Recent columns by Barbara Crossette:
Leveraging Private Money for the United Nations
(November 3, 2003)
"Since the late 1990s, the U.N. Fund for International Partnerships has been playing matchmaker between small, innovative U.N. programs in need of cash and an increasingly wider world of private corporations and foundations willing to give them a boost."
U.N. and U.S. in Iraq: Nobody Won This Round
(October 27, 2003)
"There is, in plain words, no great desire to help the United States out of a more difficult postwar period than the U.S. Defense Department apparently planned for."
AIDS, Asian Values and States of Denial
(October 20, 2003)
"Asian leaders often acknowledge only that infections happen in what they call 'deviant populations.' Yet it is well known that sex industries across the region attract men from every level of society."
U.S. Rebuffs to Neighbors Should Raise Concerns
(October 14, 2003)
"Ever since the epochal terrorist attacks on the United States two years ago, no two countries have been more important to American security than Canada and Mexico. So why has the United States been so indifferent to its neighbors?"
Testing the U.N. in Afghanistan, With Iraq in Mind
(October 6, 2003)
"The United States has now given the Iraqis six months to conjure up a constitution.... In Afghanistan, time to write a constitution has run out. Nearly two years after the United States toppled the Taliban, the publication of the promised new charter is behind schedule."
Fighting AIDS by Changing Attitudes in Africa
(September 29, 2003)
"Workers in government health agencies, private organizations and churches need every possible kind of logistical support to take the warning message out to people who do not know or do not believe that their own sexual behavior can save or condemn them."
For Countries Big And Small, A Diplomatic Marathon
(September 23, 2003)
"Over the years, autumn at the United Nations has evolved into a huge hive of diplomatic activity, making New York the capital of the world, as Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor, used to say."
More from U.N. Notebook.
U.N. Notebook | November 11, 2003
A New-Look Security Council: What Makes a Winner?
by Barbara Crossette
UNITED NATIONS—With a majority of nations agreeing that the power structure of the Security Council is decades out of date, and Secretary General Kofi Annan ready to force debate on how to fix it through his new international thinkers' panel on "threats, challenges and change," the question of which countries might rightly claim new permanent seats is becoming less hypothetical.
Should population be the guide? What about economic power? Military strength? Commitment to democracy and the rule of law?
Last week, when Annan named his panel of 16 very high-ranking former officials and military leaders from countries around the world—to be led by Anand Panyarachun, a former prime minister of Thailand—the secretary general asked them to look not only at new global security threats but also at how the United Nations needs to reconstruct itself to meet them. Central to the panel's task will be shining a harsh light on the council, which the secretary general says must work better than it did this year on Iraq if it hopes to have any credibility in the future.
While it would be hard to find anyone around the United Nations who thinks an expanded Security Council is coming any time soon, the reality is that a group of newly emerging powers is already circling the chamber demanding a permanent presence so they can be heard when momentous decisions on war and peace are taken.
Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, India and Indonesia are likely to be contenders for permanent seats from the developing world. Among industrial nations, Germany and Japan are thought to have the strongest hope of joining the current permanent five—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Those five owe their seats and their crucial vetoes to the power they held at the end of World War II. That was 58 years ago, long before most of the 6.2 billion people now on earth were born.
Give us some facts, people have been telling the U.N. Population Division. What do we need to know about how global power is distributed now? So Joseph Chamie, the division director, dug into his formidable data banks and produced an informal non-report for noodlers. He looked at a range of statistics for the current five permanent members and at similar figures for some prominent rising nations. The results hint at how tough it could be to come up with a one-size-fits-all profile for choosing new members to fill any additional permanent seats. (It is usually assumed the rotation system for nonpermanent members would remain about the same.)
By some measures, a few current members of the permanent five could at least theoretically be nudged out.
What if population were to become a critical factor in deciding who really represents the world? The 10 most populous countries are: China, with 21 percent of the world's people; India, 17 percent; the United States, 5 percent; Brazil and Indonesia, 3 percent each; and Bangladesh, Japan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Russia, about 2 percent each. By this measure, out go France and the United Kingdom, and Russia barely hangs in there.
Population is not everything, of course. Economic strength is important because permanent council members could be expected to be big contributors to the United Nations. (Though a few of them now are certainly not.)
The top 10 countries measured by gross domestic product are the United States, with 32 percent of the world's economic output; followed by Japan, 13 percent; Germany, 6 percent; the United Kingdom, 5 percent; France, China and Italy, 4 percent each; and Canada, Spain and Mexico, 2 percent each. By this measure, France and the United Kingdom are back in. But what happened to Russia, Brazil, India or Nigeria? And where is South Africa, the African continent's strongest economy, but a mere 0.4 percent in the global league?
Which countries are the good citizens that pay the largest shares of the U.N. budget? The United States, with 24 percent; Japan, 19 percent; Germany, 9 percent; France, 6 percent; Italy and the United Kingdom, 5 percent each; and Brazil, Canada, South Korea and Spain, 2 percent each. By this reckoning, Japan's case is substantially strengthened. However, as sitting council members go, China and Russia drop off the charts at only 1 percent.
Move to military power, an essential attribute for countries with the responsibility for deciding issues of war and peace, and paying a premium contribution to U.N. peacekeeping. No need to guess who's first here: The United States has the largest military budget by far, and the rest of the top 10 are Russia, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Italy and India. The largest armed forces in the world belong, in this order, to China, the United States, India, North Korea, Russia, Turkey, South Korea, Pakistan, Vietnam and Iran. The picture gets a little cloudier for some developing countries where a mammoth army seems to take priority over economic growth and national power becomes unbalanced.
At this point in the game, the Population Division did a little cross-referencing to indexes on the rule of law and the practice of democracy, based on a variety of subjective surveys collated by the World Bank and reproduced in the 2002 U.N. Human Development Report (pages 38-41). A list of the top 10 countries measured by rule of law introduces a whole new set of faces. They are Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg, Singapore, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.
If a popular voice in politics and governments' accountability to their people are the guide, the list is similar: Switzerland, Australia, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland and Iceland. Not a single large developing country makes either list. But then neither do the current permanent five, though the United Kingdom ranks highest among them and is close to the top 10 by both measures. China lags farthest behind.
Germany and Japan do well, about level with the United States in the top 20-25 and far above China and Russia. That should make the Germans and Japanese, whose candidacies are supported by the United States, strong bidders. But developing nations—a number of them democracies, if not perfect ones—will argue that what the council does not need are more rich industrial countries, no matter how "good" they are.
This is all head-spinning stuff, and it might be fun to see it plotted on a graph.
If the time finally comes to remake the Security Council to reflect the 21st century world, what will add up to an unbeatable candidacy? To increasingly influential developing countries with no permanent voice in the council, chances are that what will matter most are power—military or economic—and population size. Some would-be candidates are already making that case. Measures of democracy will be left in the dust. Those countries that practice democracy best are just too small to count—and mostly too European. But if democratic credentials are doomed to be completely elbowed out by sheer strength and size, that's a pity.
What do you think? Discuss this article in the Foreign Affairs conference of Post & Riposte.
More on foreign affairs in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic
Barbara Crossette, a writer on foreign affairs and columnist for U.N. Wire, was The New York Times bureau chief at the United Nations from 1994 to 2001. U.N. Wire is a free daily online news service covering news about and
related to the United Nations. It is sponsored by the U.N. Foundation and
appears on the foundation site, but is produced independently by The National
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