An aging United Nations at 75: a Dignified death or rebirth?
By Richard E. Caroll
At the conclusion of World War Two, the vision of Franklin Roosevelt of a trans-national political body, the United Nations, was inaugurated in San Francisco on October 24, 1945. Seventy-five years on, the United Nations is showing signs of wear and tear. The international world power political order has changed radically, and the United Nations structure has not changed with the current world political power dynamics.
In 1945 there were 51 founding members. Of these 51 members, the Big Five were, the United States, the United Kingdom, the then Soviet Union (now Russia), The Republic of China (now the People’s Republic of China, and France. The Big Five were appointed as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The functions of the Security Council can be found at this link. There are 15 members of the UN Security Council, but only 5 are permanent, and only the Big Five have veto power over any action proposed in the Security Council. The other 10 are elected by the General Assembly and have a 2-year term. In 2020 there are now 193 member states. Many of these nations that were not part of the original founders on the United Nations came from the former world empires of the United Kingdom and France.
In 1945, the Big Five were chosen as they were the most powerful nations on Earth. Even though the United Kingdom and France had been severely mauled by the war, they were still world powers and were placed on the Security Council based on their world empires.
Seventy-five years on, the balance of power has changed, and while both France and the United Kingdom are still major regional powers, they are a shadow of the world powers they were in 1945. As such, the current make-up of the Security Council does not reflect the true state of international affairs and economic, political, and military power worldwide. The make-up of the Security Council needs to be changed to reflect the reality of international power politics.
Proposed Changes to the UN Security Council
With France and the United Kingdom no longer the world powers that they once were, and with the focus of the world economy changing to Asia, it would make sense to remove France and the United Kingdom as permanent members of the UN Security Council and replace these two nations with other nations who more represent the current world political environment. At the same time, the European Union as an economic and political power cannot be dismissed.
The European Union
The European Union would appear to be a logical choice as a new permanent member to the UN Security Council, giving the European Continent a voice in world affairs at the highest level of world politics. The GDP of the European Union for 2019 was $15.6 trillion (USD) The population of the European Union is 464 million people, stretching from Poland to the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. The European Union is a nuclear power, with France having a substantial nuclear force, from land-based ICBMs and well as a naval capability of delivering a SLBM from its nuclear submarine force.
While the European Union does not have a substantial land military force, given the resources available to the European Union, the creation of a strong Army is not out of reach for the European Union.
With the ongoing retreat of the United States from military commitments world-wide, the concept of a European Army is a concept that has long been discussed, with France leading the way in the conversation. While the political issues of forming a cohesive ground military force should not be dismissed lightly, it is not a concept that would be impossible.
The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is still in flux over its Brexit vote. The main sticking point on the Brexit vote for the United Kingdom is the status of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Scotland has been adamant about staying in the European Union for economic reasons. There are local elections scheduled in Scotland in May of 2021. The Scottish National Party (SNP) is heavily favored to win enough seats to take power in the Scottish Parliament. The SNP is extremely critical of Brexit and has stated its intentions to hold a referendum to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom and remain as an independent country within the European Union. There is a similar issue in Northern Ireland. With the loss of Scotland to the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom will cease to exist, and what remains would be England and Wales. With the loss of Scotland, and possibly Northern Ireland, England and Wales would be a mere shadow of what it was in 1945.
Japan or India as a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council
It would appear logical for either Japan or India to be added to the UN Permanent Security council.
The case for Japan would be based on her economic power, and her business interests world-wide. In 2019, Japan had a GDP of $5.1 trillion (USD). Japan is the 3rd ranked country in the world by GDP. It is one of the world’s most literate and technological country in the world. Notwithstanding Japan’s aggression in World War Two, the war has been over now for over 75 years, and Japan has courted non-violence in the world since World War Two.
An issue that must be considered before adding Japan to the UN Permanent Security council is Japan’s demographics. The population of Japan is 129.5 million people. While impressive, Japan’s fertility rate is 1.4%. A total fertility rate of 2.1% is necessary for any nation to achieve a replacement rate which will mirror its population. A value below 2.1% will cause a steady decrease in the population of any country. This graph will illustrate the problems Japan is facing with its aging population. Without a vibrant and younger population, the economy of Japan must decline, as there will be less and less consumption and investment. While there is still time for Japan to turn this existential issue around, the window for re-invigorating her population growth is closing.
India would also be a logical choice for a permanent seat at the United Nations Permanent Security Council.
India has a population of 1.383 billion people with a fertility rate of 2.1. A fertility rate of 2.1 indicates that India’s population is at a replacement rate, and its population density will be stable for the foreseeable future. With a healthy and stable population, India is still considered a consumer nation, and as such its economy will continue to grow.
India’s GDP is $2.719 trillion (USD). With a stable population, and an improving infrastructure, India’s economy is expected to grow to 9.4% in 2021. India’s economy is expected to contract 1.3% in 2020 due to the world-wide Covid-19 outbreak.
India’s military is well placed in the world trade situation, particularly to the trade routes that China depends on for her imports from the Middle East. With a rapidly growing navy that has two aircraft carriers, as well as a third on the way, India, with her strategic geographic position, is able to project military power over large swaths of the Indian Ocean. India is in a position where she would be able to severely hamper Chinese trade which in turn would help India strangle China’s economy if it became necessary. While China has a larger naval force than India, the Chinese navy would be operating with an extended supply line, and would be unable to rapidly deploy enough supply vessels, or combat vessels, or to maintain a permanent presence in the Indian Ocean for any extended period of time.
India has a credible nuclear deterrence and can retaliate against any nuclear strike with enough force to deter any aggressor.
Calls to End the United Nations Security Council
An article in ForeignPolicy.com calls for the abolishment of the Security Council. An article published on September 17, 2020 by authors Hannah Ryder, Anna Baisch, and Ovigwe Eguegu have written an article “Decolonizing the United Nations Means Abolishing the Permanent
Five”. While well-meaning and idealistic, it does not address the dynamics of world politics. Stronger nations will not allow themselves to be bound by nations making rules and regulations that are not enforceable. A stable centralized political structure depends on an economy that is large enough and stable enough to enforce its political will. A structure that is supported by the authors of the article would also need to have a large homogenous population with accepted social customs and political structures. A close examination of the current world structure would show that the world does not yet meet these conditions.
John F. Kennedy once said that the United Nations was the last best hope for humanity.
Today, the United Nations is still the one place where the nations of the world can come and talk and try to find common cause. One last hope to avoid the emergence of a Third World War which might bring the end the civilization of humanity, and the end of the human race.
Imperfect as the United Nations is today, it is still the last best hope of humanity.
Richard E. Caroll is a retired economist and soldier.