Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1275, (17- 30 December 2015)
Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Issue 1275, (17- 30 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The UN’s unruly dominion

The five permanent UN Security Council members ended 2015 as divided as ever, and yet dominant. Emerging powers are hedging their bets on Security Council reform amid a changing world, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

As 2015 draws to a close, the United States still commands the global political landscape. Nevertheless, new powers are flexing their muscles in the international arena. China and Russia will certainly be prominent in 2016. But they already have permanent seats on the UN Security Council.

The UN Security Council reform debate will function as a proxy for the battle to direct the world economically, militarily and politically. “The powers that be disliked me precisely because I was working hard to hasten change in the UN Security Council. I was a nuisance and they wanted me out,” former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali told Al-Ahram Weekly.

When Boutros-Ghali was elected secretary-general of the United Nations in 1992, discussions of reform of the UN Security Council were launched with the first-ever summit of the Security Council and thereafter the publication of “An Agenda for Peace.” Boutros-Ghali’s real motivation was to restructure the composition and anachronistic procedures of the UN organ, recognising a changed world.

The struggle for permanent membership of the UN Security Council needs to be

understood in its full nuance. All else aside, China and Russia would throw themselves into the quest to quell the power of the United States. Together, China and Russia add up to an ambitious bid to banish once and for all Washington’s global hegemony.

The Middle East and Southeast Asia have become the main battleground. Russia has emerged as a defiant threat to American hegemony over the Middle East. China is certainly challenging American leadership in Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, China will surely ramp up efforts to increase its economic and political influence in Africa and elsewhere. China has financed US debt in the trillions, thereby fast buttressing its global economic clout.

The most pivotal decisions of 2016 in Washington and New York, including the Security Council-General Assembly relationship, will take place behind firmly closed doors. China has the upper hand in its economic struggle for global dominance with the US. Mutual mistrust will endure in 2016.

Today, the United States government owes $46 trillion, and US corporations owe $15 trillion. US individuals also owe $13 trillion, plus there is $315 trillion in outstanding Wall Street derivatives. Although the days of double-digit economic growth for China are over, with such high stakes in the US economy, concerns about the prospects of the Chinese economy in 2016 will subside.

Yes, there was some unexpected backsliding in the Chinese economy in 2015, but anxieties about the Chinese economy will ebb in 2016. The wild ride on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges, China’s largest, signalled an abrupt end to the breakneck pace of Chinese economic growth over the past two decades. Communist China had been moving towards free-market convertibility of the yuan.

In 1913, the mighty financiers, big bankers J D Rockefeller, J P Morgan, Paul Warburg and Baron Rothschild, after persistent lobbying and Machiavellian political machinations, including political donations, coerced American politicians — among them, then-President Woodrow Wilson — into creating the Federal Reserve Bank, America’s central bank.

“The world is on fire. But can the governments of the world put it out?” asked Eric Mann, director of the Labour/Community Strategy Centre, a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality and the Congress of Racial Equality at the climate summit, in Paris earlier this month.

As he wrote in a recent online blog: “I am here in Paris at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This is a critical struggle by the world’s governments to see if we can protect the planet from the ravages of the capitalist economic system. The United States and Europe are the very governments that started the fire and are still pouring gasoline on it.”

Indeed, the US economic elite still tacitly controls the UN Security Council-General Assembly relationship, and indeed global politics. The US has only five per cent of the world’s population and yet it generates 25 per cent of the global greenhouse polluting emissions.

It is a diplomatic triumph for the West that the climate summit in Paris has put the onus on greenhouse gases emitted by China and India. The US is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and yet it charges China with being the worst emitter of poisonous gases along with India.

This is the kind of dirty games and Cold War manoeuvres that are played behind the scenes in the corridors of power in the UN. For UN reform to take place such differences must be finessed.

But the West might be forced to flirt with the emerging powers in 2016, and the UN will be the major battleground, or rather playground if a more conciliatory policy is adopted by Western powers.

The rivalry between the West and emerging nations such as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India and China, plus South Africa) could flummox Western powers and confound middle-sized powers aspiring for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. The Boutros-Ghali reform plan called for an increase in the number of nations with permanent seats and veto powers at the UN Security Council.

Much will depend on the political, military and economic backdrop to the international milieu. Worsening conflict in the Middle East could befuddle key aspirants and even derail the reform process altogether.

Across the world, the plea for a permanent place at the UN Security Council is back in fashion. Italy, Pakistan, Mexico and Egypt have formed an interest group, known as the “Coffee Club” or “Uniting for Consensus.”

The quest for permanent Security Council membership has been taken to almost parodic lengths. France has explicitly called for a permanent seat in the UN for its close EU partner, Germany. Germany is the third-largest contributor to the UN but does not have a permanent seat on the Security Council.

Nor does India, although it is the second-largest country in terms of population and one of the largest contributors of troops to UN peacekeeping forces worldwide. In addition, the country is the world’s largest liberal democracy and has the world’s seventh-largest economy.

Indeed, even though some observers consider that the push for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council has a comic aside, it also has distinctly uncanny aspects. China, for instance, has been strongly opposing expansion of the Security Council.

The candidates usually mentioned are Brazil, India, Germany and Japan. Nevertheless, regional rivals and economic competitors of the countries concerned have complicated matters.

Argentina, Mexico and Colombia, have challenged Brazil’s right to represent Latin America at the UN Security Council with a permanent seat. China is similarly reluctant to give Japan such an honour in East Asia. And nor does Beijing particularly want India to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

None of these crucial issues has been resolved in 2015. Nevertheless, China has expressed its support for Indian candidacy as a permanent member of the Security Council if India revokes its support for Japanese candidacy.

The result could well see 2016 marking the year when the tables are turned at the UN. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong pitch for permanent membership in the UN Security Council in 2015. Be that as it may, there are other equally qualified contenders for a permanent seat.

The three big global players — Germany, Japan and Brazil — with economies bigger than India’s at $3.8 trillion, $4.6 trillion, and $2.3 trillion respectively, have an even better claim than India to be permanent members.

Brazil, for instance, is the largest country in Latin America in terms of population, gross domestic product (GDP) and land area. India, with a GDP of around $2 trillion, still lags behind the United States at $17.4 trillion, China at $10.3 trillion, Great Britain at $2.9 trillion, and France at $2.8 trillion. With $1.8 trillion, Russia has potent military might and is a nuclear power.

In short, the General Assembly Task Force on Security Council Reform made no progress in 2015. China’s opposition to Japan stymied the entry of Germany and India to UN Security Council permanent seat representation with veto powers. The former Axis powers of World War II — Germany and Japan — have long been denied access to the exclusive club because of their wartime roles.

In today’s world, moral clout does not count. Africa and Latin America are two continents without permanent representation on the UN Security Council. The Arab world, too, is not represented.

“The UN Security Council reform being debated since two decades is too long overdue and the necessary expansion must be made considering how much the world has changed,” lamented UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this year.

Predictions that seem prescient actually miss the big conundrum: What about the underdog and the downtrodden? Even Asian nations are seeking UN Security Council permanent seats and veto powers, as are Latin American nations.

Moreover, members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) called for a permanent Muslim seat on the UN Security Council. Indonesia and Pakistan are the most likely contenders. The predominantly Muslim Middle East has been an area of persistent international conflict, with periodic flare-ups in the region the subject of many UN Security Council debates and resolutions.

Geography as well as geopolitics counts. Turkey and Iran are unlikely, because of their regional squabbles in the Middle East, to be given a permanent UN Security Council seat, even though Turkey has the second-largest military in NATO.

Simultaneously, the “African Group” at the UN has begun to demand two permanent seats on the UN Security Council. Most observers believe it is impossible, but that African nations must try harder. “It is unfair that Africa is excluded,” Boutros-Ghali told the Weekly.

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