Out­go­ing UN Chief Yearns for Ma­jor­ity Rule in World Body

Traveling Minds - - Table Of Contents - By Thalif Deen

As he packs his bags to head home to South Korea, the out­go­ing UN Sec­re­tary-gen­eral Ban Ki-moon has been sharply crit­i­cal of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process in the world body – specif­i­cally the veto pow­ers in the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and the in­creas­ing “con­sen­sus” rule in vot­ing – where a sin­gle coun­try can defy the rest of the 192 mem­bers, par­tic­u­larly on po­lit­i­cally and fi­nan­cially sen­si­tive is­sues.

Point­ing out that mem­ber states had failed to agree on a formula for re­form­ing the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, he said he had ini­ti­ated a ma­jor re­form pro­posal to im­prove fair­ness and ef­fec­tive­ness in the United Na­tions.

But th­ese pro­pos­als have been blocked in the name of “con­sen­sus”, some­times by a sin­gle coun­try, he told del­e­gates in his farewell ad­dress dur­ing the open­ing ses­sion of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly in Septem­ber.

Ban, who steps down on De­cem­ber 31 af­ter a 10-year long ten­ure, re­gret­ted that “es­sen­tial ac­tion and good ideas had been blocked” not only in the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil but also in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly and in the bud­get process (in the Ad­min­is­tra­tive and Bud­getary Com­mit­tee) and else­where. Is it fair, he asked, “for any one coun­try to wield such dis­pro­por­tion­ate power and hold the world hostage over so many im­por­tant is­sues?”

But he re­fused to iden­tify any coun­tries by name, although he has sin­gled out Rus­sia and China for us­ing their veto pow­ers to block res­o­lu­tions on Syria.

“Con­sen­sus should not be confused with una­nim­ity,” he said, urg­ing the Gen­eral As­sem­bly Pres­i­dent to ex­plore the cre­ation of a high-level panel to search for so­lu­tions.

Am­bas­sador An­warul Chowd­hury, a for­mer Un­der-sec­re­tary-gen­eral and High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the UN, told IPS: “I can em­pathize with the frus­tra­tions of S-G Ban as he leaves of­fice later this month.”

But the con­vo­luted process of de­ci­sion-mak­ing has been a mat­ter of ma­jor con­cern for a long time at the UN, he added.

“It does not take two terms for an S-G to com­pre­hend that—and that too in the last months (of his sec­ond five year term). Also, he should have men­tioned how the Sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the UN is cho­sen by a few ev­ery five years”.

“I have found that when it suits its pur­pose the lead­er­ship of the UN Sec­re­tariat does not have any qualms about the con­vo­luted de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.”

The Sec­re­tariat lead­er­ship should have taken up the is­sue long ago and re­peat­edly di­rectly with the coun­tries con­cerned on both sides.

The tyranny and ir­ra­tional­ity of the ma­jor­ity has been a point of con­tention as the con­tentious de­ci­sions were taken by ma­jor­ity votes marginal­iz­ing the “big play­ers”, he ar­gued.

“The tyranny and uni­lat­er­al­ism of a few big fi­nan­cial con­trib­u­tors to UN in the con­sen­sus process is also a ma­jor con­cern”, de­clared Chowd­hury, a for­mer Chair­man of the UN’S Ad­min­is­tra­tive and Bud­getary Com­mit­tee in 1997-1998 which ap­proved (for­mer Sec­re­tary-gen­eral) Kofi An­nan’s first re­form bud­get.

Mean­while, there has been long­stand­ing spec­u­la­tion that the con­sen­sus rule was in­tro­duced in the 1970s when West­ern pow­ers re­al­ized they were be­ing out­voted by de­vel­op­ing na­tions—even as the Group of 77 de­vel­op­ing na­tions in­creased its mem­ber­ship to 132, rank­ing as the largest sin­gle coali­tion in the world body.

The United Na­tions was founded largely on the prin­ci­ple of one-coun­try, one-vote – and where ma­jor­ity rules.

In his ad­dress to the Cen­tre for Global Af­fairs at New York Uni­ver­sity (NYU) last month, the out­go­ing Sec­re­tary-gen­eral also lam­basted the Geneva-based Con­fer­ence on Dis­ar­ma­ment (CD) for its in­abil­ity to adopt a pro­gramme of work or even an agenda for nearly two decades.

“Twenty years this has ex­isted, and I have been warn­ing them: If you be­have this way, we will have to bring the dis­cus­sions in the Con­fer­ence on Dis­ar­ma­ment to some other venue, but they don’t lis­ten… be­cause of the con­sen­sus sys­tem, just one coun­try can block the whole 193 Mem­ber States. This is a to­tally un­ac­cept­able sit­u­a­tion,” he de­clared.

Am­bas­sador Hardeep Singh Puri, for­mer Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of In­dia to the United Na­tions, told IPS the two com­ments at­trib­uted to the SG un­der­stand­ably rep­re­sent and re­flect an el­e­ment of an­guished in­tro­spec­tion by the out­go­ing SG on the vexed and stale­mated de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses of, and in, the UN.

To be­gin with, it needs to be em­pha­sized that the re­spon­si­bil­ity for this has to be borne en­tirely by the mem­ber states of the UN. All mul­ti­lat­eral ar­range- ments are ul­ti­mately based on rules of pro­ce­dure ne­go­ti­ated by the mem­ber states them­selves.

“With the ex­cep­tion of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, which has a pe­cu­liar and sui generis ne­go­ti­at­ing his­tory, other in­stru­ments are in­vari­ably based on the one coun­try one vote formula,” said Puri, whose re­cently- re­leased book ti­tled “Per­ilous In­ter­ven­tions” fo­cuses on the flawed role of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil in cri­sis sit­u­a­tions such as Libya and Syria.

In the case of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, he pointed out, del­e­ga­tions in San Fran­cisco in 1945 were con­fronted with a ‘take it or leave it ‘choice.

Since the ma­jor pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of del­e­ga­tions was to pre­vent the scourge of an­other World War, they chose to ac­cept, per­haps for valid rea­sons, a sys­tem based on ve­toes by the five Per­ma­nent Mem­bers, he noted.

“This sys­tem worked for sev­eral years but fell apart af­ter Res­o­lu­tion 1973, in the case of Libya, was mis­used to ef­fect regime change, which was not part of the ne­go­ti­at­ing his­tory of the res­o­lu­tion and was, in fact, specif­i­cally sought to be pre­cluded”, he ar­gued.

Hav­ing armed them­selves with au­thor­ity for the ‘use of force’, three of the five Per­ma­nent Mem­bers pro­ceeded to dis­re­gard the other pro­vi­sions of the Res­o­lu­tion, said Puri.

“The mess in Libya and the un­fold­ing tragedy in Syria,” he said, re­quired Coun­cil una­nim­ity for ve­toes not to be em­ployed where mass atroc­i­ties were likely. This was not to be the case. Syria con­sti­tutes the sever­est in­dict­ment of the Coun­cil’s in­ef­fec­tive­ness in mass atroc­ity pre­ven­tion, af­ter Rwanda and Sberenica in 1994 and 1995.

The func­tion­ing of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil rep­re­sents a naked dis­play of power pol­i­tics. The rest of the UN sys­tem has not been im­mune from this ei­ther, he added.

Puri said the con­sen­sus rule was never in­tended to be any­thing more than an at­tempt to take ev­ery­one along. It de­gen­er­ated into a re­quire­ment of una­nim­ity.

The weak in­vari­ably ac­qui­esced to the wishes of the pow­er­ful States and went along with out­comes in the in­ter­ests of con­sen­sus. The strong and dom­i­nant States in­voked con­sen­sus when they feared be­ing out­voted by the arith­metic of num­bers, Puri de­clared.

Stephen Zunes, Pro­fes­sor of Pol­i­tics and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of San Fran­cisco who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively on the pol­i­tics of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, told IPS the Sec­re­tary Gen­eral is cer­tainly cor­rect in his crit­i­cism and Rus­sia and China for abus-

ing their veto power to pre­vent ef­fec­tive ac­tion by the United Na­tions in try­ing to end the on­go­ing slaugh­ter in Syria.

“How­ever, it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that the United States has sim­i­larly abused its veto power (and threats thereof) to pre­vent ef­fec­tive UN ac­tion re­gard­ing Is­rael /Pales­tine, as has France in re­gard to Morocco’s oc­cu­pa­tion of West­ern Sa­hara.”

In­deed, on a strictly le­gal ba­sis, he pointed out, the case for UN ac­tion is even stronger in the lat­ter cases, since they in­volve ter­ri­to­ries un­der for­eign bel­liger­ent oc­cu­pa­tion, whereas the Syr­ian civil war—as tragic as it may be on a hu­man­i­tar­ian level—is pri­mar­ily an in­ter­nal con­flict, said Zunes, au­thor of the highly-ac­claimed “Tin­der­box: US Mid­dle East Pol­icy and the Roots of Ter­ror­ism”.

Chowd­hury told IPS a bal­anced de­ci­sion-mak­ing process should be dis­cussed and agreed upon in the best in­ter­est of the United Na­tions.

This needs the im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion and pro-ac­tive lead­er­ship of in­com­ing S-G An­to­nio Guter­res, as he takes over the helms of UN in Jan­uary.

One won­ders: “Would be have the moral courage to do that be­cause he, like his re­cent pre­de­ces­sors, is the ben­e­fi­ciary of the uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion-mak­ing by the few?” In his NYU ad­dress, Ban was talk­ing about the de­ci­sion-mak­ing in the Con­fer­ence on Dis­ar­ma­ment. That is al­to­gether a dif­fer­ent sce­nario com­pared to how the de­ci­sions are made by the UN GA (Gen­eral As­sem­bly). His GA state­ment has more rel­e­vance in the con­text of the re­form of de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

But to ask for “a high level panel to search for so­lu­tions” is naïve and an at­tempt to clean up his desk be­fore de­par­ture.

“The new S-G should take the “bull,” as they say, by the horns and thereby prove that his choice as the new UN boss was a worth­while de­ci­sion,” said Chowd­hury, Ini­tia­tor of Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion 1325 un­der­scor­ing women’s equal­ity of par­tic­i­pa­tion and for­mer Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Bangladesh to UN (1996-2001).

Puri told IPS each agency or in­stru­ment has a dif­fer­ent con­text and his­tory.

In the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WTO) and the erst­while Gen­eral Agree­ment on Tar­iffs and Trade (GATT), when­ever the dom­i­nant play­ers feared los­ing the nu­mer­i­cal vote, they would go out­side the sys­tem and ne­go­ti­ate pluri­lat­eral ar­range­ments, con­sti­tut­ing “a coali­tion of the will­ing.”

In the Fifth Com­mit­tee and the Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee on Ad­min­is­tra­tive and Bud­getary Ques­tions (ACABQ), the lament of the out­go­ing SG must be seen in terms of the re­luc­tance of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries will­ing to coun­te­nance pri­or­i­ties, which in their views of­ten re­flected the views of the de­vel­oped coun­tries.

The Con­fer­ence on Dis­ar­ma­ment is an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent story. The stale­mate on ma­jor ne­go­ti­at­ing pro­cesses is an­chored in se­ri­ous pol­icy dif­fer­ences. The fact that it con­tin­ues to ex­ist with­out any se­ri­ous out­comes is more a re­flec­tion of the deep dif­fer­ences rather than the venue. It could be ar­gued that the same ne­go­ti­a­tions con­ducted else­where might not fare any bet­ter, he added.

Puri said it might be a good idea for the out­go­ing SG to leave a hand­ing over note for his suc­ces­sor so that some of th­ese vexed and com­pli­cated is­sues could be flagged for at­ten­tion by the in­com­ing SG to the mem­ber states for pri­or­ity at­ten­tion.

“It is un­likely, how­ever, that the re­al­ity could be al­tered in the fore­see­able fu­ture,” Puri pre­dicted. Copy­right © 2017 Ips-in­ter Press Ser­vice. All rights re­served.

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