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The world is more than five

  • No one knows if the world will eventually listen to Mahathir, but the time has come for the global civil society to press for change.

By Datuk Hj Rais Hussin Hj Mohamed Ariff

The United Nations (UN), not unlike the League of Nations, as Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad correctly pointed out, was both "built" from the ashes of the First and Second World Wars.

What is less unsaid is the beginning of each war.

To many in the West, the First World War was started with the murder of the Archduke of Ferdinand and his wife, heir presumptive of the Austria Hungarian Empire, by a Serb nationalist in 1914.

It took the intervention of the United States to end the war, with the 14-point declaration of President Woodrow Wilson in 1919. But the League of Nations (LON) failed almost as soon as it was conceived as the US Congress refused to accede to it.

Wilson died a dejected and broken man, that his idea to promote LON with the US at the center of it, was never realized.

The UN, sadly, overlearned the lesson of the withdrawal of the US. It tried to lock five permanent members in the United Nations Security Council by incentivizing them to have a veto each on all issues concerning war and peace, sanctions and other such punitive measures to keep the world in check.

Having gained the veto, countries like the US, UK, France, China and Russia, subsequently became protective of this special privilege. The veto made them the Brahmins of the international system while rendering those who disagree with them as virtual "pariahs".

Consequently, despite having a large collection of agencies that tried to look into bettering the welfare of the world, such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization, even the Department of Peacekeeping, the UN is efficient only to the degree that the five permanent members allow it to proceed with any mandate.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir knows from his first tenure as the fourth prime minister of Malaysia (1981-2003), as he does with his current tenure, that the UN is recalcitrant change, especially at the Security Council.

Thus, he has proposed that each veto be backed by at least two permanent members and three non-permanent members; the latter from a total of fourteen -- followed by a simple majority by a vote of hand from the UN General Assembly.

Such a proposal, at the very least, has the capacity to make the United Nations not a League of Democracy but an institution that is at least serious about democratic and institutional reform.

As things are, the United Kingdom is struggling mightily with Brexit. By March 2019, British Prime Minister Theresa May has to find a deal to withdraw the UK from the European Union (EU). This is an impossible feat. Yet despite the complexities of such an endeavor, no one has questioned the right of the UK to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

If anything, many major decisions affecting the five powers are often made by stealth, away from the prying eyes of non-permanent members. Yet, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said, "the world is more than five." In other words, the top five cannot rule over the rest of the world.

Countries like India, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Germany, Turkey and even Indonesia have the right to be a major power in the UN Security Council. Yet they have not been given sufficient attention from 1945 to 2018. These are pivotal states. If they fall, the whole contiguous regions would be affected.

No one knows if the world will listen to what Tun Mahathir has said. But granted the fact that there are at least ten countries above that deserve some roles in the UN, the time has come for the global civil society to press for change.

Entities like United Nations Foundation, which is a stone's throw away from UN, and is in fact side by side with Ford Foundation, must take the leader to reform the UN. The UN Association in Brown University and City University of New York, as led by Professor Thomas Weiss, and Professor Edward Luck in Columbia University, have to work hand in hand with the Network of East Asian Think Tanks (NEAT) in Tokyo Japan to overcome the single narrative that only the five are right and all others are wrong.

At the lower end, even the universities the world over must call for change. Without a meaningful and structural change at the United Nations, the endemic problems mentioned by Tun Dr Mahathir will not see any marked improvements, since the UN has become a club of self entitled elites at the expense of every thing else.

To improve the state of the world, the NGOs and the states that have been impoverished by the UN must unite. Indeed, they only have nothing to loose but their chains. The consociational and associational politics of the NGOs and the smaller member states must unite.

(Datuk Hj Rais Hussin Hj Mohamed Ariff is PPBM policy and strategy bureau chairman.)



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