news Thursday, July 16, 2015 - 05:30
  Earlier this month Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote to 193 nations on a host of issues. Among them was a call to “rethink how the multilateral system can be made more inclusive and effective”. He referred to reforms in the United Nations (UN) system to adequately reflect global changes and progress. Between the lines there were strong tailwinds for India to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC). Other than a prestige issue, a permanent seat at the high table serves little or no purpose in today’s geo-politics. However generations of diplomats and all Indian Prime Ministers have worked at securing a permanent UNSC seat. Will that happen? This writer does not think so and argues about the irrelevance of such pursuits. For a start, China will not allow it and all others will follow Beijing. If the government of India believes that the UN should reflect ground realities, it needs root and branch changes and not cosmetics at the top. There is no economic benefit or political capital to be gained. Here’s why. The forties and fifties in the last century were times of great transition. The world saw a wave of new democracies emerge, World War II had drawn to a close after an atomic bomb had been dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Japan), millions were dead in Europe and Germany was split into two at the point where the advancing Allies and the Germans stopped – in Berlin.  The Cold War had replaced guns and cannons. On the other side of the Atlantic in the United States (US), institutions were erected by the victors of the war who also wrote the history of success and failure. The UN situated in New York gave itself a Security Council with five permanent members – United States, France, China, United Kingdom and Russia – all with a power to veto any decisions. In addition, there were ten non-permanent members representing various regions of the world for a two-year term. The UNSC had several tasks but the main one was to maintain international peace and security. Not far away in Washington even as the war waged in Europe, over 700 people from the Allied nations gathered in Bretton Woods to draw up the first charter of rules and regulations for commercial and financial relations of the world’s major trading nations. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) were born. At the turn of the last century, GATT became the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the world’s first global trade policeman. Gunboat diplomacy would be replaced with trade sanctions. The Cold War all but made the UNSC irrelevant as countries were either lined up with the Allies or with Russia. The fall of the Berlin wall signaled change but that change happened in ways no one could foresee. The three-way split of Yugoslavia into Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia in the 90’s was bloody. The UN watched helplessly and sent in peace-keeping forces when nothing could be salvaged. Even more controversial were the UN-authorised invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US without a UNSC nod. The body had also been set aside by Russia walking into Crimea last year leading to questions about its relevance. While the UNSC is authorized to pass resolutions relating to war and maintaining peace, US Ambassador Richard Holbrook secured one on HIV/AIDS leading to criticism that it was a show where the winner takes all. Seventy years after the UN was created, the disparities between rich and poor countries has grown, the world is more democratic but not more peaceful and international trade and market mechanisms have become the only arbiter of diplomacy short of war.  Many of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) remain unmet and governments are no longer willing to fund vague goals with vested interests – poverty and disease pays to keep people rich and richer. Germany is also pursuing a permanent UNSC seat but stands astride between foreign policy and wishful thinking. Indeed, it was banned from the club because it lost the war, but that was 70 years ago. With some 61 million people, Germany is the world’s third largest exporter after China (pop. 1.3 billion) and the US (pop. 319 million). Germany’s power is omnipresent in Europe including during the recent Greek crisis and the bail-out. Japan flushed with cash today is also not pursuing a UNSC seat. Brazil and South Africa also want a permanent seat. Today the UN is a toothless tiger, high on verbiage and low on action in contrast to the WTO which has teeth and reach. There are many wars - great lakes in Africa and the Middle East, for example - where the UN has watched helplessly and issued statements. The UN’s only relevance is when it brings food and other assistance to people in distress and that too is happening selectively. It has been ineffective and absent in protecting the wave of refugees coming to Europe from North Africa and in content with making motherhood and apple pie statements about the Rohingyas in Myanmar. On human rights – the basis of all human intercourse – it is a victim of its own hypocrisy. The world needs a UN, a place where people can seek protection, aid, assistance and human rights. The current structure – a bureaucratic behemoth – is uncouth, lazy, hypocritical and self-perpetuating. The new body has to be vibrant, responsive and responsible. This year is also the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in former Yugoslavia where brother killed brother and walls were erected through people homes to carve out new maps. The survivors said if their country – Yugoslavia – was economically sound, splitting it would have been difficult. Somewhere in all this, there is a message for India, potentially one of the world’s largest markets. It goes something like this - economic security will provide the stability, gravitas and confidence that the UNSC cannot.   
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