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Proposals to Reform US-Dominated Security Council

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Dec. 27, 2004

U.N. Considers Proposals to Reform U.S.-Dominated Security Council

Interview with James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio:

For more than a month, the U.S. news media has been focused on allegations of corruption at the United Nation's-run oil for food program that operated in Iraq from 1996 until the U.S. invasion in 2003. An investigation is being conducted by the U.N. itself, while several committees in the U.S. Congress are also examining evidence of mismanagement and fraud that reportedly funneled billions of dollars to Saddam Hussein.

That story has largely overshadowed a set of important recommendations made for reforming the United Nations put forward in early December by a committee appointed by embattled U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. The world body has seen significant geo-political changes since its founding after World War II, which are not reflected in its current structure. One of the key recommendations is to expand membership of the powerful U.N. Security Council, which sets aside only five permanent seats for the U.S., Russia, Great Britain, France and China, with a rotating group of ten additional members.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum with its office near the U.N. in New York City. The group's mission is to monitor policy making at the United Nations, promote accountability of global decisions, educate and mobilize for global citizen participation, and promote issues vital to international peace and justice. Paul discusses the need for reform to strengthen the world body, not weaken it as many conservatives in the U.S. are advocating.

JAMES PAUL: It’s almost a standard assumption that the Security Council should be enlarged, that there should be more so-called representation of the various regions in the world, that the countries of the global South should be better represented on the Council. But there’s a lot of literature that shows that when bodies pass beyond the size approximately of 15 or 16, they develop some kind of executive committee inside. So I don’t think enlargement is going to be in the interest of smaller states or better representation. In fact, it’s actually going to lead the way to a small executive committee of the big powers. That’s the danger that most people aren’t talking about, but it’s there. Another thing is that member states now when they come on the Council, they pretend they represent their region, but they represent themselves, and none other. And so the real challenge is to develop better regional mechanisms so as to have representation. That’s the way the Council could be strengthened -- to keep it small but have a much more regionally coordinated input.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What should be the role of nation states in the U.N.?

JAMES PAUL: The world is evolving very rapidly, and there is a question as to what the role of nation states in fact is gonna be at a time when there are international organizations of various kinds that trump the nation state -- the World Trade Organization, for example, (the International Monetary Fund) IMF, and so on, and also regional organizations that also trump to some extent nation states, and that’s particularly true in Europe. So it’s a funny institution, it's somewhere between the Congress of Vienna, with the great powers coming together in Europe deciding the future of European security or whatever, and some future thing that may well be a worldwide parliament, and sort of stumbling along between the past and the future. Institutional reforms can’t make it right now what it needs to be because the international system is still very chaotic and still dominated -- especially dominated by one very powerful country, and that’s the United State of America -- and there’s huge differences of income and well-being between the peoples of the world. So it’s a very chaotic and extremely unjust world, and it’s very hard to imagine an institution developing in this particular world that’s going to be anything close to what we would like it to be.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Well, does anyone have a vision for how this world body could operate effectively and equitably?

JAMES PAUL: There’s constant pressure on the UN to make various different kinds of reforms that are moderate in extent but moving in the right direction. Some of the most exciting are the International Criminal Court -- a very, very interesting development; the U.S. hates that. There are a lot of interesting proposals having to do with the development of global taxes, which are considered in the U.S. Congress to be impossibly radical and they’re very opposed to it.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Can you make any connection between how the U.N. is structured and some of the unsavory things that U.N. troops have done, such as raping civilians in a number of different countries or supporting the current, un-elected government of Haiti?

JAMES PAUL: Well, there are several issues here. One has to do with whether or not U.N. peacekeeping sometimes ends up being used to support illegitimate great power interests. In the case you’re referring to in Haiti, this is certainly true. It was a coup that was brought off by the United States and France with Canadian complicity and the U.N. peacekeeping force down there for better or for worse, is involved with that initially illegitimate process of overthrowing (Jean-Bertrand) Aristide.

Secondly, though, the issue of sexual abuse by peacekeepers has something to do with the fact that it’s the richest countries who have the most disciplined armies -- they’re not always as disciplined as we would want them to be, but the point is they are much better trained and much better equipped and much better officered and so on. And they don’t send their armies to the U.N., so the U.N. peacekeeping forces are often made up of they don’t give their units to the U.N. -- so the U.N. peacekeeping forces are often made up of rather badly trained and not well-officered forces, and those are more likely to be involved in these kind of abusive acts. Furthermore, because of the arrangements between nation states and the U.N., in which the nation states insist on maintaining their national sovereignty, the U.N. doesn’t have the capacity to bring these soldiers to justice. And so they have, essentially, impunity. It’s up to the individual country to discipline them and they very often don’t. So all these things show how short we are of the kind of international order that we need, desperately, in this period.

Contact the Global Policy Forum at (212) 557-3161 or visit the group's website at


Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Dec. 31, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.



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