Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Security Council Veto Power, or Got Nuke?
Written by: Beck

I've read/heard a number of people lately talking about reforming the Security Council. A lot of the reason they talk about that is because they've convinced themselves that the real problem with the UN these days is that the Security Council isn't fairly constituted--those damn permanent members and their veto power has a lot of people in fits. I've even seen reasonable, intelligent people getting drawn into the reshape-the-security-council discussion.

First of all, changing the SC, no matter how you go about it, is going to do nothing to solve the UN's problems. I want to make that clear first and foremost. The problems with the UN go far deeper than the apportionment of SC veto power.

Second, to those who gripe because permanent SC member status was apportioned according to the victors of a war fought 60 years ago: go re-read your Chinese history. The Chinese government of World War II, who fought on the allies side as a sort of adjunct to the American army--hey, they kept the Japanese pinned down--were chased by the communists right off the continent to the island of Formosa. For several decades, the government in Taiwan held that SC seat. Red China holds that seat now--a very different animal from that which Truman & Eisenhower thought they were putting in place.

There's something very fundamental about the SC's five permanent members which people have completely lost sight of today. They are the five nations who have a nuclear arsenal. Recently, India and Pakistan have joined the ranks of nuclear weapon armed nations, and god knows how many other countries have a few in secret (or not-so-secret as in the case of North Korea). But there's a big difference between having a few nukes and having an arsenal.

Think about the meaning of the word security here folks. The reason the SC permanent members have a veto is because ultimately, they five, unlike any other nation on earth, have the power to blot out all life on the face of the planet. THAT is why they have permanent member status.

You don't give away veto power to be nice. You don't do it to be fair. You dont' do it because it's the right thing to do. As things go, a UN Security Council veto right is one of the single most powerful diplomatic tools there is. You give veto power only to those nations who, if they don't get their way, have the power to express their displeasure by turning the globe into a charcoal briquette. In other words, you give it to the nations who--thanks to their nuclear missiles--already have effective veto power anyway.

People talk about reconstituting the SC according to population and/or economy size (i.e. GDP). After all, neither France, UK, nor Russia are in the top 5 for GDP or population. The five most populace nations are China, India, United States, Indonesia, and Brazil. The top five world economies are United States, China, Japan, India, and Germany.

The UN has come to represent a sort of glorified debating society in the minds of the majority of people in this world. More realistically, the General Assembly was designed to serve as a sop to all the other nations in the world, to keep them busy, and to provide that glorified debating society. Plus, once nations agreed to join the UN so they could be General Assembly members, they were implicitly acceding to the authority of the Security Council.

The Security Council's purpose is to ensure world peace. To ensure this, the ability to project military might is absolutely necessary. If you wanted to change the Security Council's permanent member status, the only nations that should be even remotely under consideration are Japan and Germany (the top 5 nations for military expenditure are the United States, China, France, Japan, and Germany. The UK is 6th, but for numerous reasons, they're better able to operate with American forces than any of the other listed nations, not to mention their substantial naval and nuclear forces).

Oh, and one final thing. I like Australia. A lot. I could say all kinds of nice things about Australia. But I don't understand the numerous calls I've seen to add them to the SC. Yes, they'd be a staunch American ally, but they don't belong on the SC. Why not? Well, how about because they only have the 12th largest army, the 17th largest economy, or the 52nd largest population?

(Country ranking statistics from here)

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John Beck

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