A fairer UNSC!

Everyone agrees that the present structure of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is unfair and unrepresentative, as essentially the victors of the 2nd World War co-opted themselves on to the world’s most exclusive and powerful club. Resultantly, Germany and Japan, missed out on the club membership, and India, with its tragic lack of sense in geopolitics, gifted away the permanent seat to China, that was offered by the US and the USSR to India (of course not that one expects China to be grateful for it, as the harsh world of geopolitics does not pander to silly idealism).

The world has changed dramatically in the last 60 years, and the current UNSC looks less and less representative of the realities of today. Japan, Germany and India, are still not permanent members, there is no permanent member from Africa or South America. The council’s importance is resultantly going down, and while the existing permanent members do not see any urgency to reform the UNSC, the longer this is delayed, the more its legitimacy is going to slide.

Although the United States has finally hinted at the possibility that it would be willing to support India’s candidature as a permanent member of the UNSC, this is not likely to happen any time soon. Also, given India’s historical desire to be seen as a moral power in the world, it campaigning only for itself, would be seen as too selfish, a tag that India would want to avoid. So what can India do in terms of new ideas, to give a fresh fillip and urgency to reforming the UNSC, and in the process getting a permanent seat for itself also?

The process of expanding the council is flawed, wherein the current veto-wielding permanent members can dictate the terms of the new architecture, which I am sure irritates a lot of the members of the UN. Even though some more countries could get co-opted onto the UNSC, there would be very little legitimacy to their ascension, as they would get on board essentially by striking deals with the current permanent members.

This article tries to explore alternatives for setting up a fair process for the further expansion and restructuring of the UNSC.

Let’s consider the following suggestions:  

  1. Expand the UNSC from the present 15 members to 20 members (the number 20 merely closely parallels the G20, the world’s most important body in terms of the current financial crisis)
  2. There should be 8 permanent member and 12 non-permanent members (again just a reasonable split of the 20 seats).
  3. The split of the 20 seats between the five major continents (excluding Australasia and Oceania for now) should be on the basis of agreed criteria, so that it is seen as fair. The continents being considered in this analysis are Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America.
  4. A proposed set of eight criteria is as follows:
    1. Land Area
    2. GDP
    3. Population
    4. Foreign Exchange Reserves
    5. Military Power (a basic index of current distribution of military power between the continents / leading countries)
    6. Nuclear Powers (declared powers, who may or may not have signed the NPT)
    7. Number of countries (in that continent)
    8. G20 memberships
  5. The above criteria can be tweaked and fine-tuned, but indicates that the process is taking into account various criteria which would allow for a fair distribution of seats
  6. Taking the above criteria into account and doing a quick “back-of-the-envelope” calculation, the distribution of these 20 seats amongst the continents appears to be as follows:
    1. Asia – 8 seats (3 permanent)
    2. Africa – 2 seats (1 permanent)
    3. Europe – 5 seats (2 permanent)
    4. North America – 3 seats (1 permanent)
    5. South America – 2 seats (1 permanent)
  7. The permanent seats have been distributed using the same approximate ratio of 8:12.
  8. In order to make it fair for Australasia and Oceania, one non-permanent seat could be rotated with them from each of the five continents, so once in eight years (given that the term is for two years), each continent will have one less non-permanent seat.
  9. The permanent members from each continent will be selected by a popular vote in the UNGA, amongst countries from that continent, allowing for at least three countries to stand from each continent, or twice the number of permanent seats allocated, whichever is higher. The countries that can stand for these elections will be the top countries from that continent, as per the same criteria as above (except criteria g).
  10. Once voted for, these elected countries would become the permanent members of the UNSC from that continent
  11. Filling out the non-permanent seats would follow the existing process, wherein countries from a continent would be free to stand for elections for the number of seats that are to be filled, with at least three candidate countries to be present for conducting a bonafide election. Voting would be done by the countries from that continent only.
  12. The individual power of veto has to be taken away from all permanent members, and introduced in the form of a collective will of the permanent members (i.e. a majority vote of the permanent members would be considered as a veto, to undo a majority vote of the entire UNSC). This will force the permanent members to work with each other for the betterment of the world and the UNSC as an institution.
  13. Last, and not the least, the UN has to be shifted from the US, as being headquartered therein, it has almost become an extension of the US government, as opposed to being an independent world-body. The ideal location would be Switzerland, given its historical neutrality, or one of the Mediterranean countries, being at the centre of the world (the map as we look at it today).

Now lets all be practical, the above is not going to be easy, as the existing powers are not going to let go of their hold on this powerful institution so easily. This is where India has to use its new-found global standing and stature. India has to not only openly campaign for this, but also threaten to walk out of the UN, if such a reform is not taken up post haste.

The world body does need India, to maintain its legitimacy, and it will force the hand of the existing status-quoist powers to consider this change. This will also raise India’s standing further, as we will not be merely campaigning for its own permanent membership, but for a process to make the entire UNSC fair and democratic. India will also find support in this endeavour from countries that want to change this current set-up, including Germany, Japan, South Korea, South Africa and Brazil.

Does India have the guts to champion something radical and different?

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