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  • Meeting of the Leaders of Brazil, Germany, India and Japan on UN Reform

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on September 30th, 2004 (All posts by )

    On 21 September 2004, H.E. Mr. Luis Inacio Lura da Silva, President of Brazil, H.E. Mr. Joschka Fisber, Vice-Chancellor and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, H.E. Dr. Manmoban Singh, Prime Minister of India, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan met in New York to discuss the reform of the United Nations. Following is the Joint Press Statement of the Meeting:

    1. In order for the international community to effectively address the various threats and challenges that it presently faces, it is important to reform the United Nations as a whole.

    2. The General Assembly must be revitalized, as it represents the general will of all Member States. We must also enhance the efficiency of the UN agencies and organs in the social and economic fields in order to effectively address urgent challenges.

    3. The Security Council must reflect the realities of the international community in the 21st century. It must be representative, legitimate and effective. It is essential that the Security Council include, on permanent basis, countries that have the will and the capacity to take on major responsibilities with regard to the maintenance of international peace and security. There also has been a nearly four-fold increase in the membership of the United Nations since its inception in 1945, including a sharp increase in the number of developing countries. The Security Council, therefore, must be expanded in both the permanent and non-permanent categories, including developing and developed countries as new permanent members.

    4. Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, based on the firmly shared recognition that they are legitimate candidates for permanent membership in an expanded Security Council, support each other’s candidature. Africa must be represented in the permanent membership in the Security Council. We will work together with other like-minded Member States towards realizing a meaningful reform of the United Nations, including that of the Security Council.

    Let’s look at this statement in detail and see if we can determine its meaning. We’ll take them in order.


    1. In order for the international community to effectively address the various threats and challenges that it presently faces, it is important to reform the United Nations as a whole.

    I think we can assume that means they all agree that the UN is broken. But what do they mean by “effectively address” threats? Trade sanctions? Law enforcement? Military action? They don’t say. It’s so vague as to be meaningless. Deliberately so, I would guess.

    2. The General Assembly must be revitalized, as it represents the general will of all Member States. We must also enhance the efficiency of the UN agencies and organs in the social and economic fields in order to effectively address urgent challenges.

    What does it mean to revitalize the General Assembly? Give them greater power? Give them, for instance, power to vote states in and out? Impose sanctions? Go to war? Would that be more ‘democratic’? Is the appointed representative of a dictatorial regime a legitimate representative in the UN? Do they represent the “general will’ of their people? How far are they willing to take reform? Will the UN adopt a democracy and rights based constitution and require its members to adhere or face expulsion? Otherwise, why should anyone care how those illegitimate representatives vote? Will payment for UN ‘services’ be made based on population or ability to pay? Will military forces be fielded based on population? If not, why should we care how they vote since they’re not contributing? If all states don’t burden share equally why should they be treated equally?

    3. The Security Council must reflect the realities of the international community in the 21st century. It must be representative, legitimate and effective. It is essential that the Security Council include, on permanent basis, countries that have the will and the capacity to take on major responsibilities with regard to the maintenance of international peace and security.

    When they say “The Security Council must reflect the realities of the international community,” do they mean demographic realities? Well yes, of course. Obviously. Brazil feels they are best able to give voice to South America’s interests since they have the largest population in South America, although they speak a different language (Portugese) and have different cultural roots. But it’s clearly undemocratic for South America’s voice not to be heard in the UNSC, isn’t it? India, with a population of over a billion, also feels they need a voice to represent their culturally distinct section of South Asia.

    So by “reflect the realities of the international community,” they mean population. Correct?

    But wait, what about Japan? And what about Germany? How does adding Japan get us any closer to population based, democratic representation? Isn’t the Asian voice already represented by China? And if we add India, and we already have Russia, haven’t we covered the North, Central and South Asian populations? And isn’t Europe already over represented by having both Britian and France on the UNSC? Why do we need Germany? If anything, Europe should give up one seat under a population based UNSC seat system. Certainly not gain one. That wouldn’t be democratic, would it?

    Hmmmm. Maybe by “reflect the realities of the international community,” they mean money contributed. That must be it. After all, Japan is the second largest contributor to the UN. And Germany is the third largest. Here’s a list of contributions to the UN by budget percentage (2001):

    1. United States: 22%
    2. Japan: 19.629%
    3. Germany: 9.825%
    4. France: 6.503%
    5. UK: 5.568%
    6. Italy: 5.094%
    7. Canada: 2.573%
    8. Spain: 2.534%
    9. Brazil: 2.231%
    10. Netherlands: 1.748%
    11. South Korea: 1.728%
    12. Australia: 1.636%
    13. China: 1.541%
    14. Russia: 1.200%
    15. Belgium: 1.138%

    So, if we allocate UNSC seats by contribution and if we keep the number of permanent seats to five, then China and Russia get kicked off and are replaced by Germany and Japan. Even if the UNSC is expanded to ten members, China and Russia still don’t make the cut. India doesn’t even show up in the top fifteen contributors.

    So far I haven’t figured out what is meant by “reflect the realities of the international community,” and how that applies to UNSC seat allocation. But it sure sounds good. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? After all, we want the UNSC to reflect reality. Whatever that means.

    Maybe I could take a stab at what it should mean. Let me define those states that sit on the UNSC to be those countries that have the willingness and capability to actually go out and deal with the world’s security problems both in the military and political-economic sense. That would limit the UNSC to the US, Europe and Australia. Three seats. Europe barely makes the cut, mainly on the military contributions of the UK. Otherwise their contribution would be purely political-economic. Cynical of me, I know.

    4. Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, based on the firmly shared recognition that they are legitimate candidates for permanent membership in an expanded Security Council, support each other’s candidature.

    How nice. They have a “shared recognition” that they each deserve a UNSC seat. Well, that seals it then. What more needs to be said? None of these four countries has fielded more than a token military force outside of their borders in at least fifty years. Yet they are prepared, they say, to shoulder the burdens of the world.

    Africa must be represented in the permanent membership in the Security Council.

    Really? Why? This is a continent that can’t cope with genocide in Rwanda or Sudan, not to mention easier problems like Liberia. What capabilities are they going to bring to the UNSC? What contribution are they going to make? Africa is a security service receiver, not provider.

    So what can be concluded from this joint statement? Nothing. It’s a meaningless exercise in rhetoric. For these countries, getting a seat on the UNSC is a political goal. They want a greater say in how other people deal with the world’s problems. Does anyone honestly believe Brazil plans to make a meaningful contribution in dealing with Iran or North Korea? Is India ready to deploy troops into trouble spots in Africa? Is India going to raise its’ contribution above that of Mexico? Are Japan and Germany going to modify their constitutions so they can contribute militarily? The probable answer to all those questions is a resounding “No!”. For these countries a seat on the UNSC is a status symbol, nothing more. We haven’t been able to count on them in the past, what makes anyone think we can count on them in future?

     

    7 Responses to “Meeting of the Leaders of Brazil, Germany, India and Japan on UN Reform”

    1. Richard A. Heddleson Says:

      What I conclude is that they want to turn the UN into a global EU.

    2. Shannon Love Says:

      Just as an intellectual exercise it would be interesting to try to create an actual functioning UN i.e. one that could be an actual body for creating and enforcing international law.

      First, I think we would have to get rid of the unitary veto. Decisions would have to made by some sort of majority vote. No one nation should be able to kill an idea with one vote. Nations would have to commit ahead of time to follow the dictates of the majority (however defined). (This will never happen so everything following is moot)

      The other problem is how to balance representation. One of the great geniuses of the US constitution is that it balanced the centrifugal forces of population versus region. There are many such countervailing forces in the international community. Wealth versus population. Population versus nation state. Military power versus wealth etc. We would need some kind of multi-carmel body to really address all these dichotomies.

      The real problem with creating a working UN is that democratic governments require a certain level of mutual trust. People must be willing to go along with the majority even when they disagree. That level of trust and commitment doesn’t exist in the international realm.

      The original design of the UN is based on PR and cynicism. It was not designed to be an actual governing body but just a PR exercise. It played no role in mediating the Cold War or indeed any conflict directly associated with the conflict. It could never control the major superpowers or even modify their behavior.

      UN is, was and will be for the foreseeable future just a sad, sad joke on the ebullient internationalist.

    3. jim Says:

      i think you’ve got it exactly wrong: let em all on. that’s the only way to ensure that the UN never does anything ever again.
      the only one of those countries that shouldn’t be on is germany, because france and uk are already there. but put an african country and an arab country on there. maybe nigeria and egypt!

      the only hope is that countries will get frustrated with the un and eventually form some new international body that is a cross between the un and nato, and only open to free, democratic nations. such an organization could be useful in coordinating military/foreign policy and opening up economies, as well as protecting the free world from global terrorism…

    4. James R. Rummel Says:

      “The original design of the UN is based on PR and cynicism. It was not designed to be an actual governing body but just a PR exercise.”

      I must respectfully disagree, Shannon. I think the United Nations was built on the discredited ruins of the old League of Nations. True, the LoN failed miserably in it’s mission when it tried to force the Japanese to abandon their campaign in China, but the idea was that pressure could be brought to bear by non-military means.

      In the post-WWII environment it was thought that the UN had a role to play in keeping small brushfire wars, conflicts that the major powers were using to wage limited armed struggle, from flaring up. The thought was that one of these insignificant, pissant wars could cascade into a major nuclear exchange before anyone could have a chance to back down. This, more than anything, is why the Left has such a problem with agreeing that UN peacekeeping efforts is such a waste of time. (Besides the incredible fantasy that armed UN might will counter US influence, of course.)

      At first it looked very promising indeed. The invasion of South Korea by the North was stopped by a UN coalition, even if the US did almost all the heavy lifting. Although things were handled badly, the Communist forces were stopped.

      The UN also provided a framework for co-operation between the US and Russia after the Suez Crisis of 1956. Although both the USSR and the US wanted the same thing, it was very doubtful that they could have been able to work together as well as they did without the UN.

      Then it kinda went south. A series of conflicts in Africa, particularly the Congo Wars of 1960-1964, destroyed what credibility had been earned from Korea. The wars were regional, messy, bitterly factional and very bloody. The US and the UK pretty much sat these out since there wasn’t any compelling reason to directly intervene. Without the professionalism and muscle that the anglosphere had brought to the Korean War, the UN was essentially toothless and ineffective.

      Things haven’t improved any, and I’d have to say that the realistic opinion is that the UN’s days are numbered. It’ll lurch along for some time, though, until the US decides that they don’t want to play any more. When we leave like Japan did the League of Nations, it’ll all be over except for the press release.

      James

    5. jim Says:

      the us can’t leave, even though we may all want it to. what it can do is single handedly make the un obsolete and superfluous. the best alternative is to just form a new organization that is more useful and less un-ish, while paying lip service to the un.
      yes, yes, the un is great and very useful and we’ll continue to give you a few mil every year, but in order to effectively deal with the issues concerning the free world, we feel the need to have this other organization, in which sudan and iran are not allowed to chair any human rights panels…

    6. Daniel Says:

      I agree with jim, the US can’t leave the UN. All the UN is good for is generating worthless resolutions and PR opportunities, so there “theoretically” shouldn’t be any real consequences if it was abandoned. However, there’d be an awful lot of bad PR coming out of a decision to leave, and though I’m tempted to say “a little bad PR’s worth it!”, in reality enough bad PR can hurt us.

      I’d suggest the US give the UN the diplomatic equivalent of the silent treatment. Send ambassadors to the UN that never say a word, no matter what luncacies are thrown around. Use our vote and veto on the Security Counsel to further our agenda when necessary, but never volunteer help, and never commit resources. Never consult the UN for approval when we need to do something internationally, and when we are railed against in the Assembly, simply respond with a polite “Thank you for your concerns”, sit down, and ignore whatever censure they end up passing.

      My theory is that without express American backing, either the UN would slowly but loudly slip into obsolescence (and we’ll be members to the end, just like a good polite international player), or some of the other countries would have to gain some resolve, step up and commit resources, and possibly salvage some usefulness out of the UN’s existence.

    7. Shannon Love Says:

      James R. Rummel,

      The nuts-and-bolts design of the U.N. was such that it could never effectively control any of the major powers. For this reason, I regard it as a cynical exercise.

      Korea is a good example. The U.N. fought in Korean only because the Soviet Union was boycotting the U.N. due to it’s refusal to seat communist China. They never made that mistake again.

      All during the Cold War the U.N. could never control any major power or any client state of major power. The role of the U.N. was purely to come in at the end of conflicts when all sides had decided on peace and just needed window dressing.

      The U.N. has moral authority with a lot of the world and for that reason we must pay lip service to it but we should never harbor any delusions that it is an effective body of governance of any kind.