To Reform the UN or Maintain the Status Quo?

By Alexactus T. Kaure


Reforming the UN is the topic on everybody’s lips nowadays. At the centre of the reform agenda or debate is the UN Security Council – the body which is supposed to maintain peace and security, but which has been found wanting in recent years, judging by ongoing conflicts around the globe. Some people now cynically refer to it as the ‘Insecurity Council’.

But some naïve souls still have faith in it and apparently all that is needed is to “reform” this ailing body. I found the reform narrative/agenda to be otiose, because it revolves around one singular issue – the membership of the Security Council. Every region/continent now wants to have a (permanent) member on the UNSC with its contentious, contested and controversial veto power which at present is wielded by China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States, who can veto any “substantive” resolution.

If the reform is singularly centred on the issue of increasing the number of the Council membership with both veto and non-veto; then I am afraid we are maintaining the status quo because a “no” vote from one of the five permanent members kills the resolution. The “nay sayers” have always been spoiling the party.

It is thus obvious that increasing the membership with veto power will not solve the problem that has made the UN ineffective as a keeper of peace. The veto power is the most undemocratic arrangement in the whole UN system. Here the concept of majoritarian rule has been jettisoned in the Hudson River. The veto system has been misused and abused by those who wield it and the USA has been the main culprit in this game of political chess. There were about 43 times the US has used veto power against UN resolutions on Israel.

Thus the proponents arguing for increasing the number of veto and non-veto members should tell us how that will reform the system which, in my view, is already flawed from the word go. This debate about the UNSC is pretty much akin to the ongoing issue of increasing women representation in politics, national parliaments and other institutions – the so-called zebra-style.

Last year, for example, President Hage Geingob said Namibia was fully committed to implementing gender equality. Swapo Party took a principled decision at the 1997 Congress to increase the proportion of female delegates to the party’s congress up to 50 percent. According to him, this was the genesis of the now constitutionally mandated Swapo Party zebra-style 50/50 policy.

As a human rights issue, I have no qualms with the zebra-style or even a 60/40 representation in favour of women. But the point that gender mainstreaming activists and their zealots seem to miss or not understand is that the ‘stream’ might already be highly polluted with bacteria. Thus, unless one cleans the ‘stream’ first you are not likely to change the system in any significant way.

We have had and still have a number of former and current women presidents and prime ministers. They number more than 50 by my count. Let just cite some that might sound familiar: Theresa May, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Corazon Aquino, Mary Robinson, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Angela Merkel, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Aung San Suu Kyi, Isabel Martinez de Peron, Benazir Bhutto, Milka Planinc, Joyce Hilda Banda and Sahle-Work Zewde.

Did these women and other kindred souls change the social, economic and political order in their respective countries and societies – especially the conditions of women? Prime Minister Thatcher fought Argentina over the Falkland Islands and Aung San Suu Kyi is unable to do anything about the plight of the Rohingya ethnic group in Myamar, because the military holds sway there. The point is that the systems in our societies/countries have been defined and structured from a deep-rooted dominant patriarchal culture. It is still a man’s world.

Likewise, from its very inception, the UNSC has been structured by its framers to suit their own political and ideological interests. The five permanent members gave themselves this veto right when the UN was set up in 1945 and have clung to it ever since. The fact that the United States refused to join the United Nations in 1945 unless it was given a veto says it all.

But many uncritical individuals don’t seem to grasp that elementary fact.

Listen to this screaming headline from New Era newspaper last year: ‘Geingob slams UN’s exclusion of Africa’. “The world has moved on; the old and unjust order cannot persist. Africa and its 1.2 billion inhabitants can no longer be excluded from assuming its place on this primary decision-making body,” Geingob said of the UNSC. One wonders where is Geingob’s crop of advisors on foreign policy or more broadly on the dynamics of contemporary international politics, law and relations.

But who can blame him because even his trusted international relations minister, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, is in agreement with the President’s position on this issue. Here is one headline: ‘Lack of UN reforms disappointing – Nandi-Ndaitwah’. This is like the proverbial blind man leading another blind man. Don’t get me wrong, because they are not the only ones on this issue.

Continues next week

Alexactus T. Kaure is a freelance writer and social critic. He is the author of ‘Angola, From Socialism to Liberal Reforms’, published by SAPES Books, 1999.