Five ‘superpowers’ have too much power in UN
Published: Sunday, October 2, 2011
Updated: Sunday, October 2, 2011 23:10
In 1945, the international community recognized the need to find a stable and effective supranational body to maintain peace. The League of Nations, the world's first attempt at such an organization in 1919, failed to prevent World War II, in which more than 60 million people were killed and liberal democracy was nearly extinguished in Europe.
The solution was the United Nations, in which the strongest body, the U.N. Security Council, would consist of the five victors of the war: the United States, China, Britain, France and the Soviet Union. Ten other countries elected by the General Assembly would sit on the Security Council for two-year terms, but these five permanent members essentially held a monopoly on decision-making.
With the advent of the Cold War, these permanent members were firmly entrenched, making it clear where power truly resided. The security council, however, often violated the international rules it was meant to enforce.
According to the U.N. Charter, the role of the Security Council is to investigate circumstances that may threaten world peace, advise on how these situations can be resolved through peaceful means, utilize military power if necessary and above all, to maintain peace and cooperation among the international community.
While there was never direct war between the Cold War superpowers, the security council, particularly the U.S. and Soviet Union, shirked its responsibility to maintain security. Security does not consist of fixing the missile gap by parking ballistic missiles ninety miles from Florida or pitting Arab coalitions and Israel against each other. It is not the U.S. squashing a nationalist unification in Vietnam or the Soviets invading Afghanistan to support a corrupt regime.
This situation is not much improved since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. One would think with the Cold War battleground no more, the Security Council can now get down to business and actually enforce international regulations. But this Wilsonian dream is as much of a farce now as it was in 1919.
It takes one veto, just one, from a permanent member to vote down resolutions in the council. This would be illogical in an ideal world, where the most responsible nations at the highest level actually cooperated with each other. In the realist international order that exists today, where national interests are paramount, having the single veto policy is utter stupidity.
People often wonder, why did those that matter at the U.N. (the Security Council) not choose to intervene in Darfur? There are two reasons: one, because U.N. military personnel have little real power, and two, because China, which has business dealings with Khartoum, threatened to veto any resolution regarding condemnation of the genocide.
Recently, the U.S. is threatening to veto any attempt by the Palestinians to seek statehood from the U.N. Security Council, which may inflame the conflict even further and push Palestinians closer to Hamas, the radical Islamist movement that seeks Israel's destruction. This lack of responsibility and foresight is stunning.
It is clear that the legitimacy attributed to the five permanent members of the Security Council was never warranted. It is also evident that the size of a country's economy and military dictate the terms of U.N. policy, as well as the size of its nuclear arsenal (every permanent member is part of the nuclear club).
Although reforming such an important decision-making body would difficult, there are certain rules that can be altered or abolished to ensure more international justice.
The one-veto policy should be eliminated. A majority of vetoes from all members of the organization, not just the permanent members, should be needed to vote down policy. This would more evenly distribute the decision-making power amongst the 15-member council.
Additionally, permanent membership in the Security Council must also increase in number. By retaining only the five victors of World War II, the Security Council has failed to adapt to a changing international environment. This is inexcusable given its role as mediator of international disputes.
A new permanent member should be added every ten years, voted in by the General Assembly, not the Security Council. Some possible new members include Germany, India and Japan, among others.
Unless changes are made to this decision-making body that wields so much power, we will see the recognition of small states diminish. If the world community truly wants to control a world governed by realpolitik, it must ensure reforms at the highest level of international cooperation.