An old bureaucracy at the mercy of power brokers
In 1945 The United Nations Organization replaced the failing League of Nations as the world body charged with maintaining peace. After some initial successes the UN has now reached the point where it too needs serious overhaul, or replacement by a new and far-sighted world organization.
|The United Nations was first proposed by|
US President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1945
Membership in the UN has grown from the founding 51 nations to 193. Part of that growth has been due to decolonization making more countries eligible for membership. But there is growing dissatisfaction with the UN’s performance, and for many the power of veto held by some major players is the major stumbling block. One country can hold the rest of the world to ransom.
The UN is a vast organization with tentacles all over the world. Divisions of the UN include the General Assembly (world parliament, if you like), the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat (studies), the International Court of Justice, the World Bank, World Health Organization, and the World Food Programme (UNESCO and UNICEF). The UN also has numerous specialized agencies that work quietly on a host of good causes.
The United Nations does many of the things that individual member countries do; basically, the UN taxes and receives voluntary contributions from its members, and redistributes the funds gathered to where they are needed. Often much of the good work of the UN is overlooked by critics of the Security Council with its inertia in times of war and political instability.
The problem with the Security Council is the power of veto held by each of the five permanent members. China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the USA are the permanent members of the council and any one of them, although unable to block debate, can use their veto to block adoption of a resolution. The ten non-permanent members of the council and the other four Security Council members are powerless to act whenever one of the big five decides to behave dictatorially.
|The United Nations General Assembly|
The USA is by far the largest contributor to the UN with 22% of UN funds coming from the USA. France, the UK and China provide just over 5% each while Russia provides less than 3% of UN funds. These contributions do not justify a power of veto and it should end.
The power of veto means that adoption of all contentious resolutions regarding war, political instability and terrorism are stopped dead during the debate. Minor resolutions that don’t affect any of the big five, and their main trade partners and friends, are adopted without any fuss. In the eyes of many people the failures of the Security Council bring the whole UN into disrepute.
So what is the answer?
In the short term there is no answer. The best proposals the world has ever seen could be put forward and would fail to influence the people who just want everything to stay put. The kind of changes that could help the United Nations and the world could be detrimental to powerful people and powerful countries. They will vote them down every time.
The United Nations, therefore, can only be reformed after the current power brokers have left office, but the plans to do that can be put in place now to take effect later, say in 2040.
The most important reform must be the revocation of the power of veto and it needs to be decided now that it will go by 2040. Membership voting should be per capita with an upper limit to prevent expanding countries from gaining too much influence.
|The United Nations Security Council|
The next target for the United Nations needs to be control of the world’s military. That will take longer because again powerful people, powerful states and powerful industries will stand to lose. But agreement must be reached at the earliest possible date that by 2075 all military spending in UN member states will be in the hands of the UN. The present world military situation can be likened to a town that has private armed guards in every street and building instead of one central police station taking care of the whole town.
The process for handing over military power can best be accomplished through a resolution requiring members to progressively reduce military spending while increasing their UN contribution. For example for every $5 of military spending a state could increase its levy to the UN by just one dollar. That would not only help the UN fund its operations, military and otherwise, but would also give member states billions more to spend on health, education and welfare.
The extra funds would also enable to UN to take on new roles and expand others. One that immediately comes to mind is the plight of refugees and others held inhumanely in foreign prisons, often without rights because they are not citizens.
The debate and the planning for the reform of the United Nations must start now.
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