UN on the Verge of Reform?

Immediately following the opening of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly in New York, a process preceding launch of a procedure for a large-scale reform of the structure and principles of the UN was initiated. The declaration by United States President Donald Trump of the change of organization on September 18 was signed by representatives of 128 countries from 193 UN member states. The document was approved by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres. In his speech on September 18, Trump remarked that the US supports the endeavors of the Secretary-General “to audit the whole system and to find ways to improve the UN.” However, the head of the White House noted, “In recent years the United Nations has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement.” Guterres, in turn, pointed out that efforts were needed to change the “fragmented structures” and “Byzantine procedures” in the United Nations, making it a more “nimble and effective, flexible and efficient” global organization.

The document proposes to reduce duplicative positions and even entire organizational units. The declaration comprises a total of 10 points. It states that concrete changes should be made in the work of the Organization and in the financing of its core institutions. Trump’s proposals are primarily focused on the financial activities of the Organization. In particular, it speaks of a need to strengthen the monitoring of the allocation of money flowing into UN funds, to increase transparency in the disbursement of funds, to reduce duplication or overabundance of the mandates of the main UN bodies.

Russia did not participate in the meeting on UN reform. Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin was not even invited to this event. As Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Gennady Gatilov stated, Moscow supports the issue of UN reform, but it speaks from positions different from that of Washington. “This is an informal meeting, organized for a group of states that support the document prepared by the United States,” he noted. He said that the proposals under discussion on the reform of the United Nations are “an initiative of a single state.” Russia, China and more than 40 countries in the world were not in support of the document after the meeting, saying that the reform of the United Nations should not be carried out declaratively but on the basis of a general discussion of its main steps.

The question arise: Why has this rather conflict situation arisen if Trump suggested only the de-bureaucratizing the UN and making it more transparent in terms of spending? There is nothing wrong with that.

The reality is quite a different matter. Trump’s proposals are the first step or the first stage in advancing the American strategy for the United Nations. And behind it, most likely, lies the reason, why Washington actually wants to reform the United Nations. And this concerns the steps of a global plan to consolidate the role of the United States in world affairs and weaken the ability of the Russian Federation to influence decision making of the world community on international and regional problems. Namely, about the role of the United Nations Security Council, where Moscow has a permanent seat and, accordingly, the right of veto. That is, following the measures of sanctions against Russia with a view to weakening its economy, by introducing steps for its political isolation and attacks on specific politicians and businessmen in the immediate vicinity of the RF president, Washington wants to weaken its ability to have real influence on international events. After all, without a veto or in case of its restriction, Moscow would have only one means of influence remaining – nuclear weapons. But this is the military component of Russia’s global power that can be invoked only if real threats to the security and territorial integrity of the country are countered, whereas the right of veto in the UN Security Council is a political vehicle that is often used to resolve international issues.

The US has already de facto taken the first step towards the second phase, through France. In late September, 114 countries supported the Paris and Mexico City initiative to amend the UN Charter to deprive the permanent members of the Security Council, including Russia, of their right to veto. This calls for the voluntary waiver of veto power by the permanent members of the UN Security Council, for example, in response to mass crimes. On September 22, during a meeting at the UN headquarters dedicated to the right of veto, Secretary of State at the French Foreign Ministry Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne expressed his dissatisfaction that a number of resolutions on Syria were not adopted because of a”series of vetoes” on the part of Russia and China. Therefore, Paris believes that such an initiative is “extremely relevant” because of the risks of new tragedies. In so doing, they emphasize that for a voluntary waiver, it is necessary to “amend the Charter”, since “a veto is not a right or a privilege, but a responsibility”. The United Kingdom oppenly supports the French position. However, some experts detected in the initiative of Paris the PR of French President Emmanuel Macron, “who needs to secure some kind of fame”, as his rating has fallen by an unprecedented 30 percent in the first four months of his presidency.

The issue of the reform of the UN Security Council is far from being new on the agenda and has been periodically revisited in some form since the end of the 20th century, because many years have passed since 1945 and the end of the Second World War, when the United Nations was established, and the tasks and provisions laid down in its Charter have simply become obsolete, especially in connection with the collapse of the USSR and the end of the confrontation of the two blocs. At that time, Russia was significantly weakened, and the United States became the de facto sole superpower, which, through the UN mechanisms, imposed its decisions on the world. Coupled with this was the fact that the other members of the Security Council, including the Russian Federation, almost always mechanically approved these decisions or abstained from voting. It was only during the Yugoslav crisis that Moscow tried to distance itself from Washington and NATO, but could not do anything in reality.

Of course, in the current situation, the UN is weak at coping with the functions assigned to it. Nevertheless, the principles of the modern world order and international security, which are laid down in the UN Charter, cannot be eliminated without serious consequences for the entire global community. It is these principles that contribute to the preservation of peace and the maintenance of international security. Enhancing the credibility of the Organization will strengthen the ability to respond to the challenges and threats of the 21st century more effectively. The reform of the United Nations should be aimed at improving the settlement mechanism in order to deal with the problems that threaten to destroy the international security system. In the context of the new world order, the United Nations demonstrates the weak controllability of the new super-complex processes that are taking place in the world. The old methods cannot no longer be used to solve the new problems. The issue of the need for a comprehensive reform of the United Nations has been under discussion for many years, but basically boils down to two significant points: 1) the abolition of the veto right or its limitation; 2) the expansion of the Security Council with new permanent members. All other reform issues are of secondary importance.

Only one example – some of the member countries are in favor of expanding the membership of the UN Security Council, adding to it 6 permanent and 4 non-permanent seats. The new permanent positions in the Council are designed to guarantee two seats for Africa, two for Asia, one for Latin America and the Caribbean, and one for Western Europe and one for other countries. There are other options for expanding the composition of the Security Council, based on the geographical principle and taking into account the economic role of a number of states. For example, Germany and Japan would like to be granted permanent membership in order to gain recognition of their role in international relations. For Brazil and India, this reflects their regional influence on the world. Egypt, South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria would like to express African interests. All of these countries share the goal of weakening the dominance of the “five” permanent members in international affairs.

However, the UN rules assume that the process of changing the composition of the 5 permanent members of the Security Council would require a change in the UN Charter, which would in turn require the support of two-thirds of the General Assembly. This, in itself, becomes a formidable obstacle. Besides, the relations existing between the current permanent members of the Security Council and the possible candidates for its expansion are complex. For example, between the PRC and Japan because of an unresolved territorial conflict. Between the Russian Federation and Japan because of the absence of a peace treaty. And, more recently, between Russia and Germany because of the position Berlin is taking on the anti-Russian sanctions, which is negative for Moscow. England would also not be too comfortable with Germany gaining greater influence in global and European affairs.

This is also the case with the United States, which, under Trump, has since changed its attitude towards Germany. All the more so as Washington itself wishes to retain its very important role in the UN Security Council by relying on the support of the weaker and loyal Britain and France, without sharing power with others, while at the same time undermining the positions of Russia, and at the same time the PRC. Therefore, the current ideas on the reform of the United Nations on the part of Trump, as well as the return to the idea of limiting the veto in the Security Council, initiated by Paris and Mexico, is clearly a probe of Moscow’s reaction to this kind of “ideas.” A frank attempt to make Moscow “nervous” and, because of this, commit awkward gestures to irritate others. Especially that in practice, the United States is already applying a different method of resolving conflict situations based on the “theory of humanitarian intervention”, which is clearly not in conformity with international law but is being introduced into the public consciousness of Western countries at a quasi-official level. The US proclaims the possibility of military intervention in the affairs of sovereign countries without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council “if the Council is blocked by a veto of a permanent member.”

Thus, the US, once again demonstrating its military power, is trying to nullify the veto of other permanent members, without giving up its own. And instead of the United Nations, for the role of “peacemaker” is brought Washington controlled NATO, or some self-governing international coalitions, even without the consent of the UN Security Council. As was the case, for example, in Libya in 2011. Or acting alone with the involvement of its junior partners from NATO, the GCC or satellites in the face of Ukraine and Georgia, as in Iraq in 2003, or as an incomprehensible anti-terrorist international coalition in Syria as presently. If this process continues, soon, without taking into account Moscow’s opinion, other thorny issues will be resolved, whether it is the situation around the DPRK or Iran. This would eventually also affect the situation in Donbass with Crimea; and then the situation inside Russia or any other state “undesirable for US”.

… In any event, it is clear that, under the current circumstances, the erosion and weakening of the role of the United Nations is gaining momentum. And sooner or later, this global organization will have to be reformed, taking into account the view of the growing strength of the large and economically powerful countries such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria and Mexico, not to mention Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, etc. Their role in world affairs is objectively increasing, and the current structure of the United Nations Security Council reflects mainly the realities of the Yalta-Potsdam world and the colonial system of the 1950-60s. Washington has understood this, and is beginning to do something in the way of leading this process, since it cannot be stopped. And in this situation, Russia apparently must not delay and confine itself to statements of the type “we disagree”, but be proactive and offer ideas that not only take into account its own national interests but also the views of the obvious majority, and proceeding from the realities of a multi-polar world, and one in which the number of poles is multiplying.

By Peter Lvov, Ph.D
Source: New Eastern Outlook