A core principle of the United Nations Charter is One Member One Vote. This is not an explicit statement within the Charter. Significantly, the Charter goes even further. The Charter states that the UN was established to secure “the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” It places the rights of men and women before the rights of states. That’s you and me and six billion-plus others. The rights of individuals are co-equal with and precede the rights of states. What a glorious (and yet to be realized) ideal. But it will not happen unless We the People do something about the UN Security Council. The question is — What? Dump it, scrap it, change it or grow it?
As events have shown, the Security Council has become dangerously obsolete, representing the whim, greed and political fundamentalism of one hyper–power.
On March 10, at a press conference at UN headquarters, a million-plus petitions signed by people from all over the world were presented to the Security Council. The petitions had been generated through a massive online campaign by anti-war groups, protesting the US govt.’s decision to go to war against the people of Iraq. What did the UN do? Not a peep about it from Kofi Annan, not even in his generally timid “off the cuff” statements featured daily on the UN website. No prior announcement about the event was made by the UN Secretariat, though they were aware that the petitions would be delivered in 12 boxes to Security Council members. It was as if the event never occurred. So, is the UN Charter just a piece of paper to be stored on a musty shelf, or is it supposed to safeguard the “rights of men and women and of nations, large and small” to discursive, negotiated settlement of disputes? Talk is cheap, cheaper than war.
All member states of the 191-member body are stated to be equal. Each member state supposedly has one vote and one vote only. The Security operates on the non-principle of One Member Two Votes. The stated principle of equality of membership is breached and flouted by the structure, processes and exclusive (not to mention, exclusionary) membership of the United Nations Security Council. The UN Security Council is the only UN body that has permanent members (Article 23). All other UN bodies have general or rotating memberships.
The Security Council is the only body that can “adopt its own rules of procedure,” (Article 30) unfettered by The UN General Assembly. Under the United Nations Charter, therefore, inequality of membership is guaranteed, implemented and enforced by the Security Council. In Orwellian terms, all member states are equal but some member states are more equal than others. But, hey, it’s not 1984 anymore, it’s 2003. Time for a change? Time for a change that will guarantee the equality of all member states. While the media and the policy wonks in the dominant states are concerned about the lack of unity at this time in the Security Council, others are questioning whether the Security Council should be taken apart and retired. Are We the People more secure because of the Security Council? Or have we become more insecure, because of the Security Council?
Postcolonial Membership Structure
So the question du jour that subservient member-states (and that includes every member who is not permanently on the Security Council) should be asking is Should the United Nations Security Council be dismantled and repaired? Or scrapped and dumped? Subservient member states include large global players like India; small island states and previous colonial dependencies such as Mauritius; AIDS-ravaged new democracies like South Africa; poor landlocked states dependent on the goodwill of their neighbors like Nepal; or dominated regions with little hope of religious freedom, right of return of its tens of thousands of refugees and sovereignty, like Tibet.
India is the world’s largest democracy. It is a democracy that has struggled out of colonialism and painful subservience to colonial interests. Therefore it has a perspective that is diametrically opposite to that of the colonizing and neo-imperial powers. Perhaps India should not be seeking expansion of the Security Council, as it is doing now, so that it too can become a member. India’s membership, if it happens, will make Pakistan and other South Asian nations feel more insecure. That will not be a good thing. Building bonds between blood-related neighbors and historically enmeshed partners is more important than Security Council membership. Dismantling the Security Council is certain to strengthen the General Assembly. Maybe India, in the spirit of 21st century understanding of the paramount importance of human rights, post-capitalist democracy, freedom and equality of participation should not be seeking expansion of the Security Council but dissolution of the Security Council. Maybe it is almost time to dismantle the Security Council as a dangerously obsolete, ineffectual, humiliating emblem of nineteenth and twentieth century dominant power relations. Maybe India, Norway, Pakistan, Mauritius, Sweden, Iran, Brazil, Sri Lanka and historically diverse others can help move the UN into the 21st century with political equality of all member states, at every level of operation of the UN. Article 109 can be invoked to amend the UN Charter. However, all five permanent members of the Security Council would have to agree. Talk about double jeopardy “for the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small.”
Members of the Security Council, (the only ones that really matter are the five permanent members), the Big Five, exercise more political and economic power than any other body within the United Nations. This cannot be claimed to be a natural outcome of the historical development of the Security Council, but the explicit intent of the original superpowers. Inequality of membership was the demand of the original framers of the United Nations Charter, all of them colonial powers and one emerging power of that time, the US. However, the US was a worthy candidate for dominant and exclusionary membership. The US had already practiced slavery for 100-plus years and was therefore well equipped to develop its capability to become a neo-imperial power, exerting dominance over new member states which included those from which it had previously drawn free labor. It is comfortable with sharing power with the colonizing powers, all white and all European. China’s later inclusion in 1949, (with India deferring its claim of membership to China), merely underlines the importance of size and potential economic power as a basis for strengthening the inequality of membership. Again, the fragmenting of the USSR and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1989, has not knocked Russia out of contention for continued membership. The politics of dominance is therefore key to membership in the Security Council. Not equality of membership but dominance in membership.
Acquiescence to the non-principle of inequality of membership was demonstrated by those colonized member states including India who were founding co-signers of the United Nations Charter. The postcolonial states, recently independent in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, accepted the non-principle of inequality of membership, carrying on the colonial tradition of political subservience to their previous masters, now sitting as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
To borrow from sociologists Max Weber and C. Wright Mills, the collusion of elites characterizes many bureaucratic institutions. In the case of the UN we have a collusion of male-dominant, wealthy national elites. A phallocracy, a bureaucracy and now increasingly a corporatocracy. And the UN Security Council represents the créme de la créme of the elites of each of the five permanent member states, joining in mutual recognition of their shared elite power, status and privilege.
The United Nations is of course a global, inter-govermental bureaucracy, with salient and classic features of hierarchical, top-down authority, bottom-up accountability, written rules, written communications and written records (most recently, Resolution 1441), continual expansion, division and departmentalization of tasks within agencies and committee structures. But the power equation is its most salient feature. The Security Council is in fact explicitly constituted to exercise unequal global power, status and privilege, through its Charter-guaranteed position at the apex of the UN bureaucracy. The Security Council is the elite of global elites. It is the problem not the solution. It compromises the UN General Assembly.
Are We Secure With The Security Council?
What has the Security Council accomplished? Has the Security Council accomplished security for the world at large? The Security Council has a sorry record of lack of accomplishment. It established the State of Israel in 1948, in violation of its own Preamble and unleashed seventy-five years of disenfranchisement of the indigenous Palestinian people. It presided over and literally authorized Palestinian disenfranchisement. The US continues to arm Israel and the Security Council can’t do a thing about it. The Security Council proved unable to overturn apartheid in South Africa. It failed to prevent the expulsion of Indians from Uganda by Idi Amin. It was unwilling to prevent Britain from going to war to claim the Falklands Islands. The UN Security Council was unable (unwilling?) to anticipate, prevent or intercede in the bloody ethnic strife between Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, and in the continuing genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia was emptied of its indigenous population, the Ilios, who were shunted off to neighboring Mauritius, so that the island could serve as a military base for joint use by the Britain and the US. Diego Garcia is currently serving the strategic interests of the US and the UK as a naval base for operations against states in the Middle East, Afghanistan and South Asia. And now the UN has failed to avert war by a hyper-dominant member state against the people of Iraq. In each of these instances, the individual and combined interests of the five member states outweighed the interests of the 191-strong UN community of member states. The universal and greater common good is not, and cannot be expected to be the prime consideration of a small elite of states holding dominant power in the Security Council. That power has become even more concentrated with the US becoming the dominant member of the UN Security Council, supported by the post-imperial politics of the erstwhile dominant world power, the UK. This blatant concentration of power to the exclusion of all others, makes the active pursuit of a universal and greater common good by the UN, and particularly the Security Council virtually impossible.
Apparently WE the People must change the UN and particularly its Security Council.
When will the Security Council act to guarantee the guarantee the “equal rights of men and men and of nations, large and small.?” Never? The UN appears too cumbersome, too compromised and too preoccupied with its own survival as a burgeoning bureaucracy to undertake its own reform on behalf of We the People. It will again be up to those million-plus petitioners, who swamped the UN with signatures asking the Security Council to act on behalf of a negotiated peace. Their request was futile this time. Better luck next time.
The writer is a professor and journalist. She contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from New York, USA.