Monday, November 08, 2010

The Folly of Permanence

Instead of adding chairs to the table of permanent UN Security Council members, I’d like to offer what I think is a more efficient proposal: end the era of permanent seats.

This will never happen, by the way. Having only two people in my semi-sovereign household and having only negligible geopolitical value to the five governments that hold veto power over any UN action, I don’t get a say. Nevertheless, I think the era of permanent seats at the UN probably should have ended in 1946, right after the Security Council first met; or if not then, then as soon as France and England and other has-been-ocracies got kicked out of their colonial territories. They had ceased to fit the profile; they were no longer major players on the global scene.

And what about Russia? Once Eastern Europe decided they were better dead than red, didn’t Russia cease to be a major concern? Or if Russia was still a concern, wasn’t it mainly that they’d have a fire sale on nuclear weapons and otherwise drag the global economy down with them? Is Russia still a logical choice to be able to control the agenda for global action?

Permanent seats on anything are generally eschewed, aren’t they? The only people who really champion permanence are the already permanent—the tenured professionals who can get away with anything; the multinational corporations that are "too big to fail" but not so big that they can't regularly fail their shareholders, employees and economic dependents; the “Washington establishment” whose incumbency is fuel to the fire of the candidates seeking their office. We just wrapped up a “kick the bums out” campaign season; President Obama seems to want to fill the UN with more bums.

No disrespect to the president or to India; I generally agree that they belong on the Security Council more than, say, France. (I can’t quite bring myself to say they belong there more than the United States, but I’m biased. I can admit that much at least.) The fact that India is now more globally relevant than France to me confirms not the right of permanence for India but the folly of permanence for anyone. Almost nothing changes as inevitably as the distribution of geopolitical power, and almost no one can be trusted less to wield permanent influence in the world than individual nation-states. Seriously, what move has any government made recently that displayed total objectivity about the needs of the world compared against the needs of that government?

If not the abolition of the permanent seats at the UN Security Council, perhaps the powers that be would accept a slightly more modest proposal: two tables—one based on GDP or total number of weapons of mass destruction or ethnicity or however they came up with the original list, and the other based on population.

That’s how the US Congress does it, right? The Senate was created to protect the interests of the powerful, and the House of Representatives was designed to give the populace a voice. I suppose India and China would probably have seats at both tables under this scenario, but really, whose fault would that be?

Still, I think getting rid of the permanent seats is the better option. Populations change, economies and empires rise and fall, but the needs of the world remain relatively constant. Whatever sovereign states serve temporary terms leading the UN, they won't generally be surprised when they take their seats. They might even take some action, if there weren't five countries hanging veto power over their heads. Maybe the world would have slightly fewer than a billion people living on dungheaps, subsisting on $1.25 a day, if the governments charged with their care got a little more respect from the table of nations.

Just a thought. In any case, USA all the way!

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