Rhein on Energy and Climate

During the most recent conference of the Group of Non-Aligned countries in Tehran the Iranian President Ayatollah Khamenei and the -first freely elected- Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi have called for a radical renovation of the United Nations.

This goes in particular for the Security Council which is no longer representative of the global population and incapable of effective action due to the veto power of its five permanent members, USA, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France. Today, these five countries represent no more than one quarter of global population; until 2050 their share will shrink to just one fifth!

The on-going bloodshed in Syria is also due to the blockage within the Security Council: assuming normal voting procedures a big majority of – permanent and temporary- members would have called for international action a long time ago. But under present rules, Russia and China are freer to veto any draft resolution as long as it suits their interests.

The foremost reform should therefore tackle the veto issue. The EU, including its two permanent members, should lend their full support to the non-aligned countries for changing the voting rules and putting the five permanent members on the same footing as the 10 temporary members.

The second, though less urgent reform, should tackle the distinction between permanent and temporary members. Ideally it should disappear. But if permanent membership is the price for abolishing the veto, it is worth it.

The third reform concerns the composition of the permanent members. It has been the result of the specific situation at the end of World War II, when the victor countries shared the “war spoils” on the occasion of the founding of the UN in 1945. Today, France and UK no longer deserve the privilege of a permanent seat at the UNSEC. They are middle size countries like South Korea, enjoying high prosperity. Their tiny nuclear force should no longer be an argument. It would also constitute a plea for India to become a permanent member, which would be more than justified considering its population of being ten times that of France and UK combined!

There are two other reforms to be tackled in the interest of making the UN a much more effective body for world- wide governance:

  • The Secretariat should be given authority to submit proposals for international regulations and slowly become a sort of global Executive, comparable to the European Commission..
  • The General Assembly should slowly develop into a world-parliament with the authority to “legislate” in restricted areas for which global regulations are felt as indispensable for Humanity, which would require voting rules weighted to population and economic weight.

Both steps are interdependent. Both are necessary to cope with the rising number of issues that will require world-wide rules in the future.

It will need a major effort of conviction to lead past and present “super-powers” , esp. USA, China and Russia, to submit themselves to global legislation and law. But it has to happen in the interest of maintaining peace and secure the future of the planet.

The EU should discreetly engage in internal discussions on these issues and, after thorough preparation, take appropriate initiatives. It has to react to the shifting balance of power on earth, before being forced to it.

If it wants to continue having a say in global affairs, it cannot maintain the status quo. It has to aggregate its 28 votes in the General Assembly and swap its two seats in the UNSEC for a single one in the name of the EU.

These are long-term perspectives; but to get there by say 2040, thinking has to start today.

Any UN reform will have to proceed in stages, the most urgent, but also the the most difficult one, being the abolition of the veto power in the UNSEC.


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