …
Art 27 1. Each member of the Security Council shall have one vote. 2. Decisions of the Security Council on procedural matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members. 3. Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.” Security Council report.
The efficacy of UNSC resolutions lies not only in their adoption but also in compliance and subsequent implementation by the member states. Compliance with UNSC resolutions is crucial for upholding international law, maintaining peace, and resolving conflicts. As of 2 August 2023, the Security Council has passed 2694 resolutions. Data collected by the Uppsala University in Sweden identifies 285 distinct armed conflicts having taken place since 1946. The typical number of conflicts ongoing each year is between 30 and 50 or one in six UN members. Armed conflicts being divided into three categories: “state-based”, “non-state”, and “one-sided” conflicts. But even if the UNSC could be more effective in decision-making, compliance is another obstacle. UNSC resolution compliance varies based on the context, the nature of the resolution, and the willingness of states to adhere to the decisions made. The willingness of states to comply with UNSC resolutions depends on their political interests, alliances, and domestic considerations. States may prioritize their national interest over international obligations. Resolutions lacking enforcement mechanisms may face challenges in achieving compliance. Stronger resolutions with clear enforcement measures are more likely to be effective. The regional dynamics and involvement of neighboring states can influence compliance. Conflicts and power struggles in a particular region may obstruct or facilitate compliance. International pressure, sanctions, or diplomatic efforts can encourage compliance. Economic sanctions or diplomatic isolation can prompt states to adhere to resolutions to avoid further consequences.
Scenarios for Reform
The UNSC therefore fails principally at two levels, failure to reach agreement on important security issues and, even if resolutions are agreed, a failure to implement them. The Gazette suggests four reform scenarios;
Scenario 1-Removing Veto Power from Warring Permanent Members.
The pros are that it mitigates the potential misuse of the veto in conflicts involving permanent members. Encourages more cooperative and impartial decision-making within the UNSC. Avoids gridlock and facilitates faster action on pressing global issues. The down side is that consensus may be challenging to achieve. Scenario 1 will face resistance from powerful nations reluctant to relinquish their veto rights. Raises concerns regarding the equality of member states’ influence within the UNSC.
Scenario 2 -Referring Vetoed Items to the UNGA.
The advantages of scenario 2 are that they ensure that vetoed items are still addressed within the UN system. Expands the decision-making platform to a larger body for more inclusive discussions. Encourages transparency and inclusivity by involving a broader representation of member states. The down side is that UNGA may not have the same authority and ability to enforce decisions as the UNSC. It may lead to delays and bureaucratic challenges due to the larger membership of the UNGA and it could dilute the UNSC’s role as the primary body responsible for global peace and security.
Scenario 3-Adding More National Members.
The positives of this scenario are that it enhances representation and diversity of perspectives in the UNSC, incorporates a broader range of experiences and expertise from different regions, fosters a sense of inclusivity and encourages cooperative decision-making. Contrarily, it could make the UNSC larger and potentially less efficient in decision-making, risk increased bureaucracy and administrative challenges with a larger membership while increase the challenges in selecting and balancing the addition of new national members without favouritism.
Scenario 4-UNSC Based on representation of Regional Blocs.
This scenario reflects the geopolitical realities of the world and promotes the widest collective representation. It also brings in expertise and regional insights to address issues specific to respective regions. Fosters cooperation and collaboration among nations with shared regional interests. The down-side may elevate regional interests above global interests, potentially hindering international peace efforts. Could lead to dominance by powerful regional players within the UNSC. The complexity of selecting and managing rotating representatives from these blocs.
It could be argued that the concept of a united nations, being based on nationhood, is itself the problem for promoting unilateralism. A further complication may arise from the funding of the UN where most of its funding emanates from a few rich countries, some of which are UNSC permanent members. It is noteworthy that almost all UN infrastructure is in the Global North and almost none is the Global South.
In conclusion, each reform option presents its own set of advantages and challenges. Combining aspects of these options might provide a balanced approach to reforming the UNSC, ensuring increased representation, efficient decision-making, and a stronger focus on global peace and security. Ultimately, achieving consensus among the UN membership for meaningful reforms remains the primary challenge. The efficacy of UNSC relies on a complex interplay of factors, including political will, regional dynamics, and enforcement mechanisms. Successful compliance can lead to resolution of conflicts and maintenance of peace, while non-compliance underscores the need for stronger enforcement and global cooperation to ensure adherence to international law and agreements.
Botswana who sees itself as fully supporting the multilateral movement driven by a rules-based order under the UN Charter also advocated change in its address to the UNGA last week. It is a bastion of good governance and democracy in a continent where many nations seem to be pulling in the opposite direction. The nation could position itself to be more proactive in its support like hosting a United Nations Institution – such as the UNU – the United Nations University, which can provide the vital research needed to steer the worlds governance – and especially that of Africa to a more stable and peaceful future. There is plenty to do to secure peace in the world order for successive generations and Botswana with visionary leadership can do more.