Benjamin Freeman's Blog

The Road to Peace and Cooperation in Europe and the World

June 23, 2021

UN reform talks deadlocked primarily because the U.S. and the developing nations disagreed about the fundamental problem which had to be corrected. In the early post-Cold War era, when most Americans saw their country as the key “decision-maker,” Bill Clinton only reversed George Bush Sr. and agreed to discuss a UN reform in order to reduce America’s UN dues.



What he hoped to do was to get Germany and Japan to take over some of Washington’s dues in return for the new permanent seats on the Security Council which Clinton thought he could get for them. But as Clinton soon found out, the U.S. would have to accept three new non-Western permanent members or weaken the veto to win Germany and Japan their seats. He simply didn’t care enough about getting Germany and Japan to voluntarily take over some of U.S. dues to be willing to dilute Western power on the Council in return.

By contrast, the developing nations saw the key problem as their disempowerment at the UN Security Council. If one accepts the mainstream assumption that China is not part of the Third World, it is true that there is not one permanent member representing the Third World. In that context, only adding India, as Clinton agreed, would almost make things worse if the price of adding India was to add two Western permanent members.

But since the talks ended, America’s now failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made both Democrats and Republicans realize that the United States does not want to be the world policeman anymore. Furthermore, the rise of China creates the possibility that President Xi’s successor might become the global decider if the UN is not empowered before China converts its economic power into military power and replaces the U.S. as number one.

In that context, the U.S. might go along with the European proposal to empower the UN to keep the peace and achieve other worthwhile objectives. It is within the possibility that the U.S. might accept this or, at least, join China in making a constructive counter-proposal regarding a joint EU/Russian plan for UN empowerment, which is why we must seriously consider the points made in the article entitled “Liberum veto and the monkey and the pea.”

In my mind, the bottom line—and a correct point—made in that article is that neither the veto caused paralysis, nor the expansion of membership can be solved in isolation. In the case of the veto, it is such an obvious concession by the five permanent members that it is unrealistic to expect any, let alone all five, of the P5 to go along with any particular “stand-alone” plan for veto limitation.

Even if one assumes that both the post-Iraq U.S. and China were as willing to compromise on the expansion as others, there is still a more subtle problem with deciding which nations should be added as new permanent or semi-permanent members. While the biggest contenders (India, Germany, Japan and Brazil) argue that their size gives them the best right to a new seat, what do the smaller nations of the world gain from agreeing? Under the “one nation, one vote” rule, the key problem with the G4 and Rosali plans was that more countries would benefit from simply adding new non-permanent members than from any other expansion plan as long as expansion is considered in isolation.

The truth is that the only way to create an objective and relevant basis to limit new seats to large nations is to require new council members to provide troops or other major new support for the UN in return for their new permanent or semi-permanent seats. Interestingly enough, requiring that a larger group of permanent and semi-permanent members collectively provide hundreds of thousands of well-armed troops makes veto reform potentially advantageous to all the five permanent members. Since the smaller nations hate the veto, linking veto reform to a requirement that ten to fifteen large nations given new seats provide troops makes it logical for the smaller nations to accept a plan to reserve new seats for larger nations.

How exactly does the creation of a UN army composed of two hundred thousand well-armed and well-trained troops mainly provided by new members make the veto reform potentially palatable to the five permanent members?

From a post-Iraq U.S. point of view, requiring ten to fifteen new permanent and shared-seat semi-permanent members to collectively provide hundreds of thousands of troops means that the U.S. can offload a world policeman burden that it no longer wishes to bear. While Washington insiders are still somewhat uncomfortable with that proposition, the American people, including the big corporations, would clearly benefit from doing so as long as the U.S. was given the most votes in a veto-less voting system. And since the U.S. has a democracy, popular support would push the politicians into agreeing—but only once Washington’s allies and others, such as the Pope, supported a geopolitically realistic and globally acceptable plan to accomplish this objective. Since the UK traditionally sends troops to support U.S. operations, the same arguments apply, albeit to a lesser extent, to London.

From a French, Russian and Chinese perspectives, the idea that a veto reform linked with the requirement that many new permanent or semi-permanent members would provide troops would permanently shift the world policeman and the global decision-making roles from Washington to the UN has an equally compelling advantage. Wouldn’t Russia, for instance, be better off if a UN was the final decision-maker, especially if Moscow and Beijing were given an equal vote weighting which was smaller than the U.S. but larger than the UK, France or anyone else?

From having discussed this matter as a fellow Westerner with literally a thousand non-Russia Europeans, I can tell you that virtually all of them agree with my reasoning and would strongly support the type of a stronger UN that I propose. And based on the earlier discussions with many EU experts, including Romano Prodi, Brexit caused me to investigate what non-British EU experts thought about linking the UN reform with the creation of a variant of the “friends of Europe” plan that Prodi had gained some traction for when he promoted it as head of the EU Council of Ministers.

Especially now that the Brits see that the hard Brexit route leaves them in a very bad position, London might be prevailed to lead the U.S. on this matter. They could accept this linkage by agreeing to a veto reform in order to keep London’s financial passport and to avoid having to impose a hard border, as is now required under the latest Brexit agreement.

From Moscow’s point of view, linking the giving-up of the veto with the membership in this proposed Pan-European free trade and economic cooperation organization would give Moscow the relationship with Europe that Russian leaders since Peter the Great have wanted. Especially since an empowered UN would also eliminate the only remaining excuse for the West to retain NATO, we would also get a variety of other objectives fulfilled if we gained EU support for this linkage.

While virtually all Europeans liked my most recent aforementioned linkage, they had two serious problems—to wit seventy years of Russian and American opposition to veto reform. Even if the EU was willing to stand up to the U.S. foreign policy establishment in this matter, why should America’s European allies rearrange the entire European project to primarily please Moscow and the UK, when there is no reason to believe that Vladimir Putin has any interest in reversing the seventy-five years of Moscow’s opposition to any veto reform?

Especially since the end result of empowering the UN to fulfil its charter obligation to “keep the peace” is to end war and help create a more cooperative international atmosphere needed to solve other global problems, it is maybe worth someone reading this article trying to get Foreign Minister Lavrov to personally consider these ideas. Because of his bosses’ good working relationship with Chancellor Merkel, President Putin asking Ms. Merkel to consider these ideas is the break that world peace needs.

German foreign policy, including its position in the EU, has greatly been based on trying to make up for their role in WW2. Not only does Germany lead the EU but Merkel’s long rule has made her the de facto personal leader of the EU. Particularly since her long chancellorship is soon to end, she is now looking for her place in history. When one also considers that Germany will end up with guaranteed representation on the Council, she has nothing to lose and everything to gain by asking Macron if he would join her in promoting the type of plan that I envision.

From having talked to over a hundred French diplomats, experts, politicians and aides over the years, I have learnt the principal reasons that France doesn’t take the lead on its own about something like this. First, Paris does not want to be singled out again by the U.S. as the most disloyal ally. And second, French experts also doubt that Russia (and, to a lesser extent, China) would go along. But if Chancellor Merkel told President Macron that she was approaching him because President Putin had approached her, he would realize that there are enough advantages for the U.S. that it is not obvious that President Biden would say “no.”

As a Western politician himself, President Macron would realize that President Biden and the Senate might go along if domestic polling numbers favored this as a way to create world peace and to offload a world policeman role that the American people no longer want to bear. Especially if President Putin had also discussed this matter with India and China as soon as he found out that Chancellor Merkel was interested, everyone could see the possibility that all the five permanent members and the developing nations might all go along. Once the larger Third World realized that the veto they hate and the lack of their representation on the top tier of power could be reversed, President Biden would have to seriously consider the pros and cons of standing alone in favor of a system which makes less and less sense for the U.S. as China becomes stronger.

While the road to world peace I have just laid out is a long shot, isn’t a long shot better than simply accepting that the human race will eventually expire in a nuclear war set off by lower level cyber or other conflicts regarding our increasingly serious global problems, including climate change?

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