Photo: Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, India's Permanent Representative to the UN. Source: International House, New York - Photo: 2018

India Faults UN Security Council’s Legitimacy and Credibility

By Santo D. Banerjee

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – A non‑representative United Nations Security Council, designed long ago to maintain a balance of power between rival States, is unable to handle challenges which have changed beyond recognition over the decades, Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN has warned.

“An instrument that is no longer considered legitimate and has lost its credibility cannot be our hope for salvation,” adding that “speech acts” would have little impact, he said in the Security Council’s Open Debate on “complex contemporary challenges to International Peace and Security”.

60 out of 193 UN member states participated in the December 20, 2017 debate of the 15-nation Council in which 10 non-permanent members are elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms, and five permanent members (P5) – Britain, France, Russia, China and the U.S. – have the right to veto any decision that runs contrary to their foreign policy interests.

The significance of the veto power is also underlined by the fact that the Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to peace or act of aggression, and its decisions are binding on the 193-member world body.

With the enlargement of the United Nations membership and increasing self-confidence among the new members, going hand in hand with processes of decolonization, old structures and procedures have been increasingly challenged. But the imbalance between the number of seats in the Security Council and the total number of member States has become evident, and the only significant reform of the Security Council occurred in 1965, including an increase in the non-permanent membership from six to 10 members.

With Boutros Boutros-Ghali elected as Secretary-General in 1992, the reform discussions of the UN Security Council were launched again as he started his new term with the first-ever summit of the Council and then published “An Agenda for Peace”, aimed at restructuring the composition and arguably anachronistic procedures of the UN organ to recognize the changed world.

Addressing the Security Council Open Debate, Secretary-General António Guterres said the current situation was characterized by conflicts that are longer, with some lasting 20 years on average, and were more complex, with armed and extremist groups linked with each other and with the worldwide threat of terrorism. Transnational drug smugglers and human traffickers were perpetuating the chaos and preying on refugees and migrants.

The changing nature of conflict calls for rethinking approaches that include integrated action, Guterres said stressing that prevention must be at the centre of all efforts. “Let us work together to enhance the Council’s focus on emerging situations, expand the toolbox, increase resources for prevention, and be more systematic in avoiding conflict and sustaining peace,” he said, emphasizing the need for Council unity. Without it, he said, the parties to conflict might take more inflexible and intransigent positions, and the drivers of conflict might push situations to the point of no return.

Many speakers emphasized the need to adjust to the changing challenges to international peace and security and welcomed the Secretary General’s reform of the Organization’s security pillar and other initiatives. Many stressed the need to address root causes of instability and conflict, including climate change, non‑State armed groups, extremism and terrorism, as well as poverty and underdevelopment.

Other speakers, including India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, took issue with the way the Security Council was functioning.

Following are extensive excerpts from his – highly appreciated – Statement at the Security Council, important elements of which are highlighted in italics by IDN:

Listening to previous speakers make me realise the validity of the dictum I heard many years ago and that dictum was that each generation tends to confront the challenges of the next generation, using the tools of the preceding generation, without knowing it.

Today’s debate appears to be one such instance. The topic refers to the complexity of the contemporary challenges to international peace and security.

It is useful to remind ourselves of the need to focus on the terms contemporaneity and complexity.

Seven decades ago, to paraphrase the unforgettable depiction of the poet, W.H. Auden, the world was emerging from the ‘low dishonest decades’ of depression, tyranny, war and genocide.

The years of catastrophe were on account of the then leading powers fighting over territories and resources globally. The threat to international peace and security at that time was from these competing powers jostling for geo-strategic supremacy. The primary concern in terms of peace and security, at that time, was to prevent a recurrence of a major war by maintaining geo-strategic balance among the major powers.

On the other hand, the challenges that are increasingly finding mention in the discourse in this chamber these days, as areas of concern to international peace and security, are different. The emphasis we have heard is on challenges such as climate change or pandemics or famines or natural disasters or humanitarian crises or cyber security. This surely is a different agenda than 70 years ago. Also, the power balance that then existed has itself since changed quite significantly.

Once we recognize the ‘complexity’ and the contemporaneity of our times, it is not difficult to understand why the structures designed for vastly different times tend not to be effective in dealing with the challenges that are being outlined here. In short, our responses require a basic reordering of our perspectives.

Such challenges are not new to mankind. Humans have faced these since time immemorial. However, it is acknowledged that their impact is sometimes much wider in modern times in an interdependent world. Technological changes are creating economic, ecological, political and social globalization that require cooperative responses. Disruptions anywhere tend to impact aspects of contemporary life everywhere.

The complexity of issues on the global agenda is today, perhaps, distinctive to our times. This has added to the challenges in the delivery of global public goods. When global public goods are underproduced and fail to be delivered, everybody suffers.

At the same time, it is also obvious that some states are better able and equipped to handle complex threats. Those who are more vulnerable to such occurrences basically lack the resilience required. Again, often it becomes an issue of the level of economic development and availability of financial and other resources.

The disparity in the economic development of countries cannot be seen in isolation of an increasingly globalized scenario that links markets for commodities, labour and finished products; manufacturing supply chains; services, as also financial markets. This then points us to the distortions in the way global governance for trade, investment and human mobility functions today.

These are all issues that cannot be addressed merely by securitization of transnational challenges. Most of the inter-linked issues that are now being understood to be of importance point to the fundamental need for ensuring sustainable development available to all, and by reducing gross disparities. Such issues are rightly discussed outside this Council, rightly by the wider membership of the UN, as also at various levels, not merely in this chamber, not under its rubric of peace and security alone.

In this chamber [the Security Council], we would do well to address the complexities in the peace and security scenario such as those arising out of the globalization of terror networks.

These networks operate across borders in terms of propagation of hateful ideologies, sometimes based in deep-rooted perceived grievances; raise finances; procure arms; and recruit operatives. This is a common challenge which requires greater focus by this Council, one where closer international cooperation needs to be, can be and should be expanded for our common interest.

It appears that this common threat to states and societies is not clearly understood here. Even on counter-terrorism, cooperation continues to elude the Council. It is noticed that on an issue as serious as designation of terrorist individuals and entities, the Council-mandated Sanctions Committees fail to make concrete progress and fall victim to narrow political and strategic concerns in some cases. In other cases where Sanctions Committees have designated terrorists, there are states who venture to mainstream UN designated terrorist individuals into their political process in total disregard of international law, thus putting our common security in peril.

The reasons for the lack of success of international structures designed seven decades ago in dealing with the complex challenges of today are self-evident. A non-representative Council, designed many long years ago to maintain the balance of power among competing rivals is simply not equipped to handle the challenges that have changed beyond recognition in the intervening decades.

An instrument that is no longer considered legitimate and has lost its credibility cannot be our hope for salvation. New realities cannot be addressed by using old paradigms. To tackle contemporary challenges, we need to move beyond old molds. Until then, ‘Speech Acts’ like today’s [December 20, 2017 ]debate will remain just that, having little impact on the billions of ‘we the people’, who are striving to live peacefully in a safe and secure manner. [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 January 2018]

Photo: Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN. Source: International House, New York

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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