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“In Larger Freedom” I


According to the Report delivered last December by the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, any changes in the composition of the Security Council, the one organ with the “primary responsibility…for the maintenance of international peace and security,” must embody the following principles (Par. 249):

(a) They should, in honouring Article 23 of the Charter of the United Nations, increase the involvement in decision-making of those who contribute most to the United Nations financially, militarily and diplomatically —
specifically in terms of contributions to United Nations assessed budgets, participation in mandated peace operations, contributions to voluntary activities of the United Nations in the areas of security and development, and diplomatic activities in support of United Nations objectives and mandates…;
(b) They should bring into the decision-making process countries more representative of the broader membership, especially of the developing world;
(c) They should not impair the effectiveness of the Security Council;
(d) They should increase the democratic and accountable nature of the body.

The Panel’s Report then laid out two options: Model A and Model B. Although both models would increase the number of Security Council members from 15 to 24 (along with other changes—see pars. 251-258), neither model would alter the current veto system enjoyed by the old Permanent Five (Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States), rendering whatever changes are instituted on the basis of each model cosmetic at best. Like tossing a few bones to the “developing world.” The Panel’s recommendation that “under any reform proposal, there should be no expansion of the veto” (Par. 256) therefore rings hollow. The expansion of the veto was never the issue. But its contraction ought to have been. As in its elimination. Yet there is no hint that the Panel, whatever its deliberations in private might have countenanced, could have mentioned this topic among its options. There is no Model C.

And if you think I sound overly impressed about Model A and Model B, try this. Unable or unwilling to broach the topic of eliminating the veto from the parliamentary rules of the Council, the Panel proposed instead a “system of ‘indicative voting’,” which the Panel defines in such a way that the 24 members of a newly expanded Council “could call for a public indication of positions on a proposed action. Under this indicative vote,” the Panel continued, “‘no’ votes would not have a veto effect, nor would the final tally of the vote have any legal force. The second formal vote on any resolution would take place under the current procedures of the Council. This would, we believe, increase the accountability of the veto function,” the Panel concluded (Par. 257).

In fact, no “increase in the accountability of the veto function” (Huh?) would follow from this method at all. And in real-world terms, what would the envisioned “indicative voting” really mean, anyway, given the continued reign of the veto over the Council’s affairs? The Panel’s recommendations on Council enlargement and reform were thoroughly timid.—And this is the flimsy kind of hook upon which the Secretary-General proposes to hang one of the key reforms he’s advocating “for a new consensus on which to base collective action” going into the next General Assembly, the 60th overall, beginning next September? With friends like these….

What does it mean to assert that under the UN Charter, “The five permanent members were given veto rights but were also expected to shoulder an extra burden in promoting global security” (Par. 245), when one or more of these Permanent Five are threats to global security on a daily basis? Or to acknowledge that, “Since the end of the cold war, the effectiveness of the Council has improved, as has its willingness to act; but it has not always been equitable in its actions, nor has it acted consistently or effectively in the face of genocide or other atrocities” (Par. 246)? I seem to recall case after case since the end of the Cold War (so called—we are really scraping the bottom of the ideological barrel, when we start using rhetoric like this) when one or more of the Permanent Five engaged in acts of aggression against other countries, not only without recourse to the Security Council, but with its parliamentary veto at the Council freezing the Council dead in its tracks.—Can anyone still remember how the Council responded to the American invasion of Panama shortly before Christmas, 1989? And is it even necessary for me to list another case?

In case he’s listening, what the Secretary-General ought to propose this coming September is that the General Assembly work to establish an entirely new organ of the United Nations, similar to the current Security Council, but entirely new. Call it whatever you like—Security Council II, let us say. Security Council II would be composed of 24 Members. (Maybe more.) There may or may not be Permanent Members on Security Council II, depending on what is determined to work best. Of course, due regard is to be paid to the contribution of Members to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the UN, and also to equitable geographical distribution—the latter being the one and only strong point of the High-Level Panel’s recommendations. The rest of the rules of composition and parliamentary procedure for Security Council II—whether membership is renewable or non-renewable; for two or four years or longer; and so on—can be figured out with an eye towards what really does enhance international peace and security, rather than provides a cover for global lawlessness, as is the case in the current Security Council. Like the current Security Council, Security Council II’s functions and powers would include the maintenance of international peace and security. Basically, everything that is covered by Articles 23-32 of the UN Charter. With one fundamental exception: No member of Security Council II would enjoy a parliamentary veto. As a matter of fact, no such veto would exist.

For Security Council II to come into existence, a two-thirds vote by the General Assembly’s 191 members would be required. Of course, the Permanent Members of the current Security Council might not like another UN organ encroaching on their functions and powers. But the last time I checked, they didn’t control two-thirds of the vote within the General Assembly. Nor did their vetoes mean anything there.

The point of all this would be for the General Assembly’s members to begin to invest their hopes, interests, and needs in the functions and powers of Security Council II, and to let Security Council I wither away.

Unlike the current Security Council, if a member of Security Council II were to violate the UN Charter (e.g., if a member launched a wars of aggression against another member, or militarily occupy a another member without the Council’s prior approval), then its membership would be rescinded, and it could not serve again until its violations were rectified.

United Nations Millennium Declaration (A/55/L.2), UN General Assembly, September 8, 2000
“We the Peoples”: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century, Kofi A. Annan et al., United Nation, 2000
UN Millennium Development Goals (Overview with links)
UN Millennium Project (Homepage)
Investing in Development: A Practical Plan To Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, Jeffrey D. Sachs et al., 2005 (For the complete PDF version of the same.—Also see the accompanying Media Release.)
A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, Anand Panyarachun et al., 2004 (For the complete PDF version of the same.)
In Larger Freedom: Towards Security, Development and Human Rights for All, Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for decisions by Heads of State and Government in September 2005 (A/59/2005), Kofi A. Annan et al., United Nations, 2005 (For the PDF version of the report.)

Annan to present on Monday new report on building better and safer world,” UN News Center, March 18, 2005
Annan calls for deal by world leaders on poverty, security and human rights,” UN News Center, March 20, 2005
Annan’s proposed deal for better world is ‘bold and achievable’ – UN officials,” UN News Center, March 20, 2005

The Unfixable UN,” Jed Babbin, Boston Globe, March 15, 2005
Annan Has a Plan to Revitalize U.N.,” Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2005
UN plans revamp to win America back,” Charles Laurence, Sunday Telegraph, March 20, 2005
UN in dramatic climbdown after American pressure,” Charles Laurence, unday Telegraph, March 20, 2005
Annan Drafts Changes For U.N.,” Colum Lynch, Washington Post, March 20, 2005
Report: Annan drafts reform package for U.N.,” Associated Press, March 20, 2005
Annan Wants Big Reforms on Force, Poverty, Rights,” Evelyn Leopold, Reuters, March 20, 2005
Annan unveils sweeping UN reforms,” Marc Carnegie, The Australian, March 21, 2005

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