Reports indicate that once again, Nigeria is leading largest delegation (600 people) to this year’s General Assembly of the United Nation (UN). Coming barely two years after President Goodluck Jonathan also led the largest delegation of about 250 people to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Australia, it is clear that Jonathan has a knack for breaking the wrong records from the wrong end, and for the wrong reasons.
Do not ask if the large delegations to CHOGM and the UN have resulted in any tangible benefits for Nigerians or whether the huge numbers of bureaucrats, politicians, cronies, hangers-on and other opportunists have any idea what they are travelling for. At least, shops and hotels in New York will know that Nigerians are in town!
So this week, as they do every year, delegations from all member states of the United Nations (UN) now numbering 193, will converge at the UN Headquarters to participate in the General Assembly. The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the organization provides a forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the UN Charter.
For many leaders opposed to US policies, attending the UN General Assembly is the often the only opportunity they have of visiting America – with a chance to air their views on the world stage. Some ranted meaninglessly for hours, as did late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Others, like the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez scored memorable points, as he did in 2009, when, drawing on his 2006 remarks in which he compared former U.S. President George Bush to the devil, he said, “It doesn’t smell like sulfur anymore.”
The fact that two of the most vocal critics of the US at the United Nations are both dead should be food for thought for other leaders who disagree with America: US missiles helped to bomb Gaddafi out of his hideout and unto his grotesque murder by his abductors; Chavez died so conveniently that the unspoken allegation is that the US somehow engineered his death.
Anyway, drama at the UN General Assembly and conspiracy theories aside, is the United Nations, as conceived in 1945 still relevant to the world today? In the last few decades, so much has changed on the military, economic and political fronts that holding on to the structure of the UN as it currently stands is not only unjust, but controverts the very ideals of the body.
The UN was founded in 1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights. The UN has four main purposes: (1) To keep peace throughout the world (2) To develop friendly relations among nations (3) To help nations work together to improve the lives of poor people, to conquer disease and illiteracy, and to encourage respect for each other’s rights and freedoms (4) To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations to achieve these goals.
There is no doubt that the work of the UN has reached every part of the world; peacekeeping, conflict prevention, humanitarian assistance, sustainable development, environmental matters; refugee protection, disaster relief, counter terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation, to promoting democracy, human rights, gender equality and the advancement of women, governance, economic and social development and international health, clearing landmines, expanding food production, etc.
Also, because of its unique international character and the powers vested in its founding Charter, the UN has taken action on a wide range of issues, and provided, as it still does, a platform for its member states to express their views through the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and other bodies and committees.
In many ways, these are noble objectives. The devil, as it always the case, is in the details.
At the time the UN was founded, the USA and the Soviet Union (USSR) were the dominant military powers in the world. To achieve some semblance of balance, two badly battered European countries – Britain and France were included along with China (which the US insisted as meaning Taiwan until 1971) as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto powers. However, not only have socio-political and economic realities changed – changes that warrant far-reaching reforms – the Security Council now seems like a tool with which the permanent members impose their views on the rest of the world.
For example, the UN has severally authorized the use of force to, among other things, promote democracy, but its most powerful body – the Security Council –is neither elected, nor representative of even the faintest notion of democracy. Why should Britain, with just over 63 million people be a permanent member with veto powers, while India, with 1.2 billion not is a member? Why should France’s 65 million people have a veto power while Africa’s 1 billion is voiceless and powerless? Why is Latin America’s 600 million people not represented on this important body?
Granted, Japan and Germany were devastated and broke when the UN was founded, but today are the third and fourth largest economies in the world, respectively, and contribute more to the UN’s operations than Britain and France. Since power now is significantly determined by economics, do they not, along with Brazil, India, South Korea and others qualify to be permanent members of the UN Security Council, assuming that a body as undemocratic as that is still needed?
With apologies to George Orwell, it seems that all nations are equal at the UN, but some nations are more equal than others! Without major reforms, the UN risks becoming another meaningless relic of a world that ceased to exist long ago.