A "still small voice"

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Revitalizing the United Nations (Apr 2000)

IKings 19:11-13 (NKJ)
Then He said, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

The ranting and ravings of Senator Jesse Helms, Phyllis Schlafly, Cliff Kincaid, and other right wingers against the United Nations and the rule of law remind me of that allegorical "great and strong wind", "earthquake", and "fire" which make a lot of noise and get a lot of public attention but which do NOT conform with God's commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Indeed, their adamant efforts to defend the "right" of American soldiers to commit war crimes with impunity while deploring war crimes committed by the soldiers of other nations shows that they are ideologically "wrapped around the axil" of Satan's national sovereignty idol. Apparently, their primary concern is to preseve what they perceive to be their own personal power and influence regardless of the costs. They would sooner risk nuclear annihilation and send your sons an daughters off to kill or be killed in a war than to even attempt to solve international problems using civilized approaches which do in fact conform with God's commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, such as the approach proposed in the following article by Joseph Schwartzberg.

Joseph Schwartzberg is a world federalist. World federalists generally believe that the only realistic solution to the scourages of war, famine, and pestilence is to establish a true world government. Every war that has erupted since the establishment of the United Nations has reaffirmed the correctness of their beliefs in that regard. Although world federalists tend to view the United Nations as being a "psuedo" or "phony" immitation of a true world government, they genenrally support what the United Nations is trying to do, because "its better than nothing" and there is always the possibility that the United Nations could be revised to become a true world governement some day.

The article which follows provides one of the best overviews of the present United Nations situation that I have read in recent years. This article is being published here with his permission, and it is also being presented in the May 2000 issue of Global Dialog. As you read it, notice how closely it resembles God's "still small voice" in contrast to the fear mongering ideological tactics of America's right-wing politicians and religious leaders. History and the Bible have clearly shown that recurring scourages such as war, famine, and pestilence will NOT go away until the people of the world finally begin to follow the "still small voice" of God's commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves (without restrictions). One of the ways you can help make that happen is to bring this article to the attention of others.


By Joseph E. Schwartzberg

On January 20, 2000 Jesse Helms, the powerful Republican Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate, delivered an unprecedented address before the UN Security Council in which he set forth the reasons why he often took a critical view of the United Nations and stipulated the conditions under which the United States government would pay off the considerable arrears on its assessed dues to that body. In particular, he called for the UN to concentrate mainly on its core task of maintaining peace and warned against any attempts by the UN to infringe on American sovereignty. Discounting the fact that opinion polls consistently show high levels of popular support for the UN, Helms asserted that his views also reflected those of the American people.

What accounts for this lamentable scenario? Why should the UN and the related agencies that constitute the United Nations system be held in so little esteem by many conservative American politicians in an age when, clearly, that system is needed as never before? In what follows I shall consider not only some misperceptions about the UN that provide a partial answer to this profoundly troubling question, but also the real shortcomings of the United Nations system -- for there are many -- as well as its major achievements. I shall also discuss some of the ways by which the system can be restructured and revitalized so as to heighten its capabilities to do what the world requires of it and thereby gain the support it so vitally needs.

America's limited interest in the UN, I would submit, stems largely from the country's excessive preoccupation with domestic concerns: the economy, crime, race relations, the erosion of the family, and so forth. But that understandable, if misguided, parochialism and the concomitant aversion to entangling foreign involvements is only a part of the story. Because of the failure of the United Nations to restore order in several recent peacekeeping ventures, most notably in Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia and to prevent large-scale violence in Kosovo and East Timor, the organization is widely perceived as unequal to the principal task set forth in the preamble to its Charter, "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." Regrettably, few critics of the UN recognize that the failure is not really that of the system, but rather of the members of the United Nations to live up to the obligations that they undertook when they joined the organization. Is it not, after all, the height of hypocrisy for members of the US Congress to castigate the United Nations for its alleged inability to keep the peace, when, at the same time, they vote to deny the organization the very means to do the job? Presently, the United States, by far the leading debtor to the UN, owes the organization well over a billion dollars in back dues, out of a total debt (including the cost of peacekeeping operations) of several billion. This places the UN on the very brink of insolvency. The United States also withholds other forms of support, for example, in respect to the UN's population and environmental programs and has failed to ratify various human rights covenants that have gained virtually universal support from other democratic nations.

Misperceptions about the United Nations

Three key misperceptions about the UN system are held by many members of Congress and by much of the American public as well. First, there is the belief that the UN is excessively costly and represents -- or may soon represent -- a significant drain on the federal budget. Second, it is supposed that the United Nations has given rise to a vast and inept bureaucracy. Finally, many see the UN as poised to assume the role of a global government and, thereby, to greatly curtail American sovereignty. None of these views is valid. Let us examine each of them.

As is well known, the United States' assessed share of the regular operating budget of the UN is 25%, which is slightly less than its roughly 26 or 27% share of the world's total gross national product. But, notwithstanding its present modest under-assessment, one of the conditions which the United States is seeking to impose on the UN in return for paying only a portion of its long-standing arrears is that of having its assessment level lowered to 22%. (In respect to peacekeeping the US seeks to reduce its assessment from 31% to 25%). If paid in full, America's annual contribution to the UN budget would come, as of 1999, to a mere $1.12 per person, a figure which would represent a smaller fraction of our GNP (less than 0.04%) than is the case for most other developed nations. Another way to put the UN budget in perspective was set forth in an authoritative report by Sir Brian Urquhart and the late Erskine Childers, entitled Renewing the United Nations System. The authors observed that the citizens of the United Kingdom annually spend three-and-a-half times as much on alcoholic beverages as the estimated world-wide expenditures for the entire UN system. Overall, the system's expenditures, about $10 billion in 1999 (including the costs of the specialized agencies other than the World Bank and the IMF) come to a mere 0.03% of the world's gross national product. The cost of peacekeeping, though still the largest single component of those expenditures, declined from a high of $3.5 billion in 1994 to a total of less than one billion in 1998 (less than the cost of New York City's Police Department). By contrast the US defense budget for 1999 was $271 billion, while the combined military budgets of the world as a whole was almost three times as great.

As for the UN's being a vast and inept bureaucracy, one should note that currently the number of employees in the entire United Nations system, including the specialized agencies, the World Bank and the IMF, and UN offices in well over a hundred countries, is only about 64,700. Many American states and not a few American cities maintain larger payrolls than that. While it is true that some of the UN's internationally recruited employees are less skilled than one would wish and that various components of the system sometimes work at cross purposes, the same may be said of virtually any large bureaucracy. Given the difficulties that the UN faces, the wonder is, rather, that the system functions as well as it does and that most of its culturally diverse staff, drawn from 160 countries, work with a degree of dedication that relatively few other organizations, public or private, can command.

The third misperception about the UN is that it functions as a world government. Although I believe that some form of democratic, federal, limited world government will ultimately be recognized as necessary, the UN is still quite far from assuming such a role. While not a few globally minded persons do see themselves as citizens of the world, not one of them yet has such a status in any legal sense. Unlike national governments, the UN exercises no sovereignty, passes no internationally binding laws, cannot levy taxes on individuals or corporations, and has no standing armed forces. Therefore, it has no coercive capability in confronting violators of international law, except in respect to Chapter VII military operations, which the Security Council has only twice invoked. In a word, then, practically all that the UN does depends on the voluntary compliance of its members; and that compliance is, in fact, all too often withheld, not only by authoritarian states, but often by democracies as well.

Achievements of the United Nations System

Although the criticisms leveled at the United Nations by right-wing ideologues and their followers in the United States are, for the most part, well off the mark, the UN system does have serious shortcoming and could benefit greatly from substantial reform. But, before considering what needs fixing to enable a revitalized UN to realize the goals set forth by its founders -- and to perform a host of other needed tasks that its founders could scarcely envisage in 1945 -- it would be in order to recapitulate some of the system's many remarkable successes.

First, let us consider issues of war and peace. It is, of course, obvious that the UN has not freed the world from the scourge of war. But it has prevented a great many wars from getting out of control: the Indo-Pakistan war of 1947-48, the war following Israel's declaration of independence in 1948, the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1964, and numerous others. Moreover, timely action by the Security Council has prevented the outbreak of many other threatened wars, for example the one that might have occurred between Indonesia and the Netherlands when Indonesia was pressing its claim to West New Guinea in the early 1960s. The very fact that the UN provides a universal forum wherein even the weakest of nations may obtain a hearing often exerts a significant effect in defusing conditions that might otherwise lead to international strife.

A more unqualified success has been the UN's remarkably effective oversight of the process of decolonization in respect to nearly half the world's people inhabiting virtually the whole of Africa, much of Asia and the Pacific, and many countries in and near the Caribbean Basin. Of the 188 countries now within the UN fully one hundred were colonial dependencies in 1945. (Another fourteen, arguably, were, in effect, dependencies, though officially non-Russian republics within the Soviet Union.) At times the decolonization process was violent, as in the Congo, where the UN was called on to restore order after the Belgian withdrawal in 1960; but more often it was orderly.

Horrendous as war is, it has not been -- contrary to common belief -- the number one cause of human mortality over the centuries. Famine and several communicable diseases have exacted far heavier tolls. In many parts of the world, the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, one of many specialized agencies affiliated with the UN, has done much to reduce the incidence and severity of famine and to point the way to agricultural self-sufficiency. But far more striking successes have been registered in respect to human health. For example, the World Health Organization, headquartered in Geneva, coordinated a global effort to eradicate smallpox. The world's last case of smallpox was recorded in Ethiopia in 1977. And yet, not long prior to that date, I visited a village in India where roughly a thousand persons out of a total population of three thousand died of smallpox only weeks before my arrival. The estimated cost of ridding the world of smallpox was under half a billion dollars, less than a fourth of the $2.2 billion dollars that the United States paid for each of its B-2 Stealth Bombers. An earlier campaign to wipe out malaria worldwide was a near success. Had the international will to finish the job been just a bit greater, it might have succeeded before mosquitoes developed resistance to DDT, the key agent in reducing malaria morbidity. Currently, a major thrust of UNICEF is to inoculate all children in developing countries against five major diseases: diphtheria, measles, polio, tetanus, and typhoid. While that program still has some way to go, it appears that polio is about to join smallpox as a wholly eradicated disease. And it is noteworthy that there are already many low-income countries in which rates of inoculation are higher than those of most inner-city neighborhoods in the United States.

Humanitarian interventions under UN auspices in response to natural and human-generated catastrophes assume many forms. Most important, perhaps, is the role of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in seeing to the needs of some 25 million persons driven by violence or the threat of genocide from their countries of origin, not to mention another thirty million or so internally displaced persons.

Economic and social development form important concerns of numerous agencies within the United Nations system. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), whose 54 (originally 18) member nations are periodically elected by the General Assembly, is charged with coordinating the work of the UN proper, its constellation of affiliated agencies, and its five Regional Economic Commissions. While the Council's functioning to date has been less than stellar, the work of many of the specialized agencies, such as the already mentioned WHO and FAO, has contributed enormously to the betterment of our planet. Several of the specialized agencies, despite working with small staffs and very modest budgets, are nevertheless responsible for regulating world-wide activities that affect the daily lives of billions of people. So mundane and undramatic are many of their missions (e.g., the standardized reporting of weather information under rules set by the World Meteorological Organization or the regulation of commercial aviation by the International Civil Aviation Organization) that we tend to take their smooth oversight for granted.

Supplementing the work of ECOSOC is the UN Development Programme, overseen by the UN Secretariat. With field offices in well over one hundred countries the UNDP provides the world's largest programme of multilateral technical assistance. Depending mainly on voluntary contributions, it has initiated many thousands of projects in virtually all parts of the developing world: resource surveys, assessments of development assets, promotion of specific industries and exports, development and transfer of culturally appropriate technology, economic and social planning, promotion of technical cooperation, skills training, and numerous others.

Of particular importance are the so-called Bretton Woods institutions, that is, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, more commonly known as the World Bank, now the world's principal source of development loans, and the International Monetary Fund, whose main task is to help stabilize world currencies and regulate exchanges among them. Their ties to the UN are, regrettably, more tenuous than those of other specialized agencies directly linked to ECOSOC and they not infrequently appear to be pursuing rather different agendas or even to be working at cross-purposes from those of other parts of the UN system. This stems in large part from the fact that the decision-making systems vary from one agency to another. Whereas most specialized agencies vote, like the General Assembly, on the one nation - one vote principle, the more powerful World Bank and the IMF follow the shareholder principle whereby voting strength is in proportion to the equity invested by each member nation in the organization. This gives a decided advantage to the world's more developed nations and, in particular, to the United States. Not surprisingly, decisions taken by the Bank and the IMF often appear to the word's less developed nations to reflect more the economic philosophy of the rich rather than the vital needs of the poor. Further, the conditions demanding economic policy reforms that are set in return for the extension of loans are perceived as excessively harsh, whatever their objective merits may be. Moreover, many of the development projects funded by the Bank have proved to be ecologically harmful. Nevertheless, there have been many signs recently that the Bank has taken the views of its critics to heart and that it has moderated its policies to make them more environmentally and culturally sensitive and to pay greater heed to the importance of developing "human capital."

The exceedingly controversial World Trade Organization, established in 1995 as an outgrowth of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, is even further removed from the UN than are the Bretton Woods agencies. The goals of the WTO are to lower both tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, and to facilitate the international flow of investment capital. Critics of the WTO allege that its key decisions are made undemocratically by the major economic powers (the United States, Western Europe, Japan and Canada), with a view to promoting the interests of the world's mega-corporations, and that those powers then seek, as at the abortive 1999 session at Seattle, to foist those decisions on the rest of the world, with little or no regard to the rights of workers, the welfare of consumers, or the health of the environment. They see the WTO as capable of unwarranted infringement upon national sovereignty. In particular, they decry the fact that WTO decisions have already nullified laws in several nations that were deemed to be obstacles to trade, but that were enacted primarily to protect the environment, guarantee the rights of labor, or further other benign purposes. Defenders of the WTO counter that liberalizing trade and investment will ultimately benefit far more people than it will hurt and assert that, since economic globalization is inevitable, it would be better that the process be subject to some degree of regulation than to be anarchic. It is clearly too early in the history of the organization to offer a definitive judgment on its intrinsic merits; but there seems to be little doubt that its functioning can be improved by greater democratization and transparency.

In 1992 the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development was held in Ro de Janeiro. That landmark summit conference was the largest international gathering in the history of our planet and its parallel "Global Forum" attracted far more participants from what has come to be known as "civil society" than those who participated in the official deliberations. Ro made clear the numerous connections between environmental and developmental concerns; resulted in the adoption of two important environmental treaties, as well as a non-binding "Agenda 21" setting forth guidelines for the new century; and called for a UN Commission on Sustainable Development, which the General Assembly subsequently created. Although the official accomplishments of the Ro conference were substantially less than they might have been -- mainly because of the obstructionist stance adopted by the then US President, George Bush -- the catalytic effect of the gathering in energizing and linking hundreds of concerned non-governmental organizations from all over the world was truly remarkable.

The Ro conference was but one among many UN-sponsored international gatherings at which representatives from civil society, working primarily through NGOs, have played an increasingly prominent role. The Social Summit in Copenhagen and the Conference on Population in Cairo, both held in 1994, the 1995 Conference on Women in Beijing, and numerous others have created vital and influential new networks that, thanks to the powerful assistance of the internet, are now reshaping the agenda for progressive change at the global, national, and local levels. Without the supportive role of the UN system, this synergism would not have developed. But, thanks largely to the UN, we should witness the continuing development of vast and ever-more-effective citizens' groups working to enhance human dignity, global justice, and responsible planetary management.

We may conclude this review of United Nations accomplishments with some comments on human rights. Among the most noteworthy achievements of the General Assembly was the promulgation, with no dissenting votes, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. At the time, most nations paid little more than lip service, if that, to the lofty principles which that Declaration enunciated. Nevertheless, the Declaration is now regarded as part of the body of customary international law. Since its adoption, a number of more explicit Covenants have been adopted by the General Assembly and ratified by sufficient numbers of nations to be recognized also as constituting a part of customary international law. The two most important such Covenants, both adopted in 1966 and entering into force in 1976, are those relating to Civil and Political Rights, which the United States has ratified, and to Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the United States has yet to ratify.

Other important human rights covenants, conventions and declarations relate to the self-determination of nations (a topic of rapidly growing importance), racial discrimination, apartheid, religious intolerance, genocide, slavery, torture, war crimes, forced labor, refugees, stateless persons, discrimination against women, the rights of the child, and so forth. Some of these have become international law; others still await the requisite number of ratifications. Notwithstanding the poor record of observance in respect to many human rights enactments, the fact that the UN has created so large a body of relevant international law is, in my view, of great historical importance. And, drawing on the precedent set at Nuremberg after World War II, the UN has finally seen fit to institute special war crimes tribunals to deal with genocide, war crimes, and other "crimes against humanity" in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Even more promising is the drafting in Rome in 1998 of a treaty to establish a standing International Criminal Court to try individuals (not nations) indicted for perpetrating such offenses. This treaty will enter into force when ratified by sixty nations, a process that may take as much as a decade to complete.

Even where the UN and individual states lack the will or capacity to enforce compliance with the new standards, non-governmental groups such as Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, the International Red Cross, and the World Council of Churches, among many others, are exposing violators and exercising an increasingly powerful global influence in obtaining redress in the cases of egregious wrong-doing and in curbing the excesses of oppressive governments. Thus, inspired by standards established through the UN, the movement for human rights has emerged as an inexorable global force.

Needed Reforms

Politically, economically, ecologically, and spiritually, our highly interdependent world is ailing. Serious and mutually reinforcing threats to our future welfare assume numerous forms. Much of what we must do to confront those threats can best be accomplished at the local or national level. But many problems -- in respect to global warming, the hole in the ozone layer, global resource depletion, rampant population growth, pollution, proliferating ethnic strife, genocide, the obscene north-south economic gap, Third World debt, persistent militarism, the narcotics trade, and other issues -- must largely be addressed at the global level. The United Nations system offers the only obvious set of institutional mechanisms for effecting the necessary responses. However, as presently constituted, that system suffers from serious structural deficiencies and cannot do all that it must. Although numerous reforms are needed, I shall focus in what follows only on those that I deem most essential.

To begin with, the voting system in both the 188-member General Assembly and the 15-member Security Council is neither realistic nor democratic. Given the one nation - one vote decision-making system in the General Assembly (and in ECOSOC and most of the specialized agencies), its smallest member, Nauru (admitted to the UN in 1999), with a population of only 10,500, has the same vote as China with a population of nearly 1.3 billion, a discrepancy of roughly 120,000 to one. Since a two-thirds vote is required to pass a resolution on a substantive matter, it is theoretically possible for the sixty-three least populous member nations, with a combined population of only around 1.7% of the world's total, to frustrate the will of the remaining 98.3%. A similar statement could be made for a somewhat different group of small and/or impoverished states collectively accounting for less than 0.2% of the total UN budget! (Presently 32 states each contribute a stipulated minimum of 0.001% of the total budget.) Is it any wonder, then, that decisions taken within the General Assembly are only recommendatory, rather than binding? No great, or even medium-sized, power will willingly consent to sacrifice even a small portion of its precious sovereignty to a would-be legislative body in which the allocation of power bears so little resemblance to the distribution of economic and demographic strength in the real world (i.e., the world outside the UN itself).

Equally problematic is the veto power exercised by each of the five permanent members of the Security Council: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Thus, either France or the United Kingdom, each with not quite one percent of the world's people, could, in principle, block the wishes of the representatives of the remaining 99%. What could be less democratic? It is hardly surprising, then, that most of the world's nations are leery of proposals to assign permanent seats in the Security Council to two additional wealthy members, namely Japan and Germany. Although a strong case can be made for expanding the Security Council, all the formulae that have thus far officially been put forward for doing so are, in my view, self-serving and seriously flawed.

Given the problems just noted, I would argue for several fundamental structural reforms. First, as many critics of the UN have suggested, there must be an objective and flexible system of weighted voting in the General Assembly. Such a system should combine three valid bases for representation: a) shares of the world's total population (the democratic principle), b) shares of the total contribution to the UN budget (the shareholder principle, in effect, the ability to do good), and c) shares of the total membership (the principle of the sovereign equality of nations, which undergirds the rule of one nation - one vote). At the outset, none of these should take logical precedence over the others. Each nation's vote would then be determined by what might be described as its "Entitlement Quotient" (EQ), based on the following formula:

EQ = (%P + % C + %M) / 3

in which %P = population as a percentage of the world's total, %C = contributions to UN budget as a percentage of the total, and %M = membership as a percentage of the total number of nations in the General Assembly (presently 188, which would give each nation a score of 1/188 or 0.53%). To take the case of the United States, the EQ would be
(4.71% + 25.00% + 0.53%) / 3, or 30.24% / 3, which comes to 10.08%. At the opposite extreme would be a number of micro-states, such as Nauru, whose EQ would be something like (<0.001% + 0.001% + 0.532%) / 3, or 0.534%, which comes to not quite 0.18%. The ratio between the highest and lowest EQ, then, would be 56:1.

Based on calculations using 1995 data, the EQs (in %) for the top ten nations would be as follows: US 10.1, China 7.7, India 5.8, Japan 4.6, Germany 3.9, France 2.7, UK 2.2, Italy 1.8, Brazil, 1.6, and Indonesia 1.4. Five other nations would each exceed 1.0% and a total of thirty-three would be net gainers (each with an EQ of at least 0.54%). Although these thirty-three nations make up only a small proportion of the UN's membership, they would have 79.6% of the world's total population and contribute 88.4% of the total UN budget. Their combined EQ would total 69.1%. While this is less, one might argue, than they merit, it is far better than the 17.6% of the Assembly votes that they presently control.

The EQ system is also applicable, with appropriate modifications, to the Security Council. Rather than having any member designated as "permanent" (a word that should be eschewed in any charter), one might specify that any single nation with an EQ exceeding a specified threshold, say 4%, or any voluntarily formed bloc of nations whose combined EQ exceeded the stipulated threshold, would automatically be entitled to a Security Council seat. With a threshold set at 4%, the nations that would qualify automatically would be, in order, the US, China, India, and Japan. But Germany and Austria combined would also be eligible, as would France plus the Benelux countries, the UK plus the Scandinavian countries, and so forth. If the number of seats in the Council were increased to eighteen (a workable, though admittedly arbitrary figure) one could envisage the formation of thirteen regional blocs, based on common interests, in addition to the four automatic qualifiers. This would leave one seat for a nation (e.g., Canada) from among the group of nations which, for one reason or another, would not fit into any of the likely regional blocs.1

An important feature of the proposed use of EQs in determining weighted voting in the General Assembly and the allocation of seats in the Security Council is that doing so would result in a rough parity of voting strength between the world's more industrialized economies (including the European republics within the Commonwealth of Independent States) and those of the rest of the world (including China). This would mean, given the two-thirds majority required for decisions on substantive matters, that neither group of nations could command an automatic majority (as the nations of the Third World now do in the General Assembly) in the furtherance of its own agenda. Rather, creative compromises would be required, recognizing the interests and needs of diverse parties, as is typically the case in democratic governance.

While it will be necessary, in my view, to give the General Assembly the power to make legally binding decisions, using some sort of realistic weighted voting system, it is equally necessary to ensure that such power be carefully circumscribed so as to preclude tyranny. As a general principle, the UN should be empowered to take action only on matters that cannot be effectively dealt with by individual nations acting on their own. In all other matters, the sovereignty of the member nations should be guaranteed. This would simply be a long overdue application, at the global level, of the constitutional principle of territorial division of powers that characterizes all successful democratic federations.

1 A map showing a hypothetical distribution of national and regional seats in a Security Council constituted according to the system outlined here appears in Joseph E. Schwartzberg, "Towards a more representative and effective Security Council," Political Geography, vol. 13, no. 6, November 1994, pp. 493-91.

Proposals for as radical a set of structural changes in the UN as those advocated in the preceding paragraphs would, obviously, be greeted initially with considerable skepticism. Selling them to the concerned parties will not be easy. But, considered as a package, the changes offer some trade-offs that might be seen by enough nations as sufficiently desirable to win the requisite support. If one were, for example, to consider the Security Council alone, one can see no compelling reason why either France or the UK should give up its seat as a permanent member or surrender the veto power that that status confers. However, when one considers the suggested changes in the General Assembly, whereby France and the UK would increase their share of the total vote by roughly five and four times respectively and whereby numerous like-minded democracies would also be among the thirty-three nations gaining in power, the sense of loss would be substantially mitigated. Moreover, if, in a given period France, for example, were to be represented in the Security Council by a Belgian or a Dutchman and/or the UK by a Swede or a Dane, that would not likely be seen as a serious blow to their national interest. Conceivably, an agreement to phase out the veto over a period of fifteen or so years, in combination with the EQ voting system, will garner the necessary global consensus.

Apart from the predictable reluctance to give up permanent Security Council membership and the attendant veto, one might expect initial opposition to the new system from the 155 nations whose individual voting power would be reduced from the present 0.53% of the total to as little, in the extreme case, as 0.18%. But, even with the new system, that group of objectively weak nations would be substantially over-represented in that they would have a combined EQ of 38.1%, despite collectively accounting for only 20.4% of the world's population. And, if the thirty-three relatively powerful nations that would gain in power were to support the suggested change, the weak 155 could probably not long hold out against them in that they command virtually no power outside the arena of the UN itself. Moreover, what all nations would ultimately recognize, one hopes, is that a realistic and more democratic voting system would result in a UN less prone to deadlock and more capable of addressing pressing issues of global security, economic development, and social justice. To mitigate the concern of those nations reluctant to embrace the new system, one might stipulate that it will automatically be subject to review and possible modification after an initial trial period of, say, twenty-five or so years.

In passing, one may note several suggestions for special chambers to supplement the General Assembly. These might include a Parliamentary Assembly, with members elected by the parliaments of the world (along lines initially followed within the European Community), a popularly elected People's Assembly, and an assembly representing civil society, with representatives chosen by NGOs. In all cases, the suggested new assemblies would initially exercise no more than a recommendatory and consultative role and would meet only for a relatively short period, say in September and October, to coincide with the start of the term of the General Assembly. The size, nature, and potential efficacy of such assemblies, as well as the means of choosing them, will require much additional thought.

To establish a credible UN system, certain decisions of the Security Council and the General Assembly must be both binding and enforceable. This implies the creation of a standing UN force, which, in my view, should be an elite, globally recruited, all-volunteer body of men and women, especially trained in peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and a variety of related tasks. When not actually engaged in an overtly military operations, the force could be employed in a variety of constructive public works and training projects in the countries where its units would be garrisoned and would, additionally, be available at all times for providing humanitarian relief in the event of earthquakes, floods, cyclones, or other natural disasters. Detailed plans for the establishment of the suggested UN force already exist.1 While the creation of the force would not be cheap, its anticipated costs would probably come to no more than a very small fraction of the world's total annual military expenditures, which in 1998 (the latest year for which data are available) came to $785 billion. And, to the extent that reliance on a UN force would enable individual nations to reduce their individual military expenditures, the revenue that would be saved could make unprecedented funding available for the promotion of vitally needed educational, health, and other human services. Moreover, the contributions that the force would make to the economies of the host countries in which it would be stationed and the development of human capital that would result from the training of the volunteers would result in additional major economic benefits.

The use of a standing UN force in an overtly military mode should, of course, be a last, rather than a first, resort in dealing with conflict. The UN must also greatly strengthen its capacity to prevent violence and other international criminal behavior through conciliation, mediation, arbitration, and other peaceful diplomatic measures as well as through an enhanced fact-finding capability. Such measures have been discussed at length by former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in his far-sighted monograph, An Agenda for Peace, published by the United Nations in 1993.

Up to now, when the Security Council has mandated economic sanctions or peacekeeping or peace enforcement measures, the targets of those measures have been member states of the UN. In principle this is wrong in that those who suffer most from such sanctions are innocent civilians who are then made to pay a heavy price for the transgressions of their typically autocratic leaders. Rather than trying to punish whole nations, efforts must henceforth be made to apprehend and bring to trial individuals who break the law. This implies the establishment of an International Criminal Court and the codification of international criminal law. After long debate, the draft statute for an ICC was agreed to in Rome in July 1988 by a substantial majority of the world's nations (including every major democracy other than the United States). Precedents for such a court have already been set, initially at Nuremberg and Tokyo in the wake of World War II, and more recently in establishing special tribunals for those indicted for acts of genocide, war crimes, and other crimes against humanity in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Ratification of the ICC Treaty by sixty nations will suffice to bring about its creation, with or without the concurrence of the United States.

Important as the ICC will be, it is also vitally necessary to strengthen the already existing, but woefully under-utilized, International Court of Justice in the Hague. We must somehow insure that all UN member nations agree to accept the Court's jurisdiction in cases of alleged breaches of international law that do not involve individual malfeasance and then to abide by the Court's verdicts. The achievement of this prerequisite for ensuring that the force of law will ultimately replace the law of force in world affairs will almost surely prove to be even more difficult than instituting the ICC; but the necessity of the task allows for no other long term alternative.

Since the conclusion of the Cold war and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the vast majority of the armed conflicts in the world have been internal and ethnically based. Several dozen such struggles are currently raging; and it seems likely that the number will increase, rather than diminish, in the foreseeable future. To deal with the anticipated wave of demands for national self-determination by various ethnic groups in the century ahead, the now moribund UN Trusteeship Council should be converted into a Human Rights Council with greater competence than the existing UN Commission on Human Rights. To diminish the propensity of certain ethnic groups to resort to violence to achieve their goals, guidelines should be formulated for the preparation of dossiers documenting alleged human rights abuses, for investigating the validity of the allegations, and for recommending corrective action. Without recourse to legal remedies, it is only natural for egregiously oppressed peoples to resort to arms in an attempt to throw off the yoke of their oppressors, even at the risk -- as is so often the case -- of protracted brutal repression by the parent state.

In addition to the proposed Human Rights Council there is a need to oversee the management of the oceans, Antarctica, outer space, and other global commons. Though this need may not yet appear to be pressing, there can be no denying the increasing environmental stress to which the planetary ecosystem is being subjected by our ever more industrialized, chemically dependent, energy-guzzling, and often over-consuming society. Processes affecting the world's atmosphere, oceans, and ground water respect no international boundaries. Carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere, whether by deforestation in Brazil or by automotive traffic in Britain, similarly contribute to the process of global warming. Radioactive wastes emitted from nuclear reactors at Chernobyl in the Ukraine required the destruction of herds of reindeer in Swedish Lapland, more than a thousand kilometers away. Mechanisms for redress of ecological grievances transcending international boundaries are yet to be put in place.

We have already noted that the United Nations Economic and Social Council has not been notably successful in coordinating the agendas of the highly diverse specialized agencies. Some informed critics have argued that ECOSOC should be scrapped altogether and have suggested that the presently weak Commission on Sustainable Development, established in the aftermath of the 1992 Ro summit conference, should be expanded and given a greater role in its stead. But, whatever the mechanisms adopted, the functions and competence of the United Nations system in respect to environmental and developmental issues will have to be significantly increased.

To pay for its future expanded role, the UN will require a reliable and substantially augmented financial base. Taxes on international trade, postal deliveries, air travel, and arms shipments are among the means suggested to raise the needed revenues. A proposal put forward by the American Nobel laureate economist James Tobin is to impose a very low tax on speculative foreign currency transactions, which add nothing to the world's production of goods and services and often contribute to the financial instability of relatively weak economies. Such transactions currently run to approximately $1.5 trillion a day and taxing them at even an exceedingly modest rate could yield billions of dollars of revenue annually.

1 See, for example, Joseph E. Schwartzberg, "A New Perspective on Peacekeeping: Lessons from Bosnia and Elsewhere," Global Governance, vol. 3 (1997), pp. 1-15. Other proposals are cited in this article.

While accepting the desirability of one or more of the taxes just noted to help finance the UN specialized agencies and, perhaps, the fixed costs of maintaining the proposed UN standing peace force as well, I would argue that the core expenses of the principal organs of the United Nations should continue to be provided from national assessments. However, in place of the present complicated system for determining the percentage share of the budget to be met by each member nation, I would argue for the implementation of a flat rate of assessment, being set as a stipulated percentage of each nation's gross national product. Given the world's current total GNP, roughly $31 trillion, a rate as low as 0.04% (1/25 of one percent) would yield more than $12 billion, which is almost five times the UN's 1998-99 budget. Although some might argue that fairness calls for a progressive system of taxation, the assessment rate suggested is so low that even the poorest of nations could afford it. (For example, at 0.04%, the assessed annual contribution from Sao Tom and Principe would come to a mere $18,000.) In any event, the redistributive effects of many of the UN activities, especially in the realm of development, would have the effect of mitigating whatever slight burden the world's poorer nations might experience from paying their UN dues.

The main argument for a flat assessment rate would be that it would preclude complaints from anti-UN politicians in well-to-do states that their countries were unfairly bearing too heavy a load in funding the United Nations. Many ill-informed Americans agree with Senator Jesse Helms' assertion that the US assessment of 25% of the total UN budget is unfair, not realizing that the US' share of the world's total gross national product is, as already noted, about 26%. In fact, the United States stands alone among wealthy nations in being assessed at a rate less than its proportional share of the world's total income. But, if Americans knew that their country's assessment rate was neither more nor less than that of any other country, even the world's poorest, all cause for complaint would disappear. Further, if voting in the General Assembly and seating in the Security Council were by EQ, as recommended earlier in this essay, a nation's failure to pay its assessed UN dues would result in an automatic reduction in its voting power and could jeopardize its right to a Security Council seat. Thus, the UN's present problem of slow payment, or non-payment, of dues by the United States, its principal debtor, and by other nations as well, would surely disappear.


None of the recommendations set forth in this essay will be easy to implement. However, the penalties for ignoring the issues to which they relate would, sooner or later, far exceed the costs of constructive change. While the old adage that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is especially applicable in matters of peacekeeping (as has been gruesomely proved by experience in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and East Timor), it is also applicable, if not yet so obvious, in respect to protecting the environment and in many other domains as well.

Perhaps the most promising route to reform of the United Nations system would be to make use of a provision wisely inserted into the UN Charter by the original drafters of that document. They correctly anticipated that significant changes would eventually be needed; but they could not perceive that the Cold War would so long frustrate all attempts at substantially changing the power relationships laid down by the "big five" permanent members of the Security Council. Article 109, Paragraph 1 of the Charter states:

"A General Conference of the Members of the United Nations for the purpose
of reviewing the present Charter may be held at a date and place to be fixed by
two-thirds of the General Assembly and by a vote of any nine [emphasis added,
originally "any seven"] members of the Security Council. Each member of the
United Nations shall have one vote in the Conference."

Now that the Cold War is over, action on this Article, which is not subject to the veto, is long overdue. However, major hurdles would remain in that Paragraph 2 specifies:

"Any alteration of the present Charter recommended by a two-thirds vote of
the conference shall take effect in accordance with their respective constitutional
processes by two thirds of the Members of the United Nations including all the
permanent members of the Security Council."

Hence, the prospect of the veto must again be confronted; and, however sensible the proposals set forth in this essay might appear to a majority of thinking people, it does not follow that any of them will be adopted without overcoming substantial political resistance. This would be true, of course, of reform efforts without, as well as with, resort to a general Charter review conference.

The main sticking points in the way of reform are three. First, there is insufficient recognition of the gravity of a number of serious and growing threats to the well-being of our planet. Second, it will be necessary to overcome a pervasive and unhealthy obsession with the protection of unbridled national sovereignty, the idea that nobody is going to tell us -- be we Americans, Frenchmen, Chinese, or citizens of almost any other country -- how we ought to behave within our own national borders or how we may deploy our national economic and military power. Finally, there is still a demonstrable lack of the requisite political will. After all, when confronted by a set of short-term domestic concerns that bear on the next election, politicians typically avoid focusing on issues perceived to have mainly long-term and international consequences.

What the world now desperately needs, therefore, is enlightened leaders with creative vision and the courage to squarely face, rather than gloss over, tough, yet inescapable problems. But, equally, we need informed and committed citizens willing to organize across national lines and to work hard to promote a broadly based campaign for better global governance. Without a substantial number of such committed citizens, few leaders will be able to marshal the resolve to address the issues that the world must sooner or later confront if humankind is to avoid catastrophe. All concerned and thinking members of the human family, then, must join in the effort. Working together committed citizens can make a difference.

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