Monday, October 26, 2009

Is the Security Council Secure?

This weekend we celebrated United Nations Day. While its lack of speed, lack of teeth, and often lack of fortitude can be frustrating, it is a wonderful thing to have a functional space for international deliberation and cooperation. Right now in The Hague, Radovan Karadzic is having his day in court before an international tribunal dedicated to openness, fairness, and due process. Again, the process is not perfect and it remains an open question whether he actually will appear in the courtroom, but that there is such a trial is a very good thing for the world and a testament to the progress that can be made when there is an extra-governmental forum that has legitimacy.

The question for today concerns its structure. Like the British Parliament of old, it has a bicameral nature, the General Assembly is the House of Commons and the Security Council is the House of Lords where the privileged sit in their higher place. Such an arrangement made sense during the Cold War when there were two main superpowers locked in a game of geopolitical chicken. Provide a place where the US and the USSR along with their lieutenants could duke it out because the General Assembly would be precisely the same thing by proxy. Eliminate the charade and have the star chamber where what could get done would get done.

But now that the Cold War's bifurcation of the planet has ended and the world is a more complicated place, does it make sense to maintain the Security Council? Can we make the same argument today, that the permanent members have a disproportionate amount of influence over the governance of the world that they ought to have a special place in the United Nations? One could say that the wealthier nations pay much higher dues and thereby are bankrolling the U.N., so,. as B.B. King put it, they are paying the cost to be the boss. Does this fly? With the collapse of the capitalism/communism world divide does having an exclusive club in the middle of the more democratic United Nations' structure make sense?