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Students Speak: The UN’s ‘Famous Five’ Security Council Must Change

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Monday, May 23rd, 2016
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With the UN set to appoint a new secretary general at the end of the year, the spotlight is on who will step into the most powerful diplomatic post in the world. They will have a tough job ahead of them, as an unprecedented number of humanitarian crises continue unabated. We asked students to tell us what their agenda would be if they landed the top job. Below is a selection of the best responses.

Make the security council representative of the people

As a UN secretary general serving office in the current global and political climate, it would be wise, at first, to focus in on the many humanitarian crises afflicting our planet. Firstly, the Syrian ceasefire would need to be sustained to create a lasting peace. Yemen would also be a priority (80% of its population are in need of some form of humanitarian aid). Then, one must not forget the drought and food shortages plaguing much of southern Africa.

However, to truly tackle these issues, I would urge the introduction of packages of reform to the security council. Current crises are not being confronted adequately due to the council’s much reported paralysis; the five permanent members often use their vetoes and voting powers in accordance with their own self-interest, which creates a vacuous body inefficient at true peace-making (the stop-start nature of the Syrian peace talks is a representation of this).

It is also true that to tackle the world’s issues, the security council must have a representative mandate. This, however, is not seen in practice as both Africa and Latin America have no permanent security council members.

So, to conclude, my first acts in office would be to push a package of wide-ranging organisational reforms including the dilution of veto powers and an increase in permanent members to ensure that the security council is truly representative when facing geopolitical issues. These reforms will ensure that the UN will be able to oversee global peace-making and humanitarian solutions.

  • Ali Al-Zubaidi, Altrincham grammar school for boys, UK

Reform the UN so it can respond to global corruption

The overall mission of the UN is to promote positive human interrelationships, which it has endeavoured to do over its lifespan. It is a defender of human rights and promoter of civil society across the world. However, the nature of human activities has changed during this time and we now face vastly different challenges. The UN needs to democratise and open its processes.

This is, however, insignificant compared with the need for openness in other spheres worldwide, in particular in the corporate sector. A reformed and less hierarchical UN could be better able to take on the challenges of upholding human rights in the face of government corruption and crony capitalism. A UN that operates clearly in the public interest of all citizens of the earth may have a better chance of holding large corporations and tax-haven nations accountable.

There is a clear need for a global regulation enforced upon the financial sector, particularly banking, which has acted with extreme disregard for responsibility and the public good. The economies of high-income countries have experienced the increasing concentration of wealth in societies, in parallel with governments’ lessening ability to control this trend. Tax evasion, corruption, money laundering and other frauds have deprived nations of the ability to invest in public institutions. Internationally, there needs to be a global effort to hold companies and individuals to account and a reformed UN could tackle this injustice.

  • Steph James, Massey University, New Zealand

Give each country an equal say

If I were to succeed Ban Ki-moon, my first act would be to abolish the power to veto. It remains as annoying as the preferential treatment teachers give to the kid whose mother donated the costumes for the annual school play. Our world is not Animal Farm. Some animals are not more equal than other animals.

Hopefully this measure would lead to fairer decisions in the organisation that would reflect what the world actually wants and not the whims of the famous five only.

If this is put into effect, and every delegate from every country gets an equal say in matters, then I believe the world can very well decide on its own which issues to tackle first. Because if I know one thing about world affairs, it is that it is mightily annoying for one people when another people try to decide what is best for them, or – worse – try to save them from themselves.

  • Fasiha Riaz Ghazi, Lahore grammar school, Pakistan

Clean up the peacekeeping forces

The UN’s fundamental mission has always been to maintain international peace and security. Now, more than ever, there are situations dispersed around the world that are an imminent threat to both of these. Consequently, the UN has been conducting more peacekeeping operations than ever.

However, evidence of mismanagement, fraud, corruption and incidents of sexual assault and abuse have surfaced regarding some operations. In 2005, there were accusations of the UN peacekeeping troops in Haiti and Sudan forcing minors to engage in sexual relations in exchange for material aid.

These are the peacekeeping operations that are supposed to enforce the UN’s promise to protect our peace and security. Essentially, if they’re corrupted the organisation is failing to fulfil its core responsibility, thus eliminating any credibility the organisation possesses. Therefore, my first act as chair of the UN would be to conduct proper investigations into ongoing and past UN peacekeeping missions and deal with whoever is found responsible.

Focus on peace first

Our times are some of the most tumultuous that humans have experienced; characterised by all sorts of novel and unpredictable threats and conflicts. Such novelties are rooted in the increasingly important, global and diverse issues of the roles of women, human rights, ethnic and civil conflicts, and sustainable development.

It would be deceiving and naive to think that these issues are separate or that a better world can be achieved by focusing on one issue at the expense of another. Nevertheless, it would be absurd to try to take a step in all directions. For any goal to be achieved there must be a relatively stable environment. This can only come from peace.

The first act in office should be directed at achieving the peace so dearly needed in such a conflict-ridden world. This peace cannot be forced but can only come from a dialogue. Dialogue must recognise the particularities of the conflicts and must find an appropriate solution that acknowledges these particularities and works through them.

The trend toward grand fit-for-all solutions must be avoided if peace is to be achieved.

  • Lamyae H Elkoussy, American University in Cairo, Egypt

Encourage stronger cooperation between member states

The UN was established in 1945 in the hope of preventing conflict among nations. Pursuing this, however, has proven to be difficult due to the UN failing to consistently act in unity. Broadly speaking, if I was head of the UN, I would focus on shaping the organisation to be a community of nations – that is, I would nurture stronger cooperation among the member states.

The security council’s hesitance to act during the Syrian war is but one example where the absence of cooperation allowed room for conflict. Wars break out due to conflicting interests; poverty and climate conditions have worsened because nations haven’t been willing to work together. These are all consequences of a divided community, and as long as the UN cannot act in unity it cannot solve these issues.

My first action would be to challenge every state to get involved in joint projects on developing sustainable economies for impoverished countries. The UN is supposed to represent a global community, and its members need to be able to act outside of the nation state competition of interests. Encouraging each state to act for the benefits of others rather than in their own interests is crucial.

Reducing poverty is but one challenge; however, if the nations can act in unity on issues affecting different people to their own, then the UN will be in a better position to act in unity when future conflicts and larger issues arise.

  • Aidan Jackson, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

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