Is the United Nations all but irrelevant now?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 23, 2023
The United Nations is compositionally and temperamentally an embarrassment to a world that says it wants DEI, diversity, equity, inclusion

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Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky had a point when he told the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) it was useless because of the way it was structured.

He meant Russia’s unassailable grip on the United Nations’ veto power, which means the world’s pre-eminent multilateral body is powerless to resolve conflicts if any of the following – Russia, the United States, China, Britain or France – are, in any way, involved.

Which they are. Always.

In New York on Wednesday, Mr Zelensky said that “Ukrainian soldiers are doing with their blood what the UN Security Council should do by its voting.” He added that “veto power in the hands of the aggressor is what has pushed the UN into deadlock.”

He spoke truth to toothless power.

The UN has become a vast bureaucracy, held fast by a paper-shuffling highly-paid cast of characters, while at its apex sit countries that should not have the permanent authority to make decisions on behalf of the whole world. It’s not that the UN is situationally irrelevant; it’s compositionally and temperamentally an embarrassment to a world that says it wants DEI, diversity, equity, inclusion.

How would that happen? There have been many different  formulae for UN reform proposed over the years, with disparate countries and regions advancing differing reasons for preferment. The Arab Group at the UN has sought permanent membership arguing that it is only right and proper considering the large number of Arab issues on the UN agenda. The G4 – Brazil, Germany, India and Japan – have argued for a quarter-century that security council expansion to 25 would make the system more representative of the new world order. The African Union has something that’s informally dubbed the Ezulwini Consensus, after the valley in central Swaziland where the agreement was arrived at in 2005. Like the G4 proposal, the AU wants at least two permanent seats on the P5, with veto power. Other permutations and combinations have been proposed over time, but most fall at the crucial point — the reluctance of the current UNSC five to write themselves out of a position of power in world affairs.

But surely Brexit I – UK out of the EU – and Brexit II – from the UNSC P5 – could be the start of a solution?

Then, perhaps the right way to have UN DEI is a rotation? That’s the routine for everything else, not least the G20, so why not the UN?