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.
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.