Keeping the Peace
There are two issues that need rethinking if the United Nations is to remain a
relevant international player in the coming decades. One is the veto of the
Permanent Five in the Security Council; the second is peacekeeping.
First, the Security Council is still hostage to institutional arrangements —
most clearly the veto — that no longer dovetail with the existing international
conditions or the real distribution of power. Clearly, the Permanent Members
will not give up their veto power voluntarily, and the United Nations Charter
allows them to block any proposal that the veto be removed. Regardless of the
debate on the expansion of the permanent members to include new powers (Japan,
Germany or the European Union) and a fairer regional distribution (India, Mexico
or Brazil, South Africa), the question thus becomes whether they can willingly
agree to a more constructive interpretation of the veto's nature and the uses to
which it can legitimately be put. Permanent membership in the Security Council
and its associated veto power is a privilege, not a right.
Second, a new vision of peacekeeping is required, one that fully embodies
regional solutions to regional problems by regional organizations. This approach
has proved its merits in confronting ethnic and religious violence in East Timor
(where Australia led an Asean peacekeeping and nation-building operation) and in
the continuing European peacekeeping presence in Kosovo. Ironically, much of
this "new" vision of peacekeeping is provided for in the United Nations Charter
(in the long-ignored Chapter 8). This approach would align national interest
with humanitarian or peacekeeping interventions and strengthen the Security
Council's legitimacy, in cases of humanitarian horrors, as the sole arbiter of
armed interventions. JORGE G. CASTAÑEDA
Mr. Castañeda is the former foreign minister of Mexico.
Change of Pace
I'll start with one thing I would not change: the preamble. Beginning with the
immortal words "We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save
succeeding generations from the scourge of war," the preamble is a magnificent
testament to the soaring aspirations of the United Nations' founders. The
charter's Chapter 1, "Purposes and Principles," also stands up very well nearly
58 years later.
But the one fix I would make is in Chapter 18, "Amendments." The charter is too
hard to change: amendments require a vote of two-thirds of the members of the
General Assembly, plus ratification by the legislatures of two-thirds of the
members (which would mean a staggering 128 parliaments today), including all the
five permanent members of the Security Council.
This is virtually impossible to achieve, which is why the charter still carries
the baggage of outdated language (the clauses referring to "enemy states," for
instance, which were meant to apply to the Axis powers defeated by the "United
Nations" in World War II); moribund institutions (like the Trusteeship Council,
which continues as one of the United Nations' "principal organs," even though
there are practically no trust territories left after decades of
decolonization); unimplemented provisions (like the articles in Chapter VII
calling for states to conclude agreements with the United Nations to provide
land, sea and air forces on call to enforce the peace); and bodies that never
fulfilled their original purpose (like the military staff committee created in
Article 47 to provide "strategic direction" to the Security Council's
nonexistent armed forces).
And I haven't even mentioned Security Council reform.
A simpler amendment procedure would have made the charter more of a living
document, responsive to the changes in the United Nations itself and in the
international community it seeks to reflect and shape. SHASHI THAROOR
Mr. Tharoor is the Under Secretary General for Communications and Public
Information at the United Nations. These are his personal views.
An Island of Its Own
If the present United Nations charter of 1945 were perfectly respected by all,
the result would not be so bad. But let us dream about some ideas to improve its
structure and behavior in order to obtain a viable and more credible United
¶Establish a permanent military force at the sole disposal of the secretary
general. This force would be completed by civil observers who could suspend
unfair and illegitimate election returns or constitutional changes.
¶Complete budget financing by a tax on speculative movements of capital, sales
of armaments, as well as seizure of bank accounts fed by Mafia traffickers or
¶Enlarge the Security Council by introducing as permanent members some countries
according to their population and to their budgetary contribution.
¶Endow the United Nations with a territory (perhaps an island) where dictators
or systematic violators of human rights and United Nations resolutions could be
taken, even by force, pending their presentation to new international penal
¶Establish a new organ to represent civil society (nongovernmental
organizations, economic, social, cultural and religious forces, academics, Nobel
Prize holders, journalists and the like. Representation only by governments is
contradictory to the first words of the charter ("We the peoples of the United
¶Erect effective sanctions against countries that do not respect resolutions,
like depriving them of the right to vote, establishing penalties that would
apply solely to the leaders and not to the people, and by setting deadlines
beyond which military interventions would be automatic. In the most serious
cases, a temporary trusteeship by the United Nations could be established.
¶Establish an automatic right to intervene in and manage areas where there is a
danger of massive human rights violations or genocide. ANDRÉ LEWIN
Mr. Lewin, a former French ambassador to India and Austria and a former
spokesman for the United Nations secretary general, is currently chairman of the
French United Nations Association.
Veto the Veto
To reflect the 21st-century realities and to improve this world body's
effectiveness, two things are needed at the United Nations: reforming the
Security Council's composition and abolishing the right of veto.
Permanent Security Council membership must be expanded from five people to
seven. The United States, China and Russia should stay; British and French seats
must be combined into one, and given to the European Union (which will greatly
stimulate its foreign and security policy integration); Japan, India and Brazil
should be welcome to join as new permanent members. The eight elected seats
would be filled on a regional quota basis: three for Africa, two for Asia, two
for North and South America and Oceania, and one for European countries outside
of the European Union.
The veto right should be abolished. In the current and likely future absence of
a major conflict among the leading powers, the veto is no longer needed to
protect their supreme national interests. The most important Security Council
decisions regarding the use of force would require a qualified majority of
votes, but no nation would be able to block it.
Even a reformed United Nations, however, will remain a world forum, not a world
government. It will not diminish the obvious primacy of the United States. It is
time the United States, a prime creator of the United Nations and other
international institutions, organized a new global concert involving all the
major powers to take care of the challenges and threats to all. The only system
that can work should be based on a leadership provided by the United States and
the legitimacy furnished by the United Nations. DMITRI V. TRENIN
Mr. Trenin is the deputy director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and a former
officer in the Soviet and Russian armed forces.
A capacity to collect, analyze and publicize critical information about
international conflicts has been lacking at the United Nations since its
inception. Such information, neutrally acquired and channeled, might often have
helped limit sterile debates about "the facts." What I have in mind is something
akin to the Congressional Budget Office in Washington, useful to and respected
by most policy actors at any given time.
The need for more high-quality analysis of conflict-relevant information was
raised by Lakhdar Brahimi (now the United Nations special representative in
Afghanistan) regarding peacekeeping reform, but member states shot it down
because they did not want inconvenient information on their individual countries
highlighted for the Security Council and more broadly. Members like to keep the
Secretariat as subservient as decently possible. This is a shame, particularly
with a secretary general as professional and rightly admired as Kofi Annan.
As it is, the United Nations community relies on the media, some reports from
United Nations field staff (since everything leaks at the United Nations, they
should probably not even be filing these reports, given potential retribution
from affected states), intelligence provided by members (sometimes manipulated
and unreliable) and advice from international nongovernmental organizations and
local nonprofit groups. A good new initiative, the Conflict Prevention and Peace
Forum, under the umbrella of the Social Sciences Research Council, aims to make
available to the United Nations the very best academic expertise from all over
the world on urgent security challenges.
But this is not good enough. The United Nations needs to have authoritative
analysis generated internally and available to its decision-making bodies and to
Mr. Annan's staff. Disagreements among countries would continue (as on the
findings of United Nations inspectors in Iraq), but they would be better
informed, and we might get better decisions out of the Security Council and
other prominent United Nations bodies. DAVID MALONE
Mr. Malone, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, is president of
the International Peace Academy.
Outdated and Ineffective
The United Nations is indispensable, though by and large outdated and
ineffective. Created to stop wars between states, it is ill prepared to address
such internal policies of its own members as ethnic cleansing (Milosevic's
Yugoslavia), nurturing and arming terrorism (the Taliban's Afghanistan) or the
strivings of a dictator to acquire weapons of mass destruction (Saddam Hussein's
Iraq, or Kim Jong Il's North Korea).
The task of promoting democracy in the nations, chasing terrorists across the
borders, not to speak of regime change as a last resort to stop a fire-breathing
dictator, is hard to trace in the charter. Yet these seem to be exactly what is
required if we think of nations really united to keep peace in the present
The window of opportunity to reinvent the United Nations as a new coalition of
freedom-loving and action-oriented states, that was open by democratic
revolution in Russia in the early 1990's, has been largely missed. Russia was
too weak to lead the way and met with spectacular shortsightedness in the United
States and the West.
Looking at the present Security Council, I just imagine how many vetoes would've
been cast if someone had proposed to take an action against the Taliban on Sept.
Much more than threats to use the veto in the Security Council or "go it alone
no matter what others think" is required from world leaders and diplomats if the
opportunity is not to be missed again. ANDREI KOZYREV
Mr. Kozyrev was the Russian foreign minister under President Boris Yeltsin.
If we had to reinvent the United Nations charter today, we would certainly come
up with something worse. The same could be said of the United States
Constitution. That is reason to move cautiously in the direction of change.
Both instruments were products of a brief moment when, after intense wartime
suffering, communities sought a better future by pooling some of their
sovereignty in a grander union. Such creative moments cannot easily be
Still, creative moments do tend to create freeze frames. In both instances, the
pooling of sovereignty required some political deals that, when locked into the
foundational instrument, increasingly became anomalous.
While some inequalities may at one time have been necessary compromises, their
effect has subsequently been vastly distorted by changing circumstances,
including alterations in relative population size, power and affluence.
In the United Nations, the distortion is now so great as to be destructive of
its institutional legitimacy. Five countries (Britain, China, France, Russia and
the United States) have permanent seats on the Security Council and can veto any
Meanwhile, countries like India, Brazil, Nigeria, Japan and Germany are excluded
from this circle of five that holds most of the cards. How could this be
Inequalities and privileges can be defended, but only by reference to a
legitimate principle. For example, the charter could justify the allocation of
exceptional political power to the 5 (or 9 or 12) states that had voluntarily
assumed the greatest share of the United Nations' burdens: by their
contributions of budgetary support, development assistance, peacekeeping
personnel, etc. These could be recalculated every 5 (or 10, or 15) years.
Exceptional responsibilities may warrant exceptional power. Unfortunately, the
power distribution locked into the Charter in 1945 reflects only history, while
defying contemporary realities. We should not destroy or reinvent the United
Nations, but rather strive to shore up incrementally the legitimacy of its most
important organ. THOMAS M. FRANCK
Mr. Franck is professor emeritus at New York University School of Law.
The United Nations is a crucible of complexity, best defined by the paradoxes
that surround its identity. It is both an antique, run by the victors of World
War II, and a receptacle of hopes for the future. Statesmen deposit their global
visions in the United Nations. It is both a sunrise organization, providing the
only village council for our shrinking global village, and a sunset
organization, based on the strange principle that nation-states pursuing
national interests will somehow take care of our global commons. There are no
quick fixes. The problems are not structural. They are political.
The organization can survive and thrive if its members carefully manage one
critical paradox: balancing principle against power. In theory, the United
Nations should promote charter principles. In practice, it cannot ignore
geopolitics. It needs the commitment of major powers, especially the sole
superpower. Though it is the most benign power in history, the United States
has, often unwittingly, done much damage to the United Nations. Yet with its
enormous global interests, especially post 9/11, no country would benefit more
from a norm-driven world than the United States.
The General Assembly can both create and sustain global norms. But this assembly
is now moribund. Imagine an assembly led, rather than ignored, by the United
States. Imagine the United States promoting the principles of good government
and rule of law through the assembly. This would change the current negative
chemistry of the world. The United Nations can serve some strategic interests of
the United States. What the organization needs in return is leadership, not
reform. Only the United States can provide it. KISHORE MAHBUBANI
Mr. Mahbubani is Singapore's ambassador to the United Nations and the author of
"Can Asians Think?"