United Nations at 75

75 years ago, on 24th October 1945, the United Nations Organization (UNO) came into being. The lack of enthusiasm for this landmark anniversary shows how far this organisation has drifted from the lofty ideals enshrined in its framework. The preamble to the predecessor of the UNO, the League of Nations, had the customary flavour of a treaty between sovereign nations: “The High Contracting Parties… Agree to this Covenant of the League of Nations.” In the 25 years between its founding and that of its successor, diplomatic finesse had substituted the candidness of realpolitik. The preamble to the UNO mentioned the “people” instead of the “High Contracting Parties”; “Charter” had replaced the “Covenant”. The Charter opened with “We the Peoples of the United Nations” raising hopes that people will count in the new world order instead of the chessboard manoeuvres of world powers.

“The People” should have known better. The San Francisco Conference, at which the Charter was drafted, was a gathering of the victors of the Second World War with all 46 countries who had declared war on Germany having been invited. The negotiations were emblematic of the coming cold war between the western power led by the US and the USSR, with the latter claiming that all the Republics of the USSR should be invited and the US countering that all its states should also participate. Latin American countries claimed that if Soviet Republics became members, then Argentina should be included which was opposed by the USSR as Argentina had supported the Axis Powers. As a compromise, Argentina, Denmark, Ukraine and Belarus were included.

The permanent seats on the Security Council with the power of Veto were given to the victor powers with France included sympathetically. That legacy has continued for the last 75 years in spite of the world having come a long way since 1945. In 1949, the Chinese regime, having been upstaged by the Communists, had retreated to Taiwan but continued to hold the permanent seat and veto in the Security Council. In the 60s, the then West Germany had become the second largest economy in the world with Japan achieving that position in the 70s. As the West had already cozied up to communist China, the General Assembly, by Resolution 2758 of 1971, substituted Mao’s Mainland China for Chiang Kai-Shek’s Taiwan as the sole representative of the Chinese people. The fact that this was the beginning of the retreat of America in the war against Communism was further confirmed when in 1975 the Americans ignominiously fled from South Vietnam. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the implosion of the USSR presented a brief respite to the Americans after which there has been constant ascendance of Communist China.

These momentous changes in the international power structure have not been reflected in the structure of the United Nations Organization and any change is not likely to happen anytime soon because of the wooden requirement that for any change in the structure of the Security Council, all permanent members have to agree. The expulsion of Taiwan skirted this constraint as the process was re-worded to decide who had the “credentials to represent China” rather than membership. Hence, Security Council approval was not required. The General Assembly, however, has seen an explosion in membership because of decolonisation, break-up of the USSR and the restructuring of the Balkans. The membership of the General Assembly has mushroomed from 51 in 1945 (India, though part of the British empire, was an original member) to 193 at present. Monaco, the smallest in size, has an area of 2.02 square kilometres or less than one square mile and is a full-fledged member. In comparison, Russia, the largest, has more than 17 million square kilometres. All these new entrants are, as a rule, small nations in terms of population. 110 members have a population below 10 million. Of these, 37 have a population below one million. Going further down, 13 have less than one lakh inhabitants and the smallest Tuvalu has less than 11,000 people. All of these countries have one vote each in the General Assembly at par with India’s 1.38 billion. Thus, every Tuvaluan is equated with more than 1.25 lakh Indians.

In addition to the inequity represented by these figures in an organisation created by “Peoples of the United Nations”, it creates an asymmetry that facilitates malicious power play. Many of these small countries, barring some in Europe, have a small economy – members’ GDP ranges from $20 trillion of the US and $15 trillion of China to less than $50 million of Tuvalu. Clearly, such small economies and their leaders are open to inducement when a bigger country decides to spend a small part of its GDP for gaining influence over their decision-making. This is evident from the voting pattern in the General Assembly in recent times. On October 15, 2020, there was secret voting in the General Assembly for electing members to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). The results surprised many when Pakistan, China, Russia and Cuba were declared by a huge majority of nations to become authorised protectors of human rights worldwide. Each of these four countries received more than 130 votes with Pakistan getting 169, the highest. Despite the secrecy, we know that none of the western democracies would have voted for Pakistan or Cuba. The influence gained by China with small nations was too evident in this vote.

The recent controversy about the role of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in responding to the worldwide spread of Covid-19 from China has its roots in the Chinese influence in the UN through votes of small countries. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (not a medical doctor), the WHO Chief, who is in the eye of the storm over this issue, is a master manipulator who was powerful in the ruling Marxist junta of Ethiopia and also in the communist regime that overthrew the junta in which he became the health minister. This former communist falsely claimed that he received racist abuse from Taiwan prompting China to immediately jump to his support. BBC reported that Taiwan Foreign ministry called these accusations “irresponsible” and “imaginary” and demanded an apology for this “slander”. Surprisingly, China induced even India to support this communist official, whose record as health minister of Ethiopia was dismal. It is no surprise that Chinese aid to Ethiopia surged after appointment of Dr. Tedros.

When in 1950, the US had offered to India the permanent Security Council seat held by tiny Taiwan, Nehru declined it in favour of China. Ironically, China’s veto is the main roadblock today to India’s renewed efforts to get a permanent seat. All those small countries that voted to get Pakistan and Cuba elected to HRC will be with China in order to morally legitimise China’s veto. There is no hope in the near future of any major reform either on the issue of population asymmetry in the General Assembly or of the veto power in the Security Council. The totalitarian regime of China will continue to dominate these bodies as also the specialised agencies of the UN created with great fanfare 75 years ago, by and for the “Peoples of the United Nations”.

Source : Daily World

The writer RN Prasher is a retired IAS officer of Haryana cadre | Personal Opinions

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