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Change at the U.N.

By Chinmaya R. Gharekhan

Reform is necessary but should not be undertaken under threat from one or more states.

THE JUST-RELEASED report of the high level panel appointed by the U.N. Secretary-General in November 2003 contains over 100 recommendations, covering a wide spectrum of new areas, which if accepted would vastly expand the jurisdiction of the Security Council, making it the central institution in international relations. Public attention, in India and elsewhere, has understandably focussed on the proposals relating to the expansion of the Security Council but the report deals with several other important sectors, which deserve to be studied.

Many of the recommendations are merely exhortations. For example, the report urges states to recommit themselves to the goal of eradicating poverty, calls for the conclusion of the Doha development round of the WTO by 2006, for the allocation of more funds to deal with HIV/AIDS, for debt relief to poor countries, etc. Nevertheless, it is useful to have all these ideas reiterated in one place.

On Security Council expansion, there are two scenarios, both envisaging the creation of a new category of membership. Under one option, a new category of non-veto permanent members, six of them, would be created, to be distributed on the basis of two for Asia, two for Africa, one for Europe and one for Latin America.

The second option would create a new category of eight so-called `semi-permanent' seats, to be divided equally among the four regions. These seats would be for a renewable four-year term. The panel recognises that the veto in today's world is anachronistic but accepts the reality that the present permanent members would never agree to give up their veto power. India, and others such as Brazil, Germany, and Japan, would naturally wish to have permanent membership on equal footing with the P-5, but this is simply not going to happen. Under the circumstances, India should throw its weight behind the option of non-veto permanent membership.

The panel was tasked to examine new threats and challenges and recommend measures to deal with them in a collective manner through the United Nations so as to make it once again relevant and effective. The report identifies six clusters of threats: economic and social threats, inter-state conflict, internal conflict, WMD (weapons of mass destruction) proliferation, terrorism, and transnational organised crime. The overall result, if these recommendations were to be implemented, would be to bring within the purview of the Security Council issues it is not really equipped to handle.

The P-5 could be expected to welcome these recommendations since it would even further increase their clout, but the developing countries would approach them with a degree of scepticism and caution. Even bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the WTO would come within the ambit of the Security Council.

The report devotes a lot of space and importance to the so-called `responsibility to protect,' otherwise known as the `right of humanitarian intervention.' The argument is that the international community must reserve for itself the right to intervene through the use of force if necessary in an internal situation in a country in case of massive violations of human rights or mass murders, as happened in Rwanda in 1994. But this proposition has run into considerable opposition from developing countries since they are concerned at the possibility of misuse of such a right by powerful countries. To meet this concern, the panel has proposed a set of five criteria to be fulfilled for the Security Council to exercise this right or responsibility. The fact, however, remains that the interpretation of these criteria will always be subjective, with the developing countries always at a disadvantage.

The Security Council is a political organ and not a judicial body and takes its decisions on political considerations. Furthermore, it is not really necessary to create a new doctrine of humanitarian intervention, which has given rise to needless controversy and divisions in the international community. The Security Council is perfectly capable, under its present mandate, to deal with the type of situations mentioned by the panel. The Council did respond to the catastrophe in Somalia. Even in the case of Rwanda, it was the powerful members of the Security Council that prevented the Council and the Secretary-General from responding effectively to the developing crisis. The report gives the misleading impression that the failure of the secretariat to provide timely information to the members of the Council was responsible for setting off the genocide.

On proliferation issues, the report is fairly comprehensive. Its emphasis, however, is on proliferation and not on disarmament. The need for the nuclear weapons states to implement their obligation under Article VI of the NPT is mentioned, but the preoccupation of the panel is clearly with preventing proliferation of the capability as well as of the dangerous materials among more states as well as non-state actors. It would have been desirable to at least maintain balance between the two sets of obligations, if not give more emphasis to the need for disarmament and the threat posed by existing nuclear and other WMD stockpiles. The report also calls on states to join the Proliferation Strategic Initiative.

At half a dozen places, the report mentions Palestine and Kashmir in the same sentence as the two issues without whose solution no amount of systemic changes will enable the U.N. to discharge its role under the Charter. In fact, the chairman of the panel, a former Prime Minister of Thailand, has mentioned Kashmir even in his letter of transmittal. It cannot be denied that Kashmir needs to be resolved and is a source of tension, but mentioning it so many times in the same bracket as Palestine might encourage Pakistan to exploit it at some time in the future.

Perhaps more objectionable from our point is the specific call to convert South Asia into a nuclear weapon free zone. On the other hand, the definition of terrorism as "any action designed to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such act is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organisation to do or abstain from doing an act," is broad enough to cover all that is going on in Kashmir. The report specifically states that terrorism is never to be an acceptable tactic, even for the most defensible of causes.

The report contains a number of useful suggestions in the field of preventive diplomacy and mediation such as establishment of a facility for training of potential special representatives and mediators. But the net effect of this and other similar recommendations will be an increase in the U.N. bureaucracy and expenditure. The panel has recommended the creation of one more post of Deputy Secretary-General to deal with issues of peace and security, in addition to the existing post whose incumbent handles questions of development. This would probably add to the symmetry, but the case for a second high-level post is not convincing.

Similarly, the panel has proposed the establishment of a Peace-building Commission, without adducing adequate justification for it. In any case, the wisdom of placing such a commission within the ambit of the Security Council is questionable since it would involve interaction with diverse agencies within the U.N. system such as the UNDP. Another recommendation is for the abolition of the Trusteeship Council. This has been considered many times in the past and should certainly be followed up. There are other proposals, such as amending Articles 53 and 107 of the Charter relating to enemy states and deleting Article 47 dealing with the Military Staff Committee, which are eminently sensible ideas.

The members of the panel would be the first to acknowledge that no amount of reform would produce the desired results without the genuine commitment of member-states to abide by their obligations under the Charter. The other side of the coin is that if the member-states were to observe all the principles and provisions of the Charter, there would be no need for reform. What is required is a change in the mindset of members.

Reform, nevertheless, is necessary and can at times be helpful in producing the desired change in mindset. At the same time, reform should not be undertaken under threat from one or more states. It has been said that if states are to avoid unilateral action, the U.N. must become relevant for them. This is a dangerous doctrine since it puts the onus of maintaining its relevance on the U.N. International law is clear. Force can be used only in two circumstances: self-defence under Article 51 or in pursuance of a specific authorisation from the Security Council. To the credit of the panel, it upholds this principle.

(The writer is a former Permanent Representative of India at the U.N.)

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