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Opinion

‘The World Is Bigger than 5’

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, PhD, Former President of the Republic of Mauritius

Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

PORT LOUIS, Mauritius, Apr 3 2024 (IPS) - The title of this piece is not mine.

It’s from the President of Turkiye calling for a reform of the United Nations Security Council.

It has since become a motto in the UN reform campaign encapsulating the shared resentment at a global system that gives the five Permanent members – The P5 of the UN Security Council – the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia – unfair and often destructive veto powers that undermines the very ideals for which the UN was established.

The United Nations was founded after World War 2 and one of its main functions was to ensure that the world did not descend into the same level of inhumanity and cruelty. Dag Hammarskjöld rightly stated: “The UN wasn’t created to take Mankind into paradise, but rather, to save humanity from hell’.

But has the UN really fulfilled that role? Recent events are alluding to a failing global system, especially when a P5 member employs the veto to undermine peace and security.

The roots of the world body are deeply colonial. It was created for a different world to the one we live in right now. Its membership increased from 51 to 193 today. Over the same period, the global population grew from 2.5 to 8 billion.

In 1945 the P5 accounted for 10% of member states and over 50% of the world’s population, within their empires. Now, it accounts for 26% of the world’s population, and just 3% of the U.N. member states.

Even with the 10 additional nonpermanent members, the seats are distinctly Eurocentric. Within this group, the big countries almost always win – Japan has spent 22 years; Brazil 20, and within Africa only Nigeria, with 10 years, comes close.

This allocation, albeit poor, is also reflected, in the secretary-general position itself. Since 1945, 4 out of the 9 secretaries-general have been white European men with no woman in sight. U.N. leaders have sought to address this by diversifying heads of agencies or undersecretaries-general, but individuals are not the answer. Postcolonial and post-Cold War membership has been the U.N.’s only major shift in composition in 75 years.

Could the next shift be a great economic rebalancing?

In 1940, the P5’s share of global GDP was around 45%. Today, the P5 accounts for just 2 percentage points more of GDP—49 percent of the global total.

China’s rise has been remarkable, doubling in importance from accounting for 14% to 33% of the P5’s total wealth. So, in spite of the change in global economics and the wave of independence, the U.N. structure is still anchored in the power structures of 1945. It suffers from the structural inability to compel the P5 countries to act decisively for the greater good and this is often acknowledged as a key justification for change.

The P5 have also failed to, inter alia, distribute economic benefits to the rest of the world. Again, this harkens back to 1945 when the Security Council was conceived on a basis of responsibility and capacity of working collaboratively.

Even if the economics remain the same, the challenges that the potential member states might be deemed responsible for or capable to address now in 2024 are very different to those in 1945 or for another 75 years going forward.

The general sentiment expressed is that no country in the world deserves a permanent seat or veto-based decision-making on behalf of others. They have to be earned, and the criteria for responsibility and capability transparently demonstrated and rewarded.

A reimagined structure would see all 15 seats made temporary, for a set period to provide continuity, with wide, non-regional open competition for each seat, alongside clear, monitored restrictions on lobbying expenses and two-term limits within a set cycle of a couple of decades to reward excellence while avoiding domination.

They will need to be elected by others; prove their worth to others so as to have the moral high ground when tackling world issues transparently like entrenched poverty, pandemics, climate, financial crisis etc..

The P5 will not accept this and nor would they submit to decisions made by others especially as 3 out of the 5 – P5 members have remained out of certain U.N.-based mechanisms; such as the UN General Assembly endorsed International Criminal Court (ICC) decisions. Yet the ICC has contributed to justice for thousands, if not millions of people.

Globally, the U.N. is still regarded as being able to play a guardian role. This is because the world cannot afford another 75 years of unaccountability and inequality. The well-known saying that “power concedes nothing without a demand’ applies not only to domestic politics but also to the international stage.

The Institution needs a reimagined, with a fit-for-purpose structure ready to take head on future challenges in as much as the inequalities of the past can’t and should not set the rules of the present.

IPS UN Bureau

 


  
 
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