“Despite all criticism, the UN remains the world’s premier supranational forum. As such, it may be the best hope for tackling global issues,” suggested the Carnegie Council in 2006. Four years later, these words are still true, but it’s becoming increasingly common to hear the UN described as “weak” and “irrelevant”. However, considering the antiquated balance of power in the organization, do countries have an incentive to engage more fully in the UN system?
In an interview with Turtle Bay, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the new assertiveness of emerging powers like Turkey and Brazil “should not be seen as a new game” aimed at altering the balance of power at the United Nations. I appreciate the sentiment, Mr Davutoglu (after all, who wants to piss off the P5?), but perhaps it is time to consider that the balance of power at the UN really should be altered.
When it comes to Security Council reform, there are two conversations that can take place: what should happen, or what can happen. Should the system reflect the world as it was immediately following World War II? No. Should five countries hold permanent seats? No. Should those same five `countries have the ability to use the veto power to enhance their political sway? No. Should a veto power even exist? I don’t think so. In the words of Kevin Rudd, Australia’s minister of foreign affairs, “The international community can no longer tolerate the actions of a few dissenting states to roadblock the common resolve of the many…If we fail to make the UN work, to make its institutions relevant to the great challenges we all now face, the uncomfortable fact is that the UN will become a hollow shell.”
Could it be that the reluctance of the P5 to surrender any of their power is actually good for the UN’s image? If the UN were truly an irrelevant and stagnant body, powerful states wouldn’t care so much about their standings as members. By holding on so tightly to veto power, the P5 is admitting that the UN is actually a organization capable of big things.
Let’s face it – the veto power and permanent members of the Security Council aren’t going anywhere, but this doesn’t have to be an all or nothing game. India, Brazil, Japan, and Germany are all seeking a permanent seat on the council, and US Under-Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns stated, “For countries like India and for other countries, we need very much to consider how their increasing role in global affairs is matched by the responsibilities that they can discharge in the most important parts of the international architecture.” We also need to consider the role of the aforementioned countries in the UN itself – Japan and Germany are, respectively, the second and third largest UN funders, and Brazil and India are two of the largest contributors to UN-mandated peacekeeping missions. Similarly, Africa, which has more UN members than every other continent, doesn’t include a state that’s a permanent member. Already, the US, France, and the UK have issued formal statements that support Council reform and expansion.
As said by Turkish President Abdullah Gul to the General Assembly last week, “”We should keep in mind that global problems cannot be solved unilaterally, bilaterally or in small circles of like-minded nations.”