The road ahead for the UN: Reform or else perish - Hindustan Times
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The road ahead for the UN: Reform or else perish

Dec 11, 2023 11:16 PM IST

The UNSC must undergo transformative changes to stay true to its founding principles and effectively address the complex challenges of our times

In the contemporary geopolitical landscape, marked by transnational security challenges, technological disruptions, and a fragmented global supply chain, the architecture of international politics stands at a critical juncture. The fabric of multilateralism, once a robust framework for global cooperation, now appears worn out, with the United Nations-led model facing a crisis of credibility. Amidst widespread polarisation and resurgent protectionism, coupled with the dire realities of the climate crisis, there is a pressing need for a comprehensive reassessment of our international institutions, most notably the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Members of the United Nations Security Council during a meeting at the UN headquarters in New York. (Reuters File Photo) PREMIUM
Members of the United Nations Security Council during a meeting at the UN headquarters in New York. (Reuters File Photo)

In the contemporary geopolitical landscape, marked by transnational security challenges, technological disruptions, and a fragmented global supply chain, the architecture of international politics stands at a critical juncture. The fabric of multilateralism, once a robust framework for global cooperation, now appears worn out, with the United Nations-led model facing a crisis of credibility. Amidst widespread polarisation and resurgent protectionism, coupled with the dire realities of the climate crisis, there is a pressing need for a comprehensive reassessment of our international institutions, most notably the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

The UNSC, established under the Charter of the United Nations in 1945, was envisioned as a bastion of international collaboration. Its current structure, however, a relic of the mid-20th century, is starkly out of step with the evolving dynamics of the 21st century. The composition of the Security Council, predominantly representing the Global North, fails to mirror the diverse geopolitical realities of today’s world, notably excluding significant regions like Latin America, Africa, and the small island States, while offering scant representation to Asia. This anachronistic framework not only reflects an outdated world order but also perpetuates the imbalances of a bygone colonial era.

The push for reform of the UNSC has been a recurring theme in global dialogues. The lone significant change, an increase in non-permanent members from six to ten in 1965, was a response to the expanding UN membership, which has since grown to 193 countries. However, this change falls significantly short of addressing the current need for equitable representation and inclusivity. The question of equitable representation and expansion of the UNSC has been on the agenda of the General Assembly since 1979. In 1992, the General Assembly adopted RES/47/62, again calling for this issue to be included in the provisional agenda of the General Assembly’s 48th session. Yet, not an inch has been conceded on reforms!

The roundtable discussion “Shifting the Balance: Perspectives on United Nations Security Council Reforms from Global South Think Tanks”, which I had the honour of co-hosting in June this year, brought to light the critical need for reform. The existing structure of the UNSC symbolically represents a continuation of colonial legacies in a world that has dramatically transformed. The current composition, failing to adapt to the geopolitical shifts over the past decades, now stands as a glaring symbol of anachronism. India’s G20 presidency highlighted the urgency of reform, placing multilateral reform and the concerns of the Global South at the forefront. The representation of the Global South is not just a matter of equity but a necessity, given that many of the issues discussed within the Council pertain directly to these regions. At the UN, the L.69 Group of Developing Countries has been advocating for an expansion in both the permanent and non-permanent categories of the UNSC, emphasising the need for equitable geographical representation and supporting the Common African Position, in acknowledgement of the historical injustices faced by the continent.

Reform must also extend beyond mere expansion. It necessitates a reimagining of the decision-making processes, empowering non-permanent members and rectifying the existing power imbalances within the UN system. The UNSC should evolve to foster greater accountability to the General Assembly, transitioning from a top-down approach to a more collaborative, representative model. This is an ongoing and intense discussion topic at the UN. The inclusion of the African Union as a G20 member under India’s successful leadership this year signifies a step towards more inclusive global governance. This development should serve as an impetus for the UN to pursue similar reforms, particularly in the UNSC. Broad representation is inarguably essential for the effectiveness and credibility of any international body. As we approach the 2024 Summit of the Future of the United Nations, we are presented with a pivotal opportunity to remake the UN. The pressing urgency of UNSC reform cannot be overstated. The question is clear: Can the UNSC evolve to reflect the current realities, or will it remain anchored in the paradigms of 1945? The answer to this will determine the future role and relevance of the UN in global cooperation. In his remarks on the present impasse in September 2023, the UN Secretary-General had stated, “reform or rupture”. This stark choice underscores the urgency of the situation.

In conclusion, the time for maintaining the status quo has passed. The UNSC must undergo transformative changes to stay true to its founding principles and effectively address the complex challenges of our times. Only through such reforms can it uphold its mission to ensure global peace and security in a world that has vastly changed since its inception.

Ruchira Kamboj is India’s permanent representative to the UN. The views expressed are personal

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