Dream of Influence Germany Renews Campaign for UN Security Council Seat


Part 2: 'The UN Has to Change, and It Will'

Orr disagrees, of course. "A G-20 climate protection agreement won't buy you much," he says. "We're the only ones who have all countries on board." No organization, says Orr, is as capable as the UN of responding as quickly and efficiently to disasters like the flooding in Pakistan, nor is any other organization as effective in combating global epidemics. And who else would attempt to keep the peace in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan or Lebanon? According to Orr, more than 120,000 UN peacekeepers are currently deployed worldwide. Only the United States deploys more military personnel to the field than the UN.

Still, Orr has been in the business long enough to know that the UN's influence will continue to wane without fundamental reform. Why should countries like India or Brazil, whose membership in the G-20 is seen as a matter of course, continue their involvement in the UN if they are only ever granted non-permanent seats on the Security Council? "The UN has to change," says Orr, "and it will."

John Bolton, a former American ambassador to the UN, disagrees. He doesn't believe that the Security Council will ever be reformed, nor does he even see reform as desirable. How is it preferable, Bolton asks, if 20 or 25 members have to reach consensus instead of 15?

Bolton served as US ambassador to the UN under former President George W. Bush. In the course of a half-hour conversation in his Washington office, Bolton manages to paint a completely different picture of the UN. He portrays it as a political ineffective organization, one in which countries play off their individual interests against one another while simultaneously talking about the community of nations. The Americans are against relinquishing any power to such an organization. Their own interests are simply too dominant.

Failed Attempt at Reform

Former German Defense Minister Volker Rühe knows this all too well. For him, the defining experience happened five years ago, during the first attempt at reform, when he discussed the United Nations with a senior American diplomat in New York. Rühe, who served as defense minister in Helmut Kohl's administration, had traveled to New York as the envoy of then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Kohl's successor. His mission was to convince other countries that Germany belonged on the Security Council as a permanent member.

Rühe told the American diplomat that the Security Council, with its five veto powers, did not reflect the world of the 21st century. He pointed out that India is not a permanent member, nor is Brazil or Germany, and that the global balance of power had changed since the UN was founded in 1945.

In response, the American pulled a list out of his jacket pocket and enumerated the instances in which Brazil and India had voted against the United States. Why should America have an interest in upgrading these countries, he asked? The attempt at reforming the UN, in which the German government had placed such high hopes, collapsed soon afterwards.

Individual Animosities

The situation hasn't improved since then. Rather, it has deteriorated. The United States and China have resolved to settle key issues between themselves. Together, they have enough power to dominate the world, first economically and later politically. A body in which many players have a say would only interfere with their interests.

This position only encourages the mid-sized powers to secure more influence. Indeed, the biggest proponents of Security Council reform are the so-called G-4 nations, Germany, Brazil, India and Japan.

Their problem isn't just the major players' aversion to sharing power. Individual animosities also play a role. The Chinese don't want the Indians on the Security Council, and the Americans don't want the Brazilians. The Russians and the British don't want anything to change, while the French at least pretend that they want the Germans on their side. All of this has to be taken into account.

The G-4 nations changed their tactics after the 2005 failure. Today they advocate expanding the Security Council to include so-called semi-permanent members, which could be elected for 15 years and then possibly reelected, making them practically full-fledged members. Under the proposal, the semi-permanent members would not have a veto, at least not initially.

Worthless Pledges

Those are the long-term plans. For now, the Germans are trying to ensure that they will be elected to the Security Council for the next two years. At the German Foreign Ministry, there is a list indicating the current status of the campaign. The list includes a category for pledges that are considered reliable and another category for those that are relatively worthless. There is also a category for countries that have been unwilling to make a commitment to Peter Wittig, the German ambassador, which is not seen as a good sign for Germany.

Although Wittig isn't prepared to say anything about the current situation, things do not appear to be looking too bad for Germany. Still, the Canadians are seen as the favorites, because the Europeans are already strongly represented in the Security Council. The Portuguese have reportedly promised more development aid to many countries.

The vote is secret, which makes the outcome all the more uncertain. When the Austrians applied two years ago, they realized afterwards that the number of firm commitments they had received significantly outnumbered the votes that were eventually cast in their favor.

One thing is already clear: If Germany is not elected to the Security Council, the dream of a permanent seat will have become that much more distant.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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Norberto_Tyr 09/17/2010
1. Can't believe that Germany does not realize that have no nuclear weapons !
Kindergarten's puzzle, match the countries: 1- China; 2- France; 3- UK; 4- USA; 5- Russia (ex USSR); 6- Germany; 7- Costa Rica; 8- Spain; 9- Philippines; 10- India; With the bombs: a- N1; b- N2; c- N3; d- N4; e- N5; f- N6; g- none1; h- none2; i- none3; j- none4. Solution: 4-a, 5-b, 3-c, 2-d, 1-e, 10-f, 6-g, 7-h, 8-I, 9-j. Corollary: having the bomb is a necessary but not sufficient condition given the current state of affairs. Proposal: 1- deconstruct the UN, 2- reconstruct the UN on a rational manner, 3- freeze. Norberto
lakechamplainer 09/18/2010
2. Membership doesn't have any benefits
As an American, I would suggest to the people of Germany that they shouldn't concern themselves with being on the UN Security Council. The US membership on the council has benefited me and my fellow Americans not at all.
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