on veto: Reforms elude UN
NEW YORK -- The 15-member Security Council, the only UN body empowered
to make war and peace, is a political anachronism that has outlived
its five veto-wielding permanent members - the US, France, Britain,
China and Russia - the Council violates the one-nation, one-vote
principle enshrined in the UN charter.
a result, the Council has continued to legitimize the long-discredited
principle that while all 191 member states are created equal, some
are more equal than the others.
10 other non-permanent members on the Council, who are elected every
two years on the rotating principle of geographical distribution,
have no vetoes and remain politically impotent.
former UN Under-Secretary-General James Jonah, who also served as
Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone, told a seminar organized
by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation last week the misuse of the veto
is even regrettable than the veto itself.
someone who had chaired the Security Council, and whose country
was once a non-permanent member, Jonah said: "The veto has
been abused, abused and abused."
member of the Council has used the veto to safeguard its own national
interest. Over the last 60 years, the veto has been abused mostly
by the former Soviet Union (now Russia) and the United States (mostly
to protect Israel).
the veto has also been used as a political threat to advance parochial
interests. France, for example, has always forewarned member states
that it will not give its blessings to any candidate for Secretary-General
who does not speak French.
warning from France is ominous: if you want to be the UN Secretary-General,
make sure you speak French. Otherwise we will veto you. As former
Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali once jokingly remarked:
you should not only be able to speak French but also speak English
with a French accent. That's a double jeopardy.
is the relationship between having a good Secretary-General and
his ability to speak French," asked Jonah, who comes from an
English-speaking African country.
then, when you possess the veto power - as France does - you play
the game according to the rules set by permanent members, whether
they are right or wrong.
even change the rules in the middle of the game - since the UN charter
does not specify French as a qualification to become a Secretary-General,
even though French is one of the working languages of the world
body, as is English, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.
1994, a UN working committee has been labouring to bring about radical
changes in the Security Council. But after 10 long years, the committee
has hit a dead-end.
primary reason is that permanent members armed with the veto have
refused to abdicate the ultimate power they possess. They have also
been wishy-washy about welcoming new permanent members with veto
powers, to their elitist inner circle.
month Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a landmark 62-page report
described as a blueprint for restructuring the world body. The report
backs a proposal made by a high-level panel on UN reforms, which
early this year called for two alternative models:
A provides for six new permanent seats, with no veto being created,
and three new two-year term non-permanent seats, divided among Africa,
Asia and Pacific, Europe and the Americas.
B provides for no new permanent seats but creates a new category
of eight four-year renewable-term seats and one new two-year non-permanent
(and non-renewable) seat, divided among the four regional groups.
secretary-general said he wants member states to take their pick
before September, when over 150 world leaders are expected in New
York for a summit meeting.
four front runners for Model A were India, Japan, Germany and Brazil
(who called themselves the Group of 4). But last week, in a major
setback to the Group, both China and the US said they are in no
rush to change the current composition of the Security Council.
Both countries have refused to abide by the "artificial"
September deadline set by the Secretary-General.
reservations from the US and China came as a surprise to most diplomats,
and a bitter disappointment to the Group of 4, which was under the
mistaken impression that the coast was clear for changes in the
rejection also undermines Annan's broad package to reform the world
body. When he introduced the package last month, he stressed this
was not an "ala carte" package. It was not meant to be
picked apart. The whole package was meant to be approved in toto.
with most member states expressing strong reservations over some
of his proposals, including the creation of a new Human Rights Council,
Annan faces another crisis of confidence as he struggles to save
his beleaguered administration.
a news conference in Geneva last week, he was forced to backtrack
when he told reporters that he did not mean to say that it was an
"all or nothing" package.
suggestion that they look at the proposals as a package was not
intended to convey the message - take it or leave it," he said.
"What I am suggesting is, let's look at it comprehensively."