UN Reforms agenda – Global strategic implications and concerns for India

| Viswapramod C

The prime International institution of the world, The United Nations Organisation, which was established in 1945 post world war 2, to promote international peace and collective security, after seven decades is thinking seriously about a structural and comprehensive reform agenda. The “10 point declaration”, recently proposed by the UN has already received support from over 120 countries across all the continents. We would analyse the concerns and prospects around this ‘hopefully promising but yet sceptical action plan’ endorsed by the UN.

Theoretical and historical background

Well-known sociologist Daniel Bell says “nation-states are too big for small problems and too small for big problems”. This necessitates the establishment of global institutions or Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGO’s). Global institutions provide a large network of state and non-state actors, a forum for civilised dialogue, debate, discussion, interaction and a platform to augment effective communication of the issues and interests concerned. Henceforth it provides a new space, which enables the nation-states in initiating avenues for cooperation, creates a comprehensive dispute settlement mechanism and helps in institutionalising economic and trade negotiations.

The Second World War officially ended after the unconditional surrender of Japan to Allied powers after nuclear devastation on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The winners of the Second World War (European powers and the United States) took a firm initiative of establishing a permanent International institution to prevent future global wars and establish peace in the world order. As a result of profound dialectic thinking and discourse, The United Nations was born. Pioneering efforts of establishing an International organisation should be credited to Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points program which envisaged the need for a global peacekeeping institution. At the time of the establishment of the UN, the fundamental principles were adopted as the core values of the United Nations, which were:

1) Sovereign equality of Nation States.

2) International problems concerning territorial disputes and conflicts shall fall under the United Nations.

3) Maintaining International peace and security in the world order.

A critical assessment of the working of the United Nations

Amongst the six principal organs of the UN (1. Security Council, 2. General Assembly, 3. Secretariat, 4. Economic and Social Council, 5. Council and 6. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ), the Security Council, General Assembly, Social and Economic Council and ICJ are important organs which have played a significant role in administering the world order in the post 2nd world war period.

The Security Council, which occupies the highest position in the UN, has largely been unjust and disappointing, barring a few occasions of unanimous consensus, which has led to an unaugmented structural transformation, which has practically made it a forum of least strategic significance. The General Assembly has performed far better by accommodating new member states and allowing dialogue, debate and discussion to take place, which has represented several voices, concerns and issues of all the member states. The economic and social council has kept the UN institution intact and significant to date. Bodies like the WHO, UNESCO, FAO, UNHRC, ILO etc have been very active in coordinating and successfully executing social and economic welfare programs.

Even though it has received a few criticisms of biassed interventions and unfair treatment to Third world countries on human rights issues. Its working credentials have been acknowledged and appreciated by most experts and scholars. The International Court of Justice, on the other hand, has invoked mixed reactions amongst actors and experts who have dwelt and studied its working. Its biggest limitation is, It only recognizes interstate territorial conflicts and deals exclusively on territorial disputes. Moreover, its verdicts are non-binding by their nature which brings down its credibility by leaps and bounds. All of these critical factors have pushed for a reform agenda.

10 point reform declaration in a nutshell

1) Secretary-General of the UN to lead the organisation reforms.

2) Strengthening partnerships and trust amongst Nations.

3) Improved mandate delivery through stronger collaboration.

4) Impactful and field centric reform management.

5) Accountability, Transparency, authority with responsibility.

6) Reduction in duplication, redundancy and overlap among various UN organs.

7) Increase in importance to human resource management policies and emphasis on gender parity.

8) Strengthen organised planning and Budget functions.

9) Increase humanitarian response, enhance development and sustaining peace initiatives.

10) Enabling a platform to promote Sustainable development goals.

A reform agenda centred on bureaucratic, administrative changes and financial concerns of the Developed Nations

From the recent deliberations which were held in the UN under the senior secretary general staff members, and UN ambassadors from major countries there was a lengthy discussion on the long-awaited reforms of the UN system. The most significant set of agendas was explicitly spoken mostly by the western countries. US diplomats spoke of a magnanimous rise in the UN Budget to 140% since its establishment, and how unsuccessful it has become in recent years in delivering results. Their view was, “UN has not reached its full potential in recent years because of bureaucracy and mismanagement”. They mentioned the doubling up of UN staff since 2000 but said results are not in line with it. He also mentioned that USA funds close to 22% of the UN Budget annually. But according to them, the results of this “investment” are not fetching adequate results, to put in in their exact verbatim. To quote former National Security Advisor of USA Mr John Bolton “the USA thinks that UN is an MNC and like any other profit-oriented company, UN should also multiply this investment in favour of its most prominent investor”. This is a clear indication that the USA is footing significant bills of the UN and it must reflect the hegemonic character of the USA in the international forum by not just demanding but commanding accountability for its every action. Perhaps it becomes clear that they do not recognize the difference between investment and financial aid and assistance for global peace and collective security. What is perhaps surprising is that even the secretary-general echoed similar points,

He made his speech soon after the US diplomats and spoke about the need to augment changes such as shifting focus more on people and less on the process, the necessity to increase the efficiency of delivery mechanisms and streamlining bureaucracy. He mentioned the urgency in reviving the fragmented structures, byzantine procedures and endless red tape. USA’s financial concerns got recognition when their diplomats lamented about the principle of ‘value for money ‘to be seriously considered by every member state. But on the latter part of the deliberations, US diplomats spoke about a few significant elements that were dwelt upon like, reorganising peace and security sections of the UN, to enable prevention and mediation, promotion of shared values and Sustainable development goals. The overall deliberations we’re upon bureaucracy and administrative reforms. Nothing significant was mentioned about dealing with the less developed countries, growing economic inequalities, refugee crisis, increasing socio-cultural gaps and disputes, combating global terror and radicalization across the world which has cost the lives of several million in the past three decades in particular.

In a time where conflicts are going through rapid transformations, a new peacekeeping mechanism is required, the UN has jurisdiction over only territorial conflicts and disputes which are interstate by its nature. The need of the hour is to address the intra-state conflicts which would require a peacekeeping 2.0 mechanism. Unfortunately, since this Reform agenda does not talk even a word about the UN Security Council, which has been paralyzed by the P5 countries by the power of veto, a paradigm shift conflict resolution mechanism is a distinct dream unless a global leader of vision and statesmanship crafts emerges.

Concerns and interests which need to be addressed by India

India needs to create a balance between the pursuit of its narrow national interest and its responsibility as a rising power. For its part, India has suggested that the UN reforms need to be “broad-based and all-encompassing” and the changes should not be restricted to its secretariat only. India’s former permanent representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin has made it clear that reforms cannot sidestep issues related to the governance of UN bodies. But India has extended its support to American efforts at UN reforms, saying it should include the expansion of the world body’s permanent and non-permanent members to keep pace with the changing times.

Since the end of the Cold War, India has been spearheading a move for reforms at the UN to make the world body more representative of the changing global realities while enhancing its credibility and effectiveness. India remains one of the largest contributors to the UN peacekeeping operations, providing almost 200,000 troops in nearly 50 of the 71 peacekeeping missions mandated over the past six decades. It is not surprising, therefore, that New Delhi has been concerned about the post-Cold War international acceptance of the UN’s questionable “right to intervene” where it believed it to be necessary, allowing the UN to act with little debate. The nature of the military operations increased both in number and complexity over an extremely short timescale. Additionally, the UN peacekeepers were deployed to environments in which the belligerent parties were not entirely on board with the deployment, thus seriously threatening the safety of the troops under the UN flag. India has repeatedly underlined the dangers inherent in such a rapid transformation from traditional UN missions to these new operations.

Since the cessation of the Cold War, there have been attempts to reform the international legal system to reflect the rights of the individual over and above those of the state. But India, along with other largely non-Western nations, has remained sceptical of these attempts at reforms, believing that any such reforms would afford the privileged few with the means to intervene, the moral justification to do so. Therefore, the US administration’s focus on “sovereignty” as the defining feature of UN reforms will be welcomed by New Delhi. But as India continues to expand its diplomatic capital on finding a seat at the UN Security Council, it will also have to articulate new ways of how the UN can be made more effective and efficient.

(The author has a MA in political science and international relations. Views expressed are authors own)

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