reforms mired in sneaky art of global diplomacy
NEW YORK - Whenever the United Nations General Assembly elects members
either to the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council
(ECOSOC) or even to myriad other UN committees that keep multiplying
every year, the voting is traditionally by secret ballot.
an assembly of 191 members, the secrecy provides a protective cover
to some member states who promise their vote to one country —
and furtively cast the ballot to another. Sri Lanka is no exception
— because it is all part of the sneaky art of global diplomacy.
learnt it the hard way many moons ago when it had written pledges
from more than 50 countries promising their votes for a Security
Council seat, but lost disastrously to Japan when the final results
were announced. The culprits who switched votes in secret balloting
were difficult to track down.
at least one Sri Lankan ambassador in Paris was not that fortunate
when he promised his vote to the Bangladeshi candidate — during
an election to a committee of the UN Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) — and then switched his vote
in secret balloting.
Unlike the 191 members in the General Assembly, the UNESCO committee
had only about 25 members. So, when the results of the secret ballot
were announced, the Bangladeshi candidate had received only one
vote in his favour, obviously his own.
Sri Lanka envoy was hard put to explain where his vote went short
of telling the Bangladeshi that the sole vote for him came from
Sri Lanka — and that the Bangladeshi himself may have voted
for his opponent, perhaps inadvertently. But that would have been
a bitter explanation to swallow.
glorious uncertainties of secret balloting at the UN have surfaced
once again with an upcoming voting for a draft resolution calling
for the expansion of the Security Council and also the creation
of a new Human Rights Council — both as part of the restructuring
of the ageing, 60-year-old United Nations.
Group of Four — namely Japan, India, Germany and Brazil —
which is running for four permanent seats in the Security Council
is hoping the elections will be open. But since the General Assembly
can adopt its own rules of procedure, those opposing the G-4 may
call for secret balloting with the hope of defeating the four with
heavy expectation of switched votes in secret.
things stand, perhaps even that may not come to pass because the
proposal for an increase in permanent members — from the present
(P-5), namely the US, France, Britain, China and Russia, to six
— has sharply divided the 191 member states.The latest wrecking
ball has been unleashed by the 53-nation African Union, the largest
single regional group at the United Nations.
AU is exercising its political clout by refusing to back down on
its demand for two permanent seats in the Security Council —
but it wants the seats with hard-to-get veto powers. With its unyielding
stand, reinforced at a second summit meeting of African nations
in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa last week, the AU has undermined
an intense bid by the G-4 for new permanent seats —minus the
four countries dropped their demand for vetoes hoping it would help
them overcome strong opposition from some or most of the five veto-wielding
permanent members (P-5). The P-5 states have been accused of wanting
to hold onto their veto powers while denying the same powers to
with the AU sticking to its guns, the proposal to add new veto-less
permanent members to the Security Council has come to a virtual
dead end-- once again.
draft resolution introduced by the AU says the new permanent members
should be accorded "the same prerogatives and privileges as
those of the current permanent members, including the right to veto."
month, the New York Times quoted unnamed US administration officials
as saying that Washington is opposed to giving new members veto
powers "out of concern that it might paralyse the Security
Council" and also dilute American power at the United Nations.
a press briefing last month, Secretary-General Kofi Annan described
as "utopian" attempts to either abolish the existing vetos
or create new permanent seats with veto powers.
is utopian to think we can do it. Many member states would want
to do that, but it is not possible. And they are not willing to
create additional vetoes (either)," he added. What is important,
Annan argued, is to have effective representation on the Security
Council, and to make it more democratic, to ensure that voices of
other regions are heard.
I think that sort of change would not only make the decisions of
the Council much more acceptable generally, but also the Council
itself will gain in greater legitimacy. And I think that is enough
of an achievement for us to be able to move forward and not insist
that if we cannot withdraw the (existing) veto from the other five,
we keep the status quo. That is the option," he said.
the 15-member Security Council has five permanent members and 10
elected member rotating on a geographical basis. The AU wants it
expanded to 26 members as against 25 by the Group of 4. But the
two groups remain sharply divided on the issue of veto power threatening
to bring the reform process to a standstill.