It’s time for a new world body to replace the UN
In 1992, India and the Non-Aligned Movement proposed to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) a discussion on expanding the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The number of member states of the world organization had, especially after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, almost quadrupled compared to the 51 founding members (including India) which had created the UN in 1945. But the number of non-permanent members in the UNSC only increased once – in 1965, following decolonization in Africa and Asia – from 11 to 15 members.
The UNGA decided to add to its agenda the “question of equitable representation and increase in the number of members of the Security Council”, and a year later, with another resolution, created a ” open-ended working group. However, in the 30 years that followed, all attempts to reform the UNSC failed, and not only because the permanent members (P-5) showed no desire, but also because the world community was divided between two models, one based on six more permanent members (including India) and the second based on longer term renewable membership.
Another problem with the UNSC, besides its outdated composition, is the power of veto, which continues to block crucial decision-making when mass atrocities occur. In Syria, a quarter of a million people died and 12 million (half of Syria’s population) were displaced because Russian and Chinese vetoes prevented any meaningful action to stop the atrocities and hold Bashar al-Assad accountable. The Chinese veto helped Myanmar’s military to engage in genocidal policies against the Rohingya minority, and the Sudanese government to massacre people in Darfur. Attempts to address Israeli atrocities in Gaza have been vetoed by the United States. Most notoriously, direct acts of aggression by the P-5 – the United States and Britain in Iraq in 2003; Russia in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014 – faced obvious paralysis by veto.
Over the past two months, several General Assembly resolutions have condemned Russian aggression, suspended Russia from membership in the Human Rights Council, demanded that a vetoing P-5 member explain their veto during extraordinary sessions of the GA. These are welcome, but they have not produced a strong deterrent effect. Russia continued to massacre civilians. It seems impossible to eliminate the right of veto in the current UN Charter, where all changes must be ratified by each of the P-5. Moreover, a new Cold War and the deep global division are expected to last for years, if not decades.
Two possible scenarios arise from this: (1) live with the current Security Council, unable to prevent or stop the next atrocity; (2) create a new organization where a responsible majority of states maintains and restores peace and security without being blocked by a veto. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has offered the second, but the response so far has been silence. The fundamental question remains: how many disasters, like those in Syria, Ukraine, Myanmar and elsewhere, do we have to witness before we make more radical and necessary change?
Several arguments have been advanced against the creation of a new world organization.
First, that the current UN is still doing a good job on everything else except peace and security. True, but why do we assume that the new UN will not do the same, or even better? Clearly, much of the capacity, experience, best practices and human resources will shift from the current UN to the new one. Willing governments can certainly continue their multilateral efforts within the new organization.
Second, that the new UN will not be inclusive, as China, Russia and a few others will remain on the outside. Yes, but the current UN was also far from inclusive until 1955. The new UN will be open to everyone, including Russia and China: they are welcome to join, accept the new realities and take advantage of all opportunities in the new UN.
Third, what if China and Russia created a separate body and shared the world? Possible, even if the world is already divided, and it will not be anything dramatic if Russia, China and a few others meet elsewhere every year, separately. Imagine, over 160 countries around the world are coming together and working in the new UN, pushing 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 leave with the rest of the world. Let’s see if China first and Russia (under a different leader) later decides not to stay isolated and join the new UN and take advantage of all the multilateral opportunities there.
Countries, such as India, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Nigeria, whose applications for permanent membership in the UN Security Council have been repeatedly rejected over the past 30 years, can lead the process. France and Britain, which have never used the veto since 1975 and 1989 respectively, can also defend the new world body.
(The author is executive
Director, Center for the Study of the United Nations, OP Jindal Global University, Haryana)