The issue of reforming the United Nations Security Council loomed large during the two-day Bali Democracy Forum, which was attended by 11 heads of state and government.
The essence of their speeches on this particular topic was to restructure the council, or UNSC, to the extent that it represents “actual realities” of the present-day global constellation so that the world’s most powerful authority is not “undemocratically controlled” only by the five permanent members, often referred to as the “Perm Five.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recognized that the current constellation of the UNSC was the result of a global power imbalance in the aftermath of World War II. Now that this reason is out-dated, he said, it is time for the council to be restructured.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai also spoke about the need to overhaul the UN system and make it more democratic because the current constellation is “no longer suitable” for present-day realities.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gave a broader perspective on the issue and emphasized the need to democratize the United Nations to the point that it reflects the globe’s potential strengths in all fields. This would include rewriting the criteria for membership to the UNSC.
To do so, the UN Charter must be amended. And that is where huge problems arise. If amending a country’s constitution is a big and very sensitive issue, more so is the proposition to amend the UN Charter.
Where to begin? Who will have the authority to conduct reform? And, the most crucial question is, how to get the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France to agree to relinquish their exclusive veto rights? These states would then no longer enjoy the exclusivity of such rights and be “downgraded” to the level of ordinary, non-permanent members. Reforming the UNSC would mean scrapping exclusive rights and sharing them with the rest of the UNSC members.
What the Bali Democracy Forum leaders had in mind was that if the UNSC could be reformed, it should begin by abolishing the distinction between permanent and non-permanent membership, thereby sharing the exclusive veto right equally among all members as a matter of democratic fairness.
The next step would be to rewrite the criteria for obtaining UNSC membership status.
That should reflect the real strength of the world, from economic to socio-demographic, technological, geo-strategic and soft-power excellence, and not merely based on perception of a country’s military strength, which is how it has been done for nearly seven decades.
Idealistically, that would usher in a more balanced global order in which key decisions on global peace, security, governance and economic policy formulation are made democratically by a reformed UN whose resolutions would no longer be suspected of advancing or siding with the agendas of certain countries.
In step with such endeavors, the UN General Assembly must be given greater authority to establish a “democratic superbody” under its auspices with the mandate to appoint the right people to lead various international agencies such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and all UN organs.
The conduct of the assembly, or UNGA, itself needs to be reformed so that it no longer becomes a forum for adversaries to attack each other, as in the ugly annual shows by warring countries, or those involved in various kinds of undeclared, yet open, war.
Delegates to UNGA should be required to present their best practices so others can learn from and their concerns and propose solutions to global problems affecting their existence.
That way, the UNGA could become an annual forum for obtaining answers and solutions instead of a platform for displaying hegemony, hatred, provocation and enmity. What a wonderful world the final outcome would be! In fact, US President Barack Obama has for some time envisaged such a UN. But for now, these reforms remain in my daydreams after reading the speeches of the Bali Democracy Forum leaders.
The speeches taught me to dream about a new world in which the UN is the peacemaker and problem-solver for its member countries. I was taught by those speeches to smile optimistically at future harmonious international relations, rather than frowning at the current realities.
But after a while, I realized that none of what those leaders were saying about UN reform during the forum was actually new.
Even as early as 1992, when leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) gathered for their 10th summit in Jakarta, they had already issued a joint declaration that aimed to, among other things, reform the UN.
Even before that, Ali Alatas, who served as Indonesia’s foreign minister from 1988 to 1999 and was very well respected for his diplomatic acumen, strove through various international forums to achieve a consensus for reforming the UN.
Alatas — who co-chaired the Paris International Peace Conference on Cambodia with then-French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas and was the spokesman of the Third World Group of 77 for talks with advanced countries — used Asean, the Group of 77, NAM, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and other forums to advance this goal. And yet untilhis death, he had not seen his painstaking efforts come to fruition.
The global power constellation remains undemocratic despite the rhetoric of those self-proclaimed “champions of democracy.” It is a big illusion to expect the Bali Democracy Forum to correct the situation by relying on its own network.
BDF needs to be expanded to include the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France as permanent participants, as well as other regional powers such as Brazil and Mexico to represent South America; South Africa, Egypt and perhaps Nigeria or other strong economies on the African continent; as well as Germany, Canada and OIC members.
Besides, leaving NATO members out of the picture would be counterproductive — if indeed reforming the UNSC is part of the goal that BDF leaders had in mind during their Bali meeting. The time is right because NATO does not have an enemy today to justify its huge weaponry.
Before talking about reforming the UN what BDF must do is strengthen its membership network to represent the actual strength of international constellations so that its aspirations can be supported by those participants that represent the majority of global strength.
But that alone is not enough. How the BDF can amend the UN Charter and reform the UN is a wilderness that has yet to be explored.
Perhaps it will remain in my daydreams for many more years until I give up and acknowledge that this is not simple work that can be solved through a loose forum’s appeals and declarations.
The world needs a new democratic conscience movement to push such strategic issues forward. And it needs great statesmen to make it happen.
The next BDF needs to go a lot further than just a collection of keynote speeches. The forum must attract other centers of power so that they too may lend a helping hand in creating a more balanced global order.
Pitan Daslani is a senior political correspondent at BeritaSatu Media Holdings, of which the Jakarta Globe is a subsidiary. He can be reached at email@example.com