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Time for a UN Spring

Duncan Graham

“The absolute refusal of the P5 to brook even small reforms seems absurd . . . . I do not know when the Council equivalent of an Arab Spring will emerge to sweep away the legitimacy of the P5 in the global system.”

Kishore Mahbubani, former Ambassador of Singapore to the United Nations, in his 2013 book, “The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World.”

We are at an unprecedented period in our human history with planetary personal communications, a global integrated economy and the evolutionary acceptance in the genome that we are all one species, though a rich mosaic of cultures and ethnicities, the brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind, the Nation of Humanity.  Our cosmic identity is underlined with space exploration and now the incredible landing on a comet.

But we are still in Neanderthal mode in our tribal relations, where the buzzwords “international peace and security” of the UN Security Council are a hollow promise for the hundreds of millions of people who go to bed hungry every night. Deaths by violence, malnutrition and easily preventable diseases are an Auschwitz every ten months. And yet world military expenditures (according to SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) for 2013 were $1,747 billion and have been over a trillion dollars for ten years. The permanent five members of the UN Security Council, China, France, Russia, UK, USA (i.e. those same parties tasked with “maintaining peace and security”) are responsible for 71% of world arms sales.

How much is $1,747 billion? Ten $100 bills are a thin 1 mm slice. A one-metre slab is a million dollars. A billion dollars is one Km of  $100 bills. World military expenditures is 1,747 Kms of packed $100 bills … and yet Malala has to plead for money to educate little girls and boys.

A creative spark? At the World Federalist Movement - Canada’s AGM in Ottawa 25th Oct 2014 a resolution was submitted from the Vancouver Branch. It was introduced in a teleconference call by Vancouver President Vivian Davidson. The resolution proposed that World Federalists encourage members of the UN General Assembly to consider rescinding Art. 24 of the UN Charter and that the Assembly itself assume responsibilities for international peace and security, as allowed in Art 18 of the Charter, as a first step in creating a political fluidity in the UN structure for the evolution of a democratic World Parliament and Government. It is now history. The resolution passed.

Under Art. 24 of the UN Charter the members (UN General Assembly) confer on the UN Security Council primary responsibility for international peace and security. The resolution would have the Assembly rescind these powers.

This would leave responsibility for peace and security in the hands of the General Assembly. According to Art. 18 of the UN Charter, decisions of the General Assembly on important questions shall be made by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting.  These questions shall include recommendations with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security.

It has become a Vancouver project to propose to the remaining 188 members of the UNGA that they need not, should not continue to be subservient to the entrenched interests of the Permanent Five.

The mindless carnage of World War One gave political energy to create the League of Nations,(“First Parliament of Mankind,” headlined the Globe, now the Globe and Mail), the International Court of Justice and in 1929 The Pact of Paris or Kellogg-Briand Pact that outlawed war. (“War Outlawed,” headlined The Globe).

World War Two led to the creation of the United Nations with 51 nations in 1945. The major Allies, China, France, Soviet Union, UK, USA who had spent so much blood and treasure against the Axis regimes, were the pioneers, the deliverers of an organization to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”  Russia inherited the permanent seat that had been assigned to the USSR in 1991.

In 1945 a world led by these quintuplets seemed to many the natural order of things. The United States, with no domestic destruction and lower than the others in per capita deaths, was the new superpower.  France and U.K., though devastated by the conflict, still held political dominion over great swathes of the globe with imperial dominance in Africa and South Asia.

To give initial stability to these founding 51 nations of the United Nations a Security Council was incorporated in the UN Charter with these five nations having permanent seats and their concurring votes required for resolutions to pass – the so-called veto. Insidiously, the Permanent Five’s assent is also required for any changes in the Charter itself. Art 108 on Charter amendments requires 2/3rds members including all the permanent members of the Security Council. After 1955 (Art 109) a conference to review the Charter could be held if so decided by a majority of the General Assembly, but any amendments proposed would also require the concurrent support of the P5.

With these provisions, there have been no significant changes to the Security, Council except in 1966, when the number of non-permanent members was increased from six to 10. These two-year transients with a chance to posture on the world stage are elected to the UNSC by the General Assembly for their contribution to international peace and security.  2014- 2015 members are Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, and Nigeria.  2015 –2016 members are Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, and Venezuela.

To have the same five permanent members with veto in 2014, with now 193 UN members, is a stagnating anomaly, an anachronism that requires nothing less than the interring of the UN Security Council. The Vancouver, now a WFM-C, resolution could be pulling the plug on a log jam that is imminent in any case.  In the July issue of Mondial our Exec. Director Fergus Watt notes “the growing frustration among members of the General Assembly with the secrecy and failures of the Security Council.”  He was referring in this case to “electing” a new Secretary-General by the General Assembly, which in effect rubber-stamps a closed-door decision of the P5.

The UN General Assembly has been marginalized, and an osmosis of power and authority (by rescinding Art 24) could provide an energizing political fluidity. Were this to be adopted, it should also be accepted in some fashion that a decision of the UNGA should represent 2/3rds majority of the world’s people, the brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind, as well as (per UN Chapter, Art 18) 2/3rds of member states.

The World Federalists can provide the goal, the vision; but the how-to, the means that would allow the UN to better fulfill its purposes in the event these measures are to be implemented, is the work of a broadly based UN preparatory committee process.

Vivian Davidson’s poster says it best: “Don’t Stay Calm. Change the World".

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