What should Nepal’s position on UN reform be?Given that reforming and restructuring the global body is easier said than done, Nepal should tread the matter lightly, experts say.
The 77th General Assembly of the United Nations formally started on Tuesday. While the world will be paying attention to what world leaders, including heads of states, heads of governments and top diplomats, will say at the first world conference after the Russia-Ukraine war, the subject of UN reform will also take precedence. The subject is one of the 178 agenda items that will be discussed in the Assembly taking place in New York.
The UN, which was created after World War II, has come into question with charges that it has been unable to function effectively in the unstable international political environment.
On the other hand, the UN's capacity to deal with economic development and the way it handles relations with developed and developing countries has been raising apprehensions about the global organisation’s structure. In light of this, conversations about its reform should get momentum, say diplomats and analysts the Post talked to.
Rita Dhital, information officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Nepal has been bringing up the subject of UN reorganisation in the General Assembly for a long time.
According to Dhital, people who have represented Nepal in the UN under various capacities at various periods have raised the topic of the UN's reform along with other countries.
Ramesh Nath Pandey, a former foreign minister who has represented Nepal in the UN, however, said that Nepal should focus on the small country’s security concerns rather than UN reforms.
“The United Nations was founded with the intention of serving as the champion of global peace. It was regarded as a supporter of smaller countries as well,” Pandey told the Post. “However, the UN has failed to provide a sense of security for the small nations after the war in Ukraine.”
The organisation that was founded decades ago is currently dealing with issues that our forebears could not have predicted, like cyber-warfare, terrorism, and lethal autonomous weaponry. The UN’s reform is all the more necessary to meet these unconventional security threats so that it could address modern problems, say experts and observers working on international relations for decades.
“Global politics has witnessed a sea change since the formation of the UN in 1945,” said Shambhu Ram Shimkhada, Nepal’s former permanent representative to the UN. “In the changed context, the UN’s present system is unable to address the pertinent issues of the time.”
Though UN reform is in demand, the desire is largely concentrated on increasing the number of permanent members of the Security Council. The Security Council currently comprises five members—the United States, China, Britain, France, and Russia—who can exercise the exclusive ‘veto’ power.
A country with veto power may also reject reasonable requests made by other UN members. And this provision is not in line with the notion of equal sovereignty among the UN members as stated in the UN Charter’s Article 1, analysts say.
“Moreover, the UN has become a group controlled by allied powers who won World War II,” Shimkhada told the Post. “That is why UN reform has taken precedence. Nevertheless, reform should not be limited to the security council alone.”
The United Nations is prohibited from meddling in the domestic affairs of any country, as stated in sub-article 7 of Article 2 of the Charter. Sub-article 4 of the same article specifies that governments may not threaten or use force against the political independence or internal integrity of another country.
The UN itself, however, is not bound by the aforementioned provisions according to Article 51 of the Charter. The article mentions the right of a country to use force in self-defence in the case of an armed attack.
The UN's own provisions, which are unfair to the member states, are to blame for the delay in restructuring the body, says another analyst.
“Restructuring the UN is required since it cannot maintain the status quo in a changing world,” said retired Major General of Nepal Army Purna Bahadur Silwal, who also has worked as Military Advisor in the Permanent Mission of Nepal to the UN.
“The issue of restructuring the UN has been discussed for a while. It is more focused on the reform of the Security Council. There is also disagreement about whether to increase the number of Council members with veto power or without.”
But restructuring is a difficult process, even if it is necessary, Silwal added.
India has been seeking support from its neighbouring countries, including Nepal, to become a permanent member of the Security Council.
A joint statement released after the then prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s 2016 visit to India stated that Nepal would support India for a permanent membership of the UN Security Council. A 25-point joint communique released after the visit read, “The Nepali side reiterated its support for India’s candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.”
Similarly, during the sixth India-Nepal joint commission meeting held in January 2021, the former foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali reaffirmed the pledge. Though the press release issued by Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not mention it, the one from New Delhi did. “Nepal expressed support for India’s permanent membership of an expanded UN Security Council to reflect the changed balance of power,” read the press release from the Indian side.
“Nepal’s advocacy for India’s inclusion in the Security Council should be taken as normal,” added Shimkhada. “Supporting India on the world stage is normal since India is Nepal's neighbour.”
In order to guarantee that the five permanent members of the Security Council do not possess nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was put into effect in 1970. This episode also strengthened the voice of UN restructuring, say observers of international politics.
But despite the provisions of the NPT, countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea, among others, also currently possess nuclear weapons.
Deepak Prakash Bhatta, a security affairs expert, claims that the Security Council's access to nuclear weapons, with the exception of the five permanent members, has increased the need for the UN’s restructuring.
Restructuring of the UN is a significant and enduring issue. But it remains to be heeded. “It was claimed that the UN would promote world peace after its founding, but this claim no longer holds true,” says Bhatta. “I don't think one organisation is powerful enough to speak for all the countries.”
Bhatta is of the opinion that compared to the UN, regional and multinational organisations are achieving greater strength. Therefore, even if the need for the UN to be restructured has been voiced for a while, it won’t accelerate further, he said.
India is one of the major countries lobbying for reform of the UN and the Security Council and is aiming to be a permanent member of the council. Though India has been consistent in its efforts, its demand has been denied for one or another reason. The UN and Security Council both should be reorganised without further ado, Swaran Singh, a professor of International Relations at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said.
“The UN was set up 77 years ago and has become unrepresentative of current world realities,” Singh told the Post. “Security Council reforms are important because it is the most powerful organ of the UN and its not being inclusive and representative impacts its credibility and efficacy.”
But the reform is easier said than done. The United Nations Charter has to be amended to incorporate more members in the Security Council. And all the Security Council members must give consent to the amendment, a condition that is unachievable in the present context, according to analysts.
Hence, Nepal’s support for India’s inclusion in the Security Council is immature, a former foreign minister of Nepal told the Post on the condition of anonymity.
“While speaking in the General Assembly of the UN, Nepal has twice advocated for India’s inclusion in the Council,” he said. “That was to appease India only. Our request did not help India gain anything but only enraged China. After all, without amending the Charter, a restructuring of the UN is not possible.”