United Nations and legitimacy

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently sent a letter to all world leaders urging them to unite behind a new global agenda and to develop common strategies to tackle both hard threats like wars and terrorism as well as soft ones like poverty. Annan also believes the world should take a hard look at whether the UN needs ‘radical reform’ to cope with new challenges ranging from weapons proliferation to protecting human rights. When it was first established after World War II, the UN had 51 members. There were 15 countries in its initial Security Council, all of which had the right of veto. Today the organization has 191 members. However, the Security Council still has 15 members, but with only five of them having the right of veto. Therefore, Annan suggested that the number of Security Council members be increased and the veto-holders’ ranks expanded as well. Due to its small numbers, according to Annan, the body ‘lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the developing world,’ which is why he suggests, ‘let more veto-wielding nations onto the Security Council, possibly including one from the Middle East.’ He’s right. The UN needs drastic reform. Unless it catches up to today’s conditions, it will lose its legitimacy and effectiveness. The Security Council needs an expansion to make it more reflective of global realities. However, let’s not forget that talk of true legitimacy for the UN is utopian. Under today’s circumstances, it should not be expected to provide military forces in troubled regions without the backing of sovereign armies. As the Washington Post recently argued (Sept. 21), ‘The UN should remain a forum for debate about international security issues and a source of peacekeepers in places where there is already a peace to be kept or a ruined society to help rebuild. It is unfair to expect an organization composed of many states to function well as a decision-making body.’ The UN is an organization of independent countries, each seeking their own national interests. As a matter of fact, UN decisions are taken according to national interests. Sometimes it fails either to make necessary decisions or to implement already made ones. We can’t even say that every UN decision is fair. (Let’s recall Turkey’s experience on the Cyprus issue.) I believe that we need to question whether or not the world should consider the UN the only source of international legitimacy.”

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