A Royal Snub

The Saudi re­jec­tion of a seat in the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil was an un­prece­dented move. It ex­pressed their dis­plea­sure with the way things were be­ing run in the UN.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Man­soor Alam

Saudi Ara­bia be­came the first coun­try to turn down a two-year non-per­ma­nent seat on the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

It was an un­prece­dented move when Saudi Ara­bia turned down a two-year non-per­ma­nent seat on the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. No coun­try had ever be­fore re­fused the seat and, in fact, Riyadh had lob­bied for it and had and even pre­pared its diplo­mats for the post.

It is com­mon knowl­edge that while the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries are in an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity in the UN, they en­joy al­most no power in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs. Al­though this is the po­si­tion from the be­gin­ning, when the UN was founded in Oc­to­ber 1945, it re­mains so even to­day when the num­ber of non-per­ma­nent mem­bers has risen from 51 to 193.

It is true that the fail­ure of the League of Na­tions, founded in 1918 at the end of World War 1, to main­tain peace and se­cu­rity, had made it nec­es­sary to vest the per­ma­nent mem­bers of the UN with ex­tra­or­di­nary pow­ers. The ques­tion is: was it nec­es­sary to cre­ate such an un­demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tion and give so much power to the five vic­tors of WW2? Had it not made the UN a lop­sided or­ga­ni­za­tion? Is it not re­spon­si­ble for the present bick­er­ing in the world?

It would be ap­pro­pri­ate to briefly ex­am­ine the causes and weak­nesses of the LN, es­pe­cially since many ed­u­cated peo­ple, even in the de­vel­oped coun­tries, may not know the his­tory of the causes of the fail­rure of the League of Na­tions. The League was es­tab­lished at the ini­tia­tive of US Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son, pri­mar­ily to pre­vent the re­cur­rence of wars be­tween na­tions. For this pur­pose, Ar­ti­cle 11 of the Covenant was de­signed whose main task was to "en­sure that a war never broke out again.”

But the League proved to be in­ef­fec­tive, par­tic­u­larly in the 1930s, though its fun­da­men­tal weak­nesses had be­gun to ap­pear even be­fore it was founded. Its first and most de­bil­i­tat­ing weak­ness was re­fusal of the US Congress to rat­ify its draft, in whose fram­ing US Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son had played a ma­jor role. More­over, Ger­many, the sec­ond most pow­er­ful Euro­pean coun­try, was not al­lowed to join be­cause it was held re­spon­si­ble for start­ing WW1. Con­se­quently, within one year of its birth, i.e., 1919, the ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist Ital­ians, an­gered be­cause, ac­cord­ing to them, the Big Three had bro­ken prom­ises made to Italy at Ver­sailles and had mil­i­tar­ily oc­cu­pied Fiume, a port city with a large Ital­ian pop­u­la­tion and kept it oc­cu­pied for al­most three years in spite of Italy's pleas to va­cate it. Fi­nally, the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment had to use its mil­i­tary to force them to leave the city and re­store its sta­tus. This episode had demon­strated the weak­ness of the League. Sim­i­larly, the fail­ure of the League to re­solve the Teschen cri­sis be­tween Poland and Cze­choslo­vakia, also in 1919, had fur­ther shown its weak­ness. This cri­sis and many that fol­lowed, es­pe­cially in the 1930s, led to WW2 and ne­ces­si­tated that the big coun­tries be given ef­fec­tive pow­ers to main­tain peace and se­cu­rity in the world.

How­ever, the framers of the UN Char­ter, mainly the vic­tors of WW2, had tilted the bal­ance too much in their own fa­vor while fram­ing it. Veto power for the U.S., Rus­sia, China, U.K. and France meant that any of them could block a UN res­o­lu­tion or ac­tion, even if a large ma­jor­ity of the UN mem­bers voted in its fa­vor or against it. This made the UN a highly non-demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tion in a demo­cratic age. At present, the num­ber of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries is more than the num­ber of per­ma­nent mem­bers. It has only changed their ra­tio with­out chang­ing the power equa­tion be­tween them. Veto power has been given to the per­ma­nent mem­bers of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, which is nei­ther healthy for world peace nor in their own in­ter­est and has made the UN a lop­sided or­ga­ni­za­tion. This is one rea­son why the for­mer USSR and the U.S. have re­peat­edly used their veto power against any de­ci­sion they con­sid­ered con­trary to

their own nar­row na­tional in­ter­est or that of their client states.

The U.S. mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Viet­nam and its dis­grace­ful de­feat by the Viet Cong, fol­lowed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its oc­cu­pa­tion of that in­de­pen­dent mem­ber of the UN for ten years, de­spite in­creas­ing con­dem­na­tion by over 2/3rds ma­jor­ity in the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly, am­ply il­lus­trates both the afore-stated points. Nei­ther of the two su­per­pow­ers could stop the erup­tion of a nasty and bloody war be­tween Iran and Iraq in 1980.

The fre­quent use of veto power by the U.S. in the Mid­dle East, in fa­vor of Is­rael and against the Arabs, first gave rise to Pales­tinian mil­i­tancy and has now caused Mus­lim ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism, though the U.S. does not rec­og­nize it. The re­sult is that Mus­lim ex­trem­ists have made the world un­sta­ble. Al­though, the U.S. gov­ern­ment and its very pow­er­ful leg­isla­tive or­gan, the Se­nate, do not agree with this con­clu­sion, it can­not be de­nied and an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the UN mem­bers also think so and have of­ten voted in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly in fa­vor of the res­o­lu­tion call­ing on Is­rael to va­cate its wrong­ful oc­cu­pa­tion of Arab land since the 1967 Yom Kip­pur War. A larger per­cent­age of Arab and Mus­lim states also re­sents it. It is for this rea­son that sev­eral wars have bro­ken out be­tween the Arabs and Is­rael in the Mid­dle East. And though Is­rael has come out vic­to­ri­ous in all of them with the help of the U.S., a large num­ber of Arabs and Mus­lims from all Is­lamic coun­tries are join­ing the Al-Qaeda, to wage war against the U.S., which in their eyes has be­come not the sole su­per­power but the sole ‘un­just’ su­per­power.

Is­rael’s ac­qui­si­tion of nu­clear power, many decades ago, with the ac­tive col­lu­sion of the U.S. and some West Euro­pean states, ran­kles the Mus­lims in gen­eral. They see that the West, led by the U.S., has been do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble, in­clud­ing

per­mis­sion to Is­rael to com­mit ag­gres­sion against Arab coun­tries, to pre­vent them from ac­quir­ing nu­clear weapons, while it has ex­empted Is­rael from the purview of the Non­Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty. No won­der that an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity among more than one bil­lion Mus­lims of the world ac­cuse the West of fol­low­ing dou­ble stan­dards against the Mus­lims and ac­tu­ally think that the West was wag­ing a new Cru­sade against Is­lam.

Dou­ble stan­dards are con­sid­ered a norm rather than an ex­cep­tion in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, but the West's pol­icy of bla­tant dou­ble stan­dards, causes great heart­burn to the Mus­lims, and even non-Mus­lim de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Be­cause of this one-sided Western at­ti­tude, the NPT has lost its ef­fi­cacy. It is not sur­pris­ing then that Iran is try­ing, in spite of tough UN sanc­tions and Is­raeli threats of at­tack, to be­come a nu­clear power. Un­doubt­edly the US has put pres­sure on Is­rael to ex­er­cise re­straint for the time be­ing, be­cause this may fur­ther ag­gra­vate the threat of war and ter­ror­ism in the world. Such re­straint looks like an at­tempt to treat can­cer with Panadol.

It is also due to the lop­sided at­ti­tude of the U.S., in par­tic­u­lar and the West in gen­eral, that they have failed to per­suade three na­tions (In­dia, Pak­istan and North Korea) to sign the Com­pre­hen­sive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This sit­u­a­tion is ob­vi­ously caus­ing great con­cern to the world, in­clud­ing the big pow­ers, be­cause of the en­hanced risk of nu­clear war be­tween two Third World nu­clear pow­ers, In­dia and Pak­istan, who have al­ready fought three and a half wars, since their in­de­pen­dence in 1947. A nu­clear war be­tween them could eas­ily en­gulf other coun­tries and in­flict great dam­age.

In this back­ground, the Saudi de­ci­sion to re­nounce its seat in the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil must be wel­comed. It is only hoped that it will prompt other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly the OIC mem­bers, to for­get their petty dif­fer­ences and fol­low the lead. A united stand by a ma­jor­ity of non­per­ma­nent mem­bers on the lines of Saudi Ara­bia, will force the ma­jor pow­ers to make the UN a more demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tion which could work to end all wars or threats of war.

De­vel­op­ing coun­tries would oth­er­wise re­main sec­ond-class mem­bers of the UN. The ten­sion and threat of nu­clear war would con­tinue and ul­ti­mately seal the fate of the UN as it had done in the case of the League. It is axiomatic that the long-term health of all ideas and or­ga­ni­za­tions de­pends on its abil­ity and ca­pac­ity to mod­ify and grow. If it re­mains im­per­vi­ous to the chang­ing times, it is bound to stag­nate, de­cline and ul­ti­mately die.

The fact that there was no bloody and vi­o­lent rev­o­lu­tion in the U.K. as there was in France and Rus­sia and China was be­cause Bri­tish so­ci­ety had ad­justed to chang­ing cir­cum­stances right from 1215 when it had signed the Magna Carta and again, in 1668, about 100 years be­fore the French Rev­o­lu­tion. It was called the glo­ri­ous rev­o­lu­tion be­cause it had re­placed the old or­der with a new one but with­out shed­ding blood in a civil war.

It is im­per­a­tive that the per­ma­nent UN mem­bers who are not only democ­ra­cies them­selves but also great ad­vo­cates of democ­racy and lib­er­al­ism among the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, should al­low and lead the ref­or­ma­tion of the UN to re­flect the chang­ing de­mo­graphic, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties of to­day’s world. Such de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion of the UN is in­evitable. The only ques­tion is, will it come about peace­fully or through another world war which could be more dev­as­tat­ing and which may end all forms of life on the planet. The veto-wield­ing pow­ers should not be swayed by their nar­row in­ter­ests but by the in­ter­est of hu­man­ity at large.

Now some emerg­ing world pow­ers, led by In­dia and in­clud­ing, Ger­many, Ja­pan, Brazil, South Africa and Egypt, are mak­ing great ef­forts for a per­ma­nent seat in the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. Their veto power would be in their nar­row in­ter­est and and will not make the Char­ter a more eq­ui­table doc­u­ment or the world a just and safe place.

If a re­form of the United Na­tion has to take place, then all its 193 mem­bers must feel em­pow­ered and be given the right to over­ride the veto by 2/3rds ma­jor­ity. In spite of the veto power, the UN has not suc­ceeded in re­solv­ing any of the ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes ei­ther be­tween non-nu­clear pow­ers like Iran and the UAE or nu­clear and non-nu­clear pow­ers, like Is­rael and the Arab coun­tries or be­tween two nu­clear pow­ers, like In­dia and Pak­istan. Un­for­tu­nately, the ac­qui­si­tion of nu­clear weapons by de­vel­op­ing coun­tries has made them more rigid. If there has been no world war since WW2, it is not be­cause dis­putes have been re­solved, with or with­out UN in­ter­ven­tion, but it is be­cause of the bal­ance of power be­tween nu­clear weapon states, which has cre­ated the fear of to­tal an­ni­hi­la­tion of both the vic­tor and the van­quished.

Though the Cold War has ended be­tween the two su­per­pow­ers and the dan­ger of a nu­clear war be­tween them has greatly re­ceded, the dan­ger of such a war be­tween de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, both nu­clear and non­nu­clear, con­tin­ues to hang over the world like the Sword of Damo­cles.

It is un­likely that all the Third World coun­tries will unite and pro­duce the de­sired re­sult. It is hoped that at least the Arab League and OIC mem­bers will fol­low the Saudi ex­am­ple. If they could also give up their seats like Saudi Ara­bia, or an­nounce their re­solve not to seek a non-per­ma­nent seat in the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, it will greatly help the Pales­tinian cause and show their in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive in­ter­est.

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