Since most of the conflicts that require UN intervention are in the Third World countries, these developing countries have a major stake in ensuring that the UN peace-keeping apparatus functions smoothly and impartially. The most important task facing the developing countries is to work in a united manner towards restoring the legitimacy of the UN as the pre-eminent organisation in the world engaged in the promotion of peace and security for all its members.
If longevity and survival are criteria of success, the United Nations has succeeded admirably. On 26 June 1995, the UN celebrated its 50th anniversary. In contrast, the League of Nations had disintegrated after only 20 years. As set out in the preamble to the UN Charter, the organisation was established to fulfil a deep longing for peace, determination on the part of states to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and a firm commitment to create a world order in which fundamental human rights, and the dignity and worth of the human person are respected.
During the September 2000 Millennium Summit in New York, a visionary declaration charting the UN’s future course was adapted by the word leaders: “We solemnly reaffirm, on this historic occasion, that the UN is the indispensable common house of the entire human family, through which we will seek to realise our universal aspirations for peace, cooperation and development…”. The declaration also set out a number of measures in the area of peace and disarmament, including providing the UN with the necessary resources for conflict prevention, peacekeeping and related tasks.
The results achieved by a large number of UN organisations in many diverse fields have been undoubtedly praise worthy. However, the principal purpose for setting up the United Nations was the maintenance of peace. On this front, the record of the UN has varied from spectacular success in some peacekeeping missions to blameworthy failure in many others. Overall, despite the pulls and pressures of the Cold War and the partisan interests of some of the P-5 countries, it must, be said that UN peacekeeping efforts have been reasonably successful.
Writing on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the UN, Soli J Sorabjee had taken a dim view of the peacekeeping achievements of the. UN: “It is generally believed that UN peacekeeping has played a highly constructive role in maintaining international peace and security, as evidenced by the award in 1988 of the Nobel Peace Prize to UN peacekeeping forces. It is difficult to subscribe to this assessment, especially after its failure in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia and Rwanda”. While Sorabjee’s assessment of the lack of success in three important missions cannot be faulted, it is unfair to mention only a few recent failures and ignore many signal successes, including those in Iran-Iraq, Namibia, Cambodia, South Africa, El Salvador, Mozambique and Kuwait.
The UN-supervised elections in South Africa, were conducted successfully. The Angola Verification Mission managed to ensure that the MPLA-UNITA standoff did not result in a bloodbath even if it did not succeed in ending the civil war and resolving the conflict for over a decade. Other examples can be cited to support the view that success has been a regular feature of UN peacekeeping missions.
However, it is now becoming increasingly apparent that the UN system is being progressively undermined through the indirect actions of certain powerful Western nations. The US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation intervention in Kosovo in 1999 is a case in point. Nato’s decision to launch air strikes against Yugoslavia had completely bypassed the UN Security Council and also violated a large number of international laws. This does not augur well for the future of the UN system. It is in preventing aberrations like this that the countries of the Third World have the greatest role to play.
The Third World can do this by promoting the central role of the UN General Assembly as the chief deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the UN where the majority view can and should override partisan considerations of the P-5 and attempts to bypass the UN system when it-does not suit their interests. Since most of the conflicts that require UN intervention are in the Third World countries, these developing countries have a major stake in ensuring that the UN peace-keeping apparatus functions smoothly and impartially. The foremost requirement at present is to strengthen the UN to enable it to play its legitimate role in ensuring peace and security in the world. This can be done by harnessing the collective voice of the developing countries in the General Assembly as a diplomatic leverage to ensure that the will of the majority can be used for the common good.
Unless there is basic re-thinking on the evolution of a polycentric world order, where the threat of war is discounted as a viable instrument of policy; the UN cannot be an effective peacekeeper. During the early 1990s, there were, on average, over 50,000 Blue Berets in the service of peace in various parts of the world. The annual cost of UN peacekeeping operations was approximately $3,000 million. Some time ago, the then UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, had proposed the creation of a 5,000-strong permanent UN Security Force, with additional guaranteed standby contributions from the member states, to enable the UN to respond to emerging situations in a reasonable time-frame. However, the idea did not find ready acceptance among the major powers that would be expected to contribute significantly, both monetarily and maternally, to the creation of such a force.
In the absence of a standing UN army, the Security Council decision-making apparatus needs to be urgently re-vamped. There is now an inescapable need to increase the number of permanent members of the UN Security Council. Germany, Japan and India are obvious candidates. The inclusion of Nigeria and Brazil also needs to be considered so as to ensure fair representation to the African and South American continents, respectively. As.one of the most populous countries in the world, Indonesia can also stake a deserving claim to permanent membership of the Security Council. This would “further strengthen its capacity and effectiveness and enhance its representative character”. In 1997, the US had proposed that the strength of the Security Council should go up to 10 “with the inclusion of Germany and Japan and three developing countries — one each from Asia, Africa and Latin America”.
As a large number of developing countries are growing rapidly, it would be inappropriate to dispense permanent membership on such a basis. Also, such a proposal is bound to create a deadlock in the selection process, as the developing countries will not find it easy to agree on regional representation. Another cause for concern is the suggestion that the new permanent members will have no veto rights unlike the present P-5. Such discrimination is unjustified and is unlikely to be acceptable to any of the prospective candidates. Either the veto should be abolished completely or it should be the common prerogative of all the permanent members.
The UN Declaration, adopted by 185 countries during the 50th anniversary special commemorative session of the UN from 22 to 24 October 1995, had called for such restructuring of the UN to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The document also focused on development, peace and equality and clarified that the principle of self-determination is not to be construed as authorising or encouraging any action that would dismember or impair — totally or in part — the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent states, particularly those that conduct themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and provide a government that represents all without any distinction. The declaration called on the international community to act in concert to defeat common threats such as terrorism in all its forms, trans-national organised crime, illicit trade in arms and the production, consumption and trafficking of narcotics.
The most important task facing the developing countries is to work in a united manner towards restoring the legitimacy of the UN as the pre-eminent organisation in the world engaged in the promotion of peace and security for all its members. The UN can be a peacekeeper or a peacemaker only when the major world powers, including the P5, agree on the desirability of putting a UN label on their common will, as was witnessed in the Coalition Forces joint action against Iraq in the 1990-91 Gulf War. Since then, the increasing marginalisation of the UN Security Council in decision-making for the enforcement of peace, has become a cause for concern.