THE United Nations, established in 1945 with the UN Charter that provides pathways for its activities, has significantly contributed to the world on many grounds, including maintenance of international peace and security and socio-economic and cultural development. For several reasons including some inherent flaws in the very UN system, its considerable baseness to powerful states and lack of expected cooperation from member states, nonetheless, the UN cannot always function as per expectations. Some reformations to the UN are, thus, needed to make it worthy and more effective in terms of securing its expected functions and making the world a better place for all as much as possible.
The UN has, of course, not remained unreformed altogether. Reformations to the UN system have, indeed, been carried out for numerous times since its formation. Some notable reformations are development initiatives in 1960s, the administrative and financial reform in 1985, human rights commission reform in 2006, peace and security reform in 2017, UN development system reform in 2018 and management reform in 2019. Obviously, such reform measures played very important roles in making the UN effective and functional but these are not enough for dealing with mounting global challenges — ranging from international security to socio-economic development — at present. Thus, further reforms on some major areas including the UN Security Council or UNSC are needed.
The Security Council, composed of five permanent and 10 non-permanent members and which reflects the power structure of the world since 1945, is a very frequently discussed area of reform. Indeed, the UN Security Council, which has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security through determining threats to peace or act of aggression, recommending terms of settlements, imposing sanctions and authorising the use of force, has several reasonable criticisms including power imbalance between the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly and between permanent members and non-permanent members of the Security Council, failure to maintain international peace and security, including crises in Crimea, Syria and Yemen, and abuses of veto power by permanent members.
Reformations in the UN Security Council are reasonable on several aspects — the question of the veto, the size of an enlarged council and its working methods, types of membership, regional representation and the Security Council-General Assembly relationship. Certainly, priority should be given on the reformation of the veto power and/or the number of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. In this regard, several alternative measures including (i) making veto power ineffective on some major and lasting problems (genocide, aggression of one country over another and long civil war), or (ii) abolishing veto power altogether, or (iii) increasing the number of permanent member states with making some changes in the application of veto, or (iv) making some reasonable changes in application of veto powers (please see below) needs to be taken into consideration.
Another area of reform is the UN General Assembly, which is comprised of all member states and reflects interests of all states. But due to inadequate decision-making authority and, as per Article 25 of the UN Charter, its main role as implementer of decisions made by the UN Security Council, it cannot play expected roles. For improving authority of the UN General Assembly, thus, reforms with measures including giving it the authority to make decisions on major aspects including major peace and security problems (or involving it when the UN Security Council fails to make reasonable decision on major security issues or authorising it to make check and balance to major security decisions made by the UN Security Council), establishing effective coordination mechanism between it and others including the Security Council and ECOSOC and creating conditions for effective implementation of its authority can make it more capable.
The UN administration, which is often considered to be bloated bureaucracy and inefficient, is another area that requires reform. Indeed, reformation is needed for making the UN and its management more transparent, accountable and efficient. In this regard, administrative reformations with measures including introducing direct election system by member states for the secretary general, emphasising merit-based recruitment system (instead of region-wise proportionate recruitment) along with some reflections of regional proportion at secretariat, regional offices and country offices for recruiting senior and professional officials and providing opportunities for senior and professional posts for talented individuals of the so-called third world countries. Moreover, increased leadership of the secretary general, strengthening of internal and external supervisory mechanisms and securing greater management accountability of the United Sates to the member states are needed.
Another major area is financial reform. For limited funding, indeed, the United States fails to secure its developmental and other activities and to play expected roles. Financial difficulties are due to limited funding sources, especially regular budget and peacekeeping budget provided by member states and voluntary donations. Financial difficulties increase when states do not pay their due. Thus, financial reform is important. Along with a certain amount of regular and peacekeeping budgets from member states alternative financing sources — including impositions of some sorts of tax on arms-trade (such as missiles, tanks, guns and war planes) and global financial transactions — can be considered without giving direct tax collection authority to the United Nations. Furthermore, better budgeting or allocations, better financial oversight and more efficient use of funds need to be ensured.
Reformations are, additionally, needed on some other areas — peacekeeping, human rights council and the international court of justice. Surely, the United Nations needs to go far beyond three guiding principles of peace-keeping — consent of the parties, impartiality and non-use of force (except in self-defence and defence of the mandate) — and consider the full spectrum of peace interventions, including conflict prevention and resolution, peacekeeping and peace-building, with more emphasis on political solution. Moreover, the HRC and the International Court of Justice should be made more effective with measures including rearrangement of region-wise seat allocations, employing more acceptable means of electing members of the HRC with votes, making more binding measures for protection of human rights, strengthening United Nations mechanism for strengthening national protection systems, improving selection procedure of judges and making jurisdiction compulsory on some selected aspects.
There are, nevertheless, controversies on the UN reforms. Controversies range from the elimination of the United Nations to making the United Nations into a full-fledged world government. Abolitionists, at one extreme, say that the United Nations should be eliminated entirely and states should act on their own. Proponents of world government, on the other, maintain that the United Nations should be made the world government and reforms should be carried out accordingly. Between extreme groups, some say that the United Nations should be confined to its humanitarian roles only. Still another group says that the United Nations should play a greater role in the world affairs and reformation is needed for its better roles. Despite wide-ranging variations in reform perspectives, the United Nations should be made as stronger as possible with reasonable reforms but, simultaneously, states must have sufficient freedom for self-determination.
Reform measures in the above areas, thus, need to be taken keeping an acceptable balance between the UN’s authority and national sovereignty. Surely, there is no alternative to earnest cooperation from all member states including veto-holding states as reforms in the UN especially in the present Charter, according to its Article 108, require the approval of the UN General Assembly by at least two-thirds votes of its members and ratification by two third member states of the UN including all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. In my opinion, this is the right time for making some major reformations, since only expected reforms of the United Nations can make it more effective intergovernmental organisation in the world.
Amir Mohammad Sayem is a researcher and writer.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Opinion