Event ReportsPublished on Jul 27, 2016
Reformed UN is indispensable, says Dr. Shashi Tharoor

Richly appreciating the role played by the United Nations in 70 years of its existence, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament now, and a former UN Under Secretary General, has said  that the call of the hour is a “renewed” and by no means, a “retired” UN.

Dr. Tharoor, who had worked with the UN for 29 long years, was firm that there is no alternative to the UN. However, the UN needs to be refurbished, further capacitated to take on the problems of a changed world, he said delivering a special lecture on ‘World after 70 years of the United Nations’ at a discussion organised by ORF Kolkata on July 23, 2016.

He pointed out that the Pew Research Center report had found over 50% favourable rating towards UN among Americans.

Dr. Tharoor regretted the fact that people have been critical about United Nations without considering the adversities it has fought against: humanitarian crisis, genocide, drugs war, refugee problems, and so on.

Tracing the history, Dr. Tharoor recalled that UN was a transition from war-time alliance to peacetime partners in the aftermath of World War II and the sovereign equality of members has always been upheld at the UN. The richer and stronger members were encouraged to contribute more towards common good and consensus building at the forum. Dr. Tharoor also felt that the UN was built in 1945 as an alternative to a Hobbesian world. The legitimacy of the UN is global and is well beyond the sovereign limits of any country. The post-globalised world is deeply interconnected with membership of countries in various multi-lateral forums overlapping such as the RIC, BRICS, IBSA and BASIC groupings. Nothing is local or regional, a local security issue may have global security concerns just as local employment scenario may be a spill-over of global economic patterns.

In this context, the UN’s role as a global governance mechanism is of paramount importance. He singled out several merits of UN such as preventing escalation of the Cold War, participation in peace-keeping efforts, preventing intensification of security problems into global conflagration, aiding in strategic consultation, setting norms for decolonisation and disarmament, and so on. In the changed world post 70 years of the UN, a reformed UN is indispensable. In this regard, Dr. Tharoor opined that the UN must “anchor its own experience in its sailing.”

Dr. Tharoor said the UN must attain its Millennium Development Goals, must devise ways of securing consent more easily from members, the members in its permanent bodies (General Assembly and Security Council) must have seats representing its share of population in the world and legal clarity must be brought in its various declarations.

The first discussant at the panel, Mr. Krishnan Srinivasan, former Foreign Secretary, Government of India, said that the UN is the most sophisticated and successful human experiment. It is undoubtedly the cornerstone of international architecture. But like the curate’s egg, it is only good in parts. When things go right, the UN takes credit but when things go wrong it is the fault of the member states. Hence, Mr. Srinivasan held that there is an internal credibility gap between the achievement and objective of the United Nations. But, the flip side is we cannot blame the UN for what it is not responsible. We live in a more multipolar world unlike in the times when the UN was formed between the binary of the victorious and the vanquished.

Speaking about the UN Security Council, Mr. Srinivasan said that India might have a grouse about the permanent five of the UN, but the latter’s influence has been found enduring. The top permanent five are within the top 13 biggest world. Also, within the top 13 economies are Germany, Japan, India and Brazil who are the top contenders to the UNSC’s permanent seat. The remaining countries in the top 13 are Western Allies and OECD members. Even if the 4 lead contenders become permanent members of the security council it still rules out 23 percent of the world population who are Muslim or 1.6 billion people. Hence, it is an enormously complicated arrangement, Srinivasan held echoing Dr. Tharoor.

The UN has made remarkable contributions but what it has not done is to create obligations for developed countries besides from the official development assistance targets as opposed to aspirations and targets for developing countries. Ambassador Srinivasan questioned whether UN has maintained state sovereignty, enshrined in Article 2.1 and Article 2.7 of the UN charter and also whether the UN has been complicit in interventions in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Has it been breaking rules by using human rights as a political weapon? He regretted that the Indian government has spent excessive time, money, diplomatic credibility and diplomatic capital for getting a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.

Professor Anindya Jyoti Majumdar, Director, School of International Relations and Strategic Studies, Jadavpur University, was the second discussant. He called the UN “the world’s most misunderstood organisation.” Dr. Majumdar asked if merely reforming the UNSC would help meet the challenges faced by the world today. The collective security model on which the UN is based is plagued by two problems: big power dominance and selective engagement.

However smaller states are still victims to the politics of big states.  In 1945, the UN was an organisation of ‘states’ and non-state actors had not come to the fore. This has changed and demands equivalent adaptations in the workings of the UN. Finally, Professor Majumdar saw the features of collective security as being comprised of big power dominance and selective engagement.

This report is prepared by Pratnashree Basu, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation Kolkata.

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