South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (at top left) speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on North Korea that will see China come under heavy pressure to rein in its ally. Photo: AFP

Representatives from 50 countries who gathered in San Francisco in 1945 to endorse the collective security system under the United Nations were mostly from Europe and North and South America and thereby formed a homogenous community insofar as their perceptions, values and fears were shaped by the European experience of rivalries leading to two world wars.

The Allied Powers’ war against the Axis that included Germany, Italy and Japan was framed and presented as a moral fight against evil forces from the beginning, which also appealed to the morality of the countries that were present at the San Francisco conference, and which prevented them from questioning the motives of the victorious powers in designing the collective security system favoring their power position.

Max Jacobson, a Finnish diplomat as well as a journalist, in his book The United Nations in the 1990s: A Second Chance? notes: “The legitimacy of the Security Council acting as a supranational body with war-making powers is derived from the military victory achieved by the permanent members in the Second World War over [the] evil forces of [Adolf] Hitler.”

From the developing world’s perspective (countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America were subject to colonialism in different forms), Allied powers such as Britain, France and the US were imperialist powers then (no less immoral actors than the Axis powers) and therefore, the selfish designs of these powers would have been questioned, had all these countries participated in the proceedings of the conference.

Many Afro-Asian countries were not politically free to join the UN as founder-members. Former Indian diplomat Arthur Lall in an article titled “The Asian Nations and the United Nations” in 1965 notes how India, even while, signed the declaration of the UN on January 1, 1945, as a founder-member, could not reflect the aspirations of Indian people, since it was not an independent country at the time. As a result, while the Indian delegation was able to introduce only four proposals and amendments at the conference, independent Australia could initiate 29 proposals and amendments and Egypt, a newly independent country then, could introduce 25 proposals and amendments.

An eminent former academic of Jawaharlal Nehru University, K P Saksena, in an article in 1981 titled “United Nations: Then and Now,” observes: “All in all, European interests and traditions provided the guiding force. The problems and the difficulties that were to confront the newly emerging nations of the Third World were not envisaged and provided for in the Charter. Indeed, their emergence as such was not foreseen.”

Even while some of the representatives to the conference objected to the proposal of permanent membership and conferment of veto power to the permanent members, they finally had to acquiesce to the prevailing power realities. In this context, Arthur Lall in his book The Security Council in a Universal United Nations notes: “The United Nations was left with a hegemonic counter-piece and one that the truncated community of nations of 1945 had to accept faute de mieux.”

By the time the declaration was signed, notwithstanding the realities that the French economy had been shattered while Taiwan, whose ruler was considered the legitimate ruler of China, was a small state with few military and economic abilities, France and Taiwan until 1971 were permanent members of the Security Council. US support for Taiwan and withdrawal of recognition from the communist government of China and Britain’s support for France in order to sustain their imperial rule in the faces of challenges emanating from the forces demanding decolonization, were crucial in this context. The 50 participating countries in the San Francisco conference were not only subject to the prevailing power realities, many of them were also swayed by the moral justifications made by the victorious powers.

While many scholars argue that providing space for frequent informal consultations can obviate the need for reforming the Security Council, it must be underlined that a formal membership in the council may be an important source of domestic legitimacy for the government involved. More important, a reformed Security Council based on the security needs of developing countries would be able to initiate action on problems that might be considered crucial to long-term peace.

The activities of the permanent members cannot be limited to stopping action from being taken. Peace is not mere absence of or upending the course of war; rather, it indicates a continuous process of socio-economic restructuring and democratic transformation of societies in the developing world so that wars in these countries can be prevented before they arise.

Second, developing countries affected by incessant civil wars would need long-term socio-economic assistance in the postwar scenario that can prevent them from lapsing into civil-war conditions again.

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