London calls New York: how to reform the United Nations? The international think tank PS21 gathered experts at King’s College

London, 15 March 2019 – From the Security Council’s membership which should open the door to the increasingly powerful economies such as India Brasil, Japan and the African countries, to a more autonomous General Assembly today still limited by the Security Council in its decision making; from the urgent stop to weaponization to a new funding system …

United Nations need deep and urgent reforms; but ‘how’ to change a gigantic global structure stuck into its old architecture backdated to the post Second World War and is not giving voice, power and representation to all countries of the world, except the Permanent 5 (US, Russia, China, France and UK). Although unilateralism is over, proxy-wars still burden UN with Peacekeeping operations often underfunded and with limited success.

The international think tank PS21 (Project for the Study of 21st century) founded by the Reuters Global columnist Peter Apps, asks the question at the core of the shift needed in the present global governance.

The UN need to be able to prevent and stop conflicts and bring back parties to negotiations, said Vijay Mehta chair of Uniting for Peace “UN must abolish the veto and permanent seats which put all major reforms under the control of the Permanent Five members and has to use more ‘soft power’ – dialogue, diplomacy – to solve problems and build culture of peace” promoting the establishment of departments of peace in each government. Words which come to comfort us when national governments are the main root cause of those injustices and inequalities generating wars.

Secretary General António Guterres, the first ever elected with criteria of transparency, actually started to table a discussion on reforms of contributions from countries and a reform to make different and multiple departments dealing with crises more effective, explained Marcus Lenzen, in a view from within the UN glass skyscraper in New York where he works as Policy and Program Adviser with the peacebuilding Support Office in the Department for Political Affairs. As peace is underfunded, figures speaks for themselves: at present 14 peacekeeping operations deploying 120,000 peacekeeping personnel (military, police and civilian), are serving in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and  Middle East. UN is supposed to maintain peace in the whole world with a limited two years peacekeeping budget: the on for 2016-17 was $ 7,87 billion, this is less than the budget for the 2012 London Olympics (Uniting for Peace reports).   

One more structural reform which has been discussed from many years is the empowerment of the General Assembly, where all countries are represented as the place for actual multilateralism. At present the GA’s powers in relations to peacekeeping are limited by Article 12 of Chapter IV which states “While the Security Council is exercising in respect of any dispute or situation the functions assigned to it in the Charter, the General Assembly shall not make any recommendation with regard to that dispute or situation unless the Security Council so requests”. This is preventing the general interests of the majority of the international community to balance the interests of the Permanent Five (USA, China, Russia, France, UK), and so to prevent war.

Targeting the root causes implies looking to the international context the United Nations operate in; the resurgent nationalism is one of the main ones and of the most dangerous ones. “We have to look to diplomacy, the way international actors build their identities, and to nationalism in all their differences. Diplomacy and nationalism come together. We have to focus on what are the practical impacts of new nationalisms, in all the several version there are” in our international political environment, said Pablo de Orellana, Teaching Fellow in the Department of War Studies of King’s College, talking about how international powers struggles over identity in diplomacy, to exert influence in certain areas of the globe through war.