Sunday, March 16, 2003

Oops, the UN is broken

In a sense, Bush is right: the United Nations is broken. And it's not just because he picked it up and dropped it. It's the Security Council. Five permanent members with veto power, left over from World War II, will not do. They will not get us out of this decade, forget about this century.

Here's what I propose: the Security Council should be composed of seven semi-permanent member states: one each from North America, South America, Europe, and Africa; two from Asia and the Pacific (a group that includes Russia, China, India, Japan and Australia); and one other nation voted on once every ten years by all the member states of the General Assembly collectively.

Arrangements for rotating non-permanent members could stay the same as they are today.

No single semi-permanent member nation would have veto power; rather, two semi-vetoes combined would be required to quash any resolution. That is, a resolution that passes 6 of the 7 semi-permanent members would be equivalent to a unanimous vote today.

Selection to semi-permanent status would depend on leading one's region in certain key measures of societal advancement and global leadership. Here's where we can be creative and, in the grand-historical sense, progressive in our choices. I would lobby for the highest scoring nations by some combination of national wealth and an index of social development (like the Human Development Index used by the UN, which de-emphasized standard measures of economic growth and national wealth and instead focuses on those factors that (quoting from the UN website) create “an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests… expanding the choices people have to lead lives that they value.” To continue with this kind of benchmark, “Fundamental to enlarging these choices is building human capabilities —the range of things that people can do or be in life. The most basic capabilities for human development are to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community.”

Realistically, military power would certainly also need to be a factor in the selection of semi-permanent members. Some would undoubtedly argue for other criteria such as degrees of democratization or freedom. The dreamer in me imagines throwing in such qualities as national creativity, wisdom, peacefulness and environmental stewardship, but I'm prepared to be pragmatic and abandon any such hope until the 22nd century. In any case, re-measurement and re-appointment of nations might occur, say, every 20 years. The measures chosen would, in the end, represent the global consensus of what is valued in a nation's character, and would come to act as a lowest-common denominator guide for the further development of all nations and peoples.

The United Nations is a wonderful institution with a brilliant history, the necessary product of wise minds, but it is flawed at its core, not sufficiently democratic for the 21st century. This flaw is understandable and we should treat it with sympathy, because the institution was scorched by the fires of war in its birth room.

Now one Security Council member has used its own unaccountable power to destroy the institution from within. But you know what? That may actually be okay if wise minds again take over briefly at some point in the crisis of the coming years, and purify this traumatized toddler for a new century. Soon this day will come: the time to reform the United Nations for the better, lest we all descend into ashes. The key will be the collective participation of all the world’s people, dragging our governments along by the nose.