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Kofi Annan and the Real Need for UN Reform

Article by Greg Austin and Ken Berry

September 15, 2006

A full range of challenges

While both of these efforts have provided additional stimulus for significant reform efforts, neither has captured the full scope of the challenges facing the UN system — as well as the people of the world.

States can now work towards a “new grand bargain” — one that will bridge the growing gulf between the developed world and the developing countries.

There is, for example, little recognition that proposed new ‘standing members’ of the UN Security Council, especially India, represent a belief system and a set of power relationships that may — and probably should — sweep away important deformities of the old order.

There is a growing gulf between, on the one hand, U.S. and European perceptions of the international order and, on the other, those of the ‘non-West’ — especially in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

A growing gulf

On the economic front, this gulf between the developed world and the developing world, represented in part by the G-77, has been made plain in that group’s rejection of key aspects of the report of Annan’s High Level Panel.

With regard to the threats and challenges facing the UN system and its members, “the report does not adequately address many issues of concern to the South,” the G-77 has stated.

Excluding the non-Western world

This is our conclusion, too. As useful and reformist as the Panel’s report is, the claim of its chairman, Thailand’s Anand Panyarachun, that the report “puts forward a new vision of collective security, one that addresses all of the major threats to international peace and security felt around the world,” is patently unsustainable.
A new international economic and social order — with a fundamentally more democratic and grass-roots nature — is taking shape.

Specifically, there is too little of the non-Western — especially the Islamic — world in the report. Long-standing goals of the Non-Aligned Movement or its leaders have been ignored.

There is, for example, no serious treatment of the elimination of nuclear weapons — or of the reining in of the disposition of Security Council members to use force without adequate reference to the UN Security Council.

Criticism all around

India criticized the report for its one-sided approach to terrorism and its selective treatment of associated causes. South Africa has criticized it for wanting to expand the powers of the Security Council at a time when the Council has been overstepping its existing authorities.

Pakistan felt that the report should have addressed a number of old threats (“foreign occupation, regional rivalries, the global and regional arms race”) and new ways of enhancing the UN’s capacity for the peaceful resolution of disputes.

A new iron curtain

It said that the report overlooked one of the major threats — the risk of a new iron curtain coming down between the West and the Islamic world.

There is rising intolerance among developing nations of the current system of ‘indulgences’ enjoyed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Many Islamic countries do not agree with the panel’s view of terrorism, feeling that it de-legitimizes armed struggle against occupying forces.

While even these critics have expressed support for key recommendations of the Panel’s report, the depth and scope of the criticism — alongside the Panel’s report itself — provide strong evidence that the United Nations does not just need reform. It is in need of a moral, political and structural reformation.

A ‘root and branch’ reformation

The need for this reformation and the paths it must take has to reflect the massive changes in power relationships in the world in the past 60 years — and the moral and political impulses that led to or flowed from those power changes.

That is why a ‘root and branch’ reformation of the UN will not be led from New York — or from the foreign ministries of the major powers.

Through appointment of his High Level Panel on UN reform, Kofi Annan has delivered the opportunity, and indeed further exposed the need, but he cannot lead the reformation. Annan is no Martin Luther. He could not survive as Secretary General if he were.

A system of ‘indulgences’

The underlying credo of the old order may be the same as the new one now on offer — peace among nations. But there is rising intolerance among developing nations of the current system of ‘indulgences’ enjoyed by the five permanent members of the Security Council, particularly but not exclusively, the United States and Britain.

A ‘root and branch’ reformation of the UN will not be led from New York — or from the foreign ministries of the major powers.

There is a rising confidence among leaders in the developing world that a new international economic and social order, with a fundamentally more democratic and grass-roots nature, is taking shape.

Under these circumstances, a new order for international security — based principally on procedural reform of the UN Security Council — is not sufficient by itself.

It does not remedy the absence of a comprehensive approach to other aspirations for reform among major actors, nor does it address areas of grave concern in international order broadly defined.

Room for improvement

UN reform this year and in coming years need not address all of the criticisms raised in response to the High Level Panel’s report. But there is ample room for a major advance in many areas, as long as some genuine effort is made to address the most urgent concerns of the developing countries in the field of international and national security broadly defined. They include:

• High indebtedness of developing countries

• Depleted human resources in developing countries

• Constraints on bank lending to developing countries

• Sanctions and trade bans

• Military interventions and the ‘responsibility to protect’

• Nuclear weapons proliferation and control regimes

• Weaponisation of outer space
At first glance, there may appear to be few direct links between many of these subjects. Yet, all of them raise concerns that can no longer effectively be addressed only by relying on the normal processes of subject-specific international conferences or bodies set up to negotiate on specific and narrow issues — such as nuclear arms control instruments or debt reduction.

A new grand bargain

The growing support for reform of the Security Council provides a unique opportunity to address these other concerns.

States can now work towards a “new grand bargain.” This new grand bargain will not be one, as has been argued in some places, that offers more development money to poorer countries in return for their agreement to reforms on Security Council membership or weapons proliferation.

A new approach to security

The new grand bargain will have to bridge the growing gulf between the developed world and the developing countries on fundamental approaches to security.

Kofi Annan has delivered the opportunity for reform — but he cannot lead the reformation.

It will be a complex process and surely take quite a bit of time. However, only when this broader goal of a new grand bargain is pursued will reform of the Security Council be meaningful and durable.

The general objective must be to seize the opportunity now presented by the prospect of Security Council reform to make a quantum advance in other areas.

Reducing the scope of war

For example, in the area of security, there is an opportunity to reduce the scope of war and war-like actions, an advance that may be as radical as the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 which sought to outlaw aggressive war. Innovations in this area might include:

• Strengthening of the UN capacities for peaceful resolution of disputes through new mandatory processes

• New procedures for addressing long-running foreign military occupations

• New procedures for addressing long standing claims to self-determination that threaten peace

• New international regimes for the acquiring and use of foreign military bases

• A new requirement to report in detail to the UN Security Council on the conduct of any war or war-like operations

• A new mechanism of accountability to the UN General Assembly for civilian casualties in all wars or combat operations

• A new commitment to work towards the complete prohibition of weapons of mass destruction.

The opportunity for a ‘reformation’ within the UN and international security order is now here and the need is urgent.

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