The panel has emphasised that in the age of globalisation, poverty, deprivation and mass disease are as great threats to states as terrorism and WMD. Development and human security are frontline issues and the panel has laid stress on these. The panel has reaffirmed the right of states to defend themselves but recommended that in the case of nightmare scenarios the UN Security Council must act earlier, more proactively and more decisively than in the past.
The report of the UN secretary-general’s high-level panel to reform the UN system and boost Its ability to deal effectively with future threats to peace and stability including terrorism, civil war, conflict between states, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and poverty was released last week. Lt Gen Satish Nambiar (Retd) represented India on the blue ribbon panel. He spoke with Gurmeet Kanwal about the rationale behind the recommendations and their likely impact:
The greatest challenge facing the UN today is its marginalisation due to unilateral interventions carried out by some of its members. How did your panel address this concern?
When the secretary-general set up this panel a year ago, he had described the UN as having come to a fork in the road and a moment as decisive for collective security as that in 1945 when the UN was established. The panel addressed itself to the need to convince the sole superpower that it was in its own interest to take the rest of the international community along. Most of the recommendations of the panel seek to promoting multilateralism under the UN umbrella.
The UN response to situations that merited humanitarian interventions has been lethargic, for example in Rwanda, Afghanistan before 9/11 and now in Sudan. What has the panel proposed to improve this record?
The panel has emphasised that in the age of globalisation, poverty, deprivation and mass disease are as great threats to states as terrorism and WMD. Development and human security are frontline issues and the panel has laid stress on these. Since humanitarian intervention can impinge on the sovereignty of states, it is a difficult issue for the international community to address and this was the subject of intense discussion. The panel has taken a very positive and constructive look at this issue and come to the conclusion that sovereignty cannot be absolute. The panel has reaffirmed the right of states to defend themselves but recommended that in the case of nightmare scenarios the UN Security Council must act earlier, more proactively and more decisively than in the past.
The term ‘the responsibility to protect’ is increasingly gaining currency in the context of interventions.
If a state is unable to ensure the security of its people or fails to do so, the international community should intervene. The report endorses the international community’s collective responsibility to protect. However, the panel has recommended five stringent criteria to justify such intervention. These include seriousness of the threat, proper purpose, use of force as a last resort, proportional means and balance of consequences.
What conclusions did the panel reach on the subject of raising a standing UN army for more responsive peacekeeping efforts?
There is a recognition that peacekeeping will continue to be a major UN responsibility. Given my peacekeeping background I had a significant role to play in discussions on a rapid deployment force for the UN. Most of the members were of the view that it would be difficult to push this recommendation through the UN system today, both for political reasons as well as the huge expenditure that such a venture would entail. We have recommended that the developed countries must not shy away from playing a role in peacekeeping operations in difficult areas such as in Africa. They must also contribute more by way of financial and logistics resources to hasten and sustain the deployment of a UN mission. The panel has recommended the creation of a Peacebuilding Commision to identify countries at risk of violent conflict, work towards prevention and organise more effective post-conflict peacebuilding. The contentious issue of the expansion of the UNSC has generated maximum comment.
It was a major issue but only one of the substantive issues that were discussed. However, most countries including India do not look beyond this issue. It is important to ensure that this issue is not allowed to hijack the rest of the agenda.
Why was the panel unable to agree on the abolition of the veto power of the permanent members of the Council?
The majority agreed that the veto power is an anachronism and must be done away with. However, its abolition was strongly opposed by the British, Chinese, Russian and the US members of the panel. They also opposed extension of veto power to new members. The panel was concerned that since the P-5 are unlikely to give up their veto power, if the panel recommends abolition, the entire value of the report may be lost. The panel did recommend that checks should be evolved to limit the exercise of veto power.
Do you think the expansion of the Security Council to include 24 members will result in a truly representative council?
With six to eight additional permanent members, even though they will not have veto power, 11 to 13 elected non-permanent members, and a total strength of 24, the Security Council will be much more balanced in its composition. All the geographical regions will be well represented and the views of the developing countries will be better heard than before.
How do you rate the chances of implementation of this report, considering that the reports of many such committees have not been implemented in the past?
This report will be viewed more receptively because the panel’s membership was broadbased and the views of the developing countries have been incorporated. Also, there is realisation even in countries like the US that unless it is reformed quickly, the UN system will be more and more marginalised in future.