Global Policy Forum

Time to Look Beyond Mere Administrative Reforms

Financial Express
April 26, 2005

Without reform, the UN may face the danger of a definitive decay, if not eventual death. Although the world community has been seized of the matter since 1992, there is some urgency to it now. An agreement could be clinched in the coming months coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the UN in October 2005.

In a report titled In Larger Freedom, in March 2005, secretary-general Kofi Annan, who is now in Delhi for talks, has articulated his thoughts and priorities on the subject. In India, too, UN reform has attracted a great deal of attention in the context of the collective national aspiration for a permanent seat in the expanded Security Council.

Regrettably, so far reform has been confined to administrative and managerial arrangements, by way of downsizing the strength of the UN secretariat by nearly half, recasting departments etc. It has not touched other principal organs like the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly, chiefly because governments and bureaucracies are unable to rise above their attachment to parochial symbols of power and influence.

The ideas floating around emphasise—rightly or wrongly—on the enlargement of the Security Council. Yet, the Security Council is proving to be the hardest to reform. The two models in circulation rule out any expansion of veto power. From India's point of view, of the two models, Model A, i.e., addition of six permanent seats, is better than the model suggesting addition of rotational seats to be filled by select countries for a four-year term through election. If India mishandles the negotiations, the danger of the second model becoming reality cannot be underestimated.

Disappointingly, many reform proposals are cautious, if not conservative. The Economic and Social Council is a case in point. It is time to think of an economic development council as an appropriate replacement for Ecosoc, without being overshadowed by other organs. The new council could have sub-organs, like a problem-related deliberative forum, the negotiating forum, etc. The composition of the first should be universal, whereas the second will be limited and elected, and the third representing all actors, inter-governmental, non-governmental and others.

Among the aspects missing in the reform proposals is the office of the secretary-general. Should he act more like a secretary of the Security Council of the Permanent Five (P5)? Should he be someone least objectionable, or should he be like the president of the World Bank or European Commission? There is need to rethink about the idea of the UN secretary-general.

Reform of the UN's principal organs requires amendment to several specific Articles of the Charter which, after securing support from two-thirds of the General Assembly membership, can come into effect only after ratification by two-thirds of the 191 member governments. The P5 hold the key to make or mar the prospects of the attempted changes. One is not convinced that the route of amending several articles is less tedious than the review process envisaged in Article 109 of the Charter.

Taking a cue from Mr Annan's statement that UN must be reshaped "in ways not previously imagined, and with a boldness and speed not previously shown", one may like to propose a state-of-the-art architecture for it. The new UN could have five main organs: a conflict and peace council, an economic development council, a council for human and planet protection, a diversity and universality assembly, and a court. A president (from different geographical regions) will head each of these for six-12 months. And a collegiate of these presidents will constitute collective leadership.



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