Angry with reform delays, India calls U.N. system ‘anachronistic’

Angry with reform delays, India calls U.N. system ‘anachronistic’

Indian ambassador says U.N. Charter has failed in handling COVID, Ukraine, terror, climate change; all eyes on June meeting of Inter-Governmental Negotiations on way forward for UNSC expansion, U.N. reform

With another year of meetings on reforming the United Nations — and particularly the question of the expansion of the Security Council — coming to a close in June, India lashed out at the U.N. system with its most scathing attack thus far.

In a speech at the UNSC this week, the Indian Permanent Representative called the U.N. Charter “anachronistic”, adding that it has failed in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine war, terrorism and climate change. Indian ambassador Ruchira Kamboj was speaking at a session convened by Russia that called for a discussion on how to make multilateralism effective “by defending the U.N. Charter”.

Veto for all or none

Ms. Kamboj also called for expanding the Security Council’s permanent membership and hit out at the “veto power” given to the “P-5” of the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia and China.

“Can we practise ‘effective multilateralism’ by defending a Charter that makes five nations more equal than others, and provides to each of those five, the power to ignore the collective will of the remaining 188 member states?” Ms. Kamboj asked at the meeting chaired by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday. This is the first time India has specifically criticised giving the veto to the P-5, clarifying its stand that in any expansion of the Security Council, the veto must be given to all members, or none.

Reforms too slow

The tough words in the Indian speech are a reflection of India’s frustration at the slow pace of the Inter-Governmental Negotiations (IGN) process, as well as its determination to keep U.N. reforms at the top of the global body’s agenda even though India is not in the Security Council this year, officials said. The IGN process, which began in 2008 is now in its 15th year, and though a draft text of the reforms proposed was presented in 2015, there is little indication that negotiations on the basis of a text will begin in the near future.

Ms. Kamboj also called for a “clear attribution of groups and member states” or naming those who oppose expansion for specific countries, indicating the “United For Consensus” group that includes Argentina, Italy, Mexico, Pakistan and Turkey.  All eyes will now be on the next IGN session in June, the last for this year — where national statements of various countries will be “webcast” live for the first time — that will discuss the way forward in the process.

Veto system ‘abuse’

Significantly, at the U.N.SC meeting this week, many joined India’s voice of concern about the process, and about the lack of representation for Africa, South America and Asia. China is the only Asian P-5 member.

“A majority now acknowledge that the Security Council itself would benefit from reforms that reflect today’s geopolitical reality. The same is true for the Bretton Woods institutions [the World Bank and the IMF]. They do not reflect the reality of today’s global economy,” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said during the debate. France and at least nine temporary U.N.SC members — including Australia, Canada, Singapore, Lebanon and Ghana — all voiced their disapproval of the veto-system, and its “abuse” by permanent members. Many of them directly referred to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Charter review overdue

Apart from reform, India also called for an urgent review of the U.N. Charter from 1945, citing Article 109 that had said a “review conference” must be held within a decade of the original charter being adopted. Apart from three amendments on expanding the U.N.SC and the ECOSOC, it has not been updated yet.

Criticising the U.N. Charter “where two of the permanent members have not been able to get even their names changed”, Ms. Kamboj referred to the fact that the Charter still recognises the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” and the “Republic of China” rather than Russia and China. In addition, an official pointed to the fact that Japan, Italy and Germany are still referred to as “enemy states” according to their status in the Second World War, despite their positions in the global order today. 

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