by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The United States, which preaches democracy to the Middle East and rest of the world, seems unwilling to share equitable political power in one of the world's most undemocratic and anachronistic institutions: the 15-member UN Security Council.
"The United Nations has always faced a difficult imbalance between power and democracy," says Phyllis Bennis, a senior fellow at the Washington-based liberal Institute for Policy Studies.
She said the Security Council, "arguably the least democratic agency within the UN system," holds the most power -- with only 15 members, it claims a monopoly over decisions of war and peace.
"The imbalance of power is made worse within the Council caused by the use of the veto by the permanent members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- which makes the internal workings of the Council even less democratic," said Bennis, who has authored several books, including 'Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's UN'
"The real problem of the Security Council is the veto. And as long as that exists, the reform/expansion efforts are not likely to have major impact -- and the five veto-wielding governments have no intention of broadening their elite club, or certainly of giving up their long-standing privilege," Bennis told IPS.
Besides the five permanent members, the Security Council also includes 10 rotating non-permanent members who are elected every two years -- and they do not have the power of the veto either.
Jim Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, quotes an unnamed UN ambassador as saying that the permanent five (P-5) should really be re-named the "Hereditary Five" (H-5) "to highlight the anachronism of their status in a world that aspires to democracy."
In a joint study with Celine Nahory released Friday, Paul says that "powerful governments that claim to champion 'freedom,' 'democracy,' and 'good governance' have been known to behave despotically in the international arena, bending small states to their will and acting in violation of international law."
Nahory and Paul say that "such powers sit in the Security Council and cannot be expected to solve problems that they themselves have created."
"The 10 elected members of the Council say they feel like 'tourists' or short-term passengers on a long distance train," the two authors say.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who diplomatically avoided naming names, took a passing shot at the United States when he told reporters Thursday that "there is a democracy deficit in the UN governance that has to be corrected."
"Of course, it's up to the members to determine whether they will let size trump democracy and representativeness. We are the ones who go around the world lecturing everybody about democracy. I think it is about time we apply it to ourselves, and then show that there is effective representation," Annan said.
"So I believe that member states should consider this question of expansion very seriously," he added.
A three-day debate in the UN General Assembly, which began last Monday, has revealed once again the sharp divisions in the 191-member world body over the proposed expansion of the Security Council.
A five-page draft resolution, which may be put to a vote next week, calls for an increase in the number of members: from the present 15 to 25, by adding six permanent and four non-permanent members, as against the current five permanent and 10 non-permanent members.
"I know there is concern in some quarters that if you expand the Council beyond 15, it will be too large, and it shouldn't go up to 25 or 24," Annan told reporters. "But I think we all have to admit that the Council can be more democratic and more representative."
However, attempts to expand the Council -- which require a two-thirds majority and a revision of the UN charter -- are being thwarted by different countries for different reasons.
Both the United States and China, two permanent members, have told delegates that since there is no "broad consensus," the question of expanding the Security Council should be deferred -- even though discussions on the matter have continued over the last 12 years, with no resolution.
In an unusual plea to member states, Shirin Tahir-Kheli, the U.S. State Department advisor on UN reform, told delegates: "We urge you, therefore, to oppose this resolution and, should it come to a vote, to vote against it."
Asked about the U.S. plea, Annan said: "I think it is a right of an individual country to decide how it wants to vote. But of course, there are 191 members, so the others would also be free to decide which way to vote."
The resolution is being strongly backed by a "group of four" (G-4) countries -- Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil -- who along with two still unnamed African countries are making a strong push to join the ranks of the privileged five as permanent members.
Bennis argues that both the United States and China, for different reasons, are far more concerned about which countries might become permanent members of the Security Council than they are about the principle of Council expansion.
Since there was never any possibility that any new permanent members would be equal -- that is, veto-holding -- to the five existing permanent members, the problem is not bringing in new countries. Rather, the opposition is rooted in specific candidates, she said.
China is strongly opposed to Japan becoming part of the Council, partly because of unease about Beijing's key regional economic competitor matching it in the diplomatic arena as well, and partly, as indicated in the well-orchestrated recent Chinese campaign, because of Japan's insufficient remorse for its occupation of China during World War II.
For Washington, its opposition to the G-4 proposal is largely based on opposition to Germany joining the Council, Bennis said.
"In this case, whatever concerns may exist over Germany's -- or Europe's -- economic clout are dwarfed by the (George W.) Bush administration's absolute determination not to appear to reward Germany," she told IPS.
The United States did not make good on any of its earlier dire threats against dissident countries who refused to toe the U.S. line in the run-up to the Iraq war. But Berlin's vocal anti-war leadership was, like that of Paris, especially galling, and it is clear the Bush administration is committed to preventing Berlin from gaining any new international credibility, Bennis added.
Paul and Nahory say that Pakistan opposes India, Argentina and Mexico oppose Brazil, South Korea and China oppose Japan, and Italy opposes Germany.
"In Africa, with many candidates (including South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal and Kenya) in the wings, rivalry has become even more intense."
This complex political geometry, they argue, assures broad opposition and guarantees defeat for all the aspirants.
But Bennis points out that serious reform of the Security Council -- including elimination of the veto altogether -- is unlikely in the near term; and indeed, adding a few second-class permanent members would do little to challenge the undemocratic stranglehold the existing veto perpetuates.
Real UN reform, including efforts towards democratization and transparency, are far more likely to be realized by transferring more and more key global decisions out of the U.S.-dominated and veto-paralysed Council, and empowering instead the flawed but still more democratic and open -- and veto-less -- General Assembly, she said.
July 21, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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