Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The UN Power Deficit

I have a close virtual friend who works for the UN. We are good friend but politically opposed and that often make good conversation and discussion. A few weeks ago, when Bolton was the new of the day, my friend criticized the piece by David Brooks in the New York Times. Her thoroughly fisked the piece from top to bottom. But I only want to comment on the part about the UN structure. I do not really care about Bolton, one way or the other. My concern is with the UN structure.

This is the excerpt of David Brooks’ op-ed, "Loudly, With a Big Stick" (New York Times)

John Bolton is just the guy to explain why this vaporous global-governance notion is a dangerous illusion, and that we Americans, like most other peoples, will never accept it. We'll never accept it, first, because it is undemocratic. It is impossible to set up legitimate global authorities because there is no global democracy, no sense of common peoplehood and trust. So multilateral organizations can never look like legislatures, with open debate, up or down votes and the losers accepting majority decisions.

In which she commented.
Why is there no global democracy? The UN delegates are sent to the GA or the Security Council by their own (usually) democratically elected governments, and speak for those governments. They vote, both at the GA and the Sec. Council. Why is that not "global democracy"?

As to "undemocratic" - I don't see how a body that works by majority votes, votes cast by people sent by democratically elected governments, can be "undemocratic" (of course the UN delegates are not elected by the people of their countries; but neither are the ambassadors to other countries, or the secretaries of State, Defense, the Attorney General, etc. Does that mean everything the State Dept or the Dept of Justice do is "undemocratic"? The only undemocratic thing at the UN is the right of veto of the permanent members of the Security Council, of which the US is one, and, at that, the one who has used it more than any of the other 4 permanent members - more often than not to protect Israel from well-deserved condemnation. So the last people who can complain about it are the Americans.
When France cast its vote, the vote is cast on the behalf of the French people who democratically elected their government, who then appointed their ambassador. We can disagree with the vote, but the government of France is democratic and so does it votes in the UN. But when Libya casts it votes, who does its represent? Not the people Libya. That vote represents Colonel Qadafi and no one else. The fact is countries like Libya represent more than half of the UN member states. And roughly two thirds of the Earth population lives under such a regime. Of course, the UN General Assembly is undemocratic. It is delusional to think other wise. So is the UN Security Council where five member states decide the fate of the rest of the globe.

But people often forget that on the date the UN was created, democratic process was not a consideration. The Security Council was created with five permanent members with veto power. Why did those five have disproportional voting power? Certainly not democratic virtue. Of the five, two were oppressive Communist tyrants who killed million of its citizens, two exploited their colonies shamelessly, and the last one oppressed its minority. Hardly democratic! The reason is the permanent five could incinerate any other country with their nuclear arsenal. The UN was not created on the principle of democracy. It was created on power politic. Until the rise of the US as the hyper-power, that was how the UN functioned.

Why so many Americans are dissatisfying with the UN now? Why are there talks of UN reform? Let looks at the UN Security Council, an organization operates on power relation. Of the original fives, only two are still qualified as super powers – China and the US. The other three’s power are greatly diminished leading to serious imbalance of power. In fact, there are several other countries who power (militarily and economically) exceed that of the three had-beens. If the UN cannot live up to the ideal of democratic process (in the General Assembly), and we cannot depend on it to operate on the pragmatic of power politic (in the Security Council). What are we to do with the UN?

It is obvious that the UN is in desperate need of reform. But few know where to begin. Of course there are a few who advocate a democracy only organization - political counterpart to the WTO (or EU) where member-states must meet certain prerequisite before membership. Other have offer a more realistic solution in reforming of the Security Council by adding India, Japan and maybe Brazil. Regardless there will be much opposition. On the former, most of the undemocratic countries will oppose. On the later option, the had-been powers would certainly oppose.


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