Saturday, September 17, 2005

U.N. Reform

The BBC has an article about reforming the U.N. In short, several up-and-coming powers want permanent seats, with the attendant veto power, on the Security Council. Though I agree with the statement that the Security Council represents the balance of power of 1945 (And maybe not even then. How did France get on there? Perhaps 1938.), and has not adjusted to modern realities, I don't believe the solution proposed, more permanent seats, is the proper solution.

First, is it really any better to have the Security Council represent the balance of power of 2005 than 1945? In a couple of decades, we'll be faced with the same problem again, but we'll have even more permanent members jealous of the prerogatives.

Second, will adding more permanent members improve the deadlock? The trouble with a consensus-based organization, which a multiple-veto system is, is that all programs are lowest-common denominator approaches, which is why the U.N. tends to opt for the "strongly-worded memo" approach to most problems.

Third, the veto is not as necessary as it seems. Change the rules so that, for example, one needs an 80% majority to pass a resolution. If one member of the security council cannot persuade two others to vote with them, then that member is surely behaving irrationally.

Fourth, we have permanent members, but we have no way of getting rid of them--they're permanent, after all. Among our permanent members we included one of the greatest violators of world peace and human rights--the Soviet Union. In a similar vein, we have some very nasty members on the human rights council. Suppose that one of those permanent members turned against the United Nations (and it may well be the United States), it would still be able to go about its merry business, undermining the U.N. at every turn, because it was permanent. The U.N. is an organization that cannot even defend itself.

It seems to me that the U.N. has achieved universality by degrading its aims. The conundrum is that, while the U.N. achieves its legitimacy by representing nearly all states, its ability to use that legitimacy is hampered by the very process which gained it its universality.


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