FIX THE SECURITY COUNCIL ---------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org email@example.com 2016 Janary 9 Introcution --------- The public outreach project at the United Nations continues to stage its variety of events, at least among those I was here to fore favored to attend.The project started a couple yearrs ago to alleviate the extreme nuisance caused by ongoing rehabiliation of the UN campus. From my own privilege to attend some of the events in this program, it seems there is a general policy to engage the pubblic with the work of the UN. To satisfy this policy, each unit of the UN works out its own program of public engagement. This dispersed implementation of policy may wxplain the wide range of events I so far was blessed to attend. The several events I attend were of assorted format and location, from a social party at an outdoor cafe' to a formal meeting among member nations in a formal UN chmber. Public participation spanned quiet spectators in the peanut gallery to chatting over supper with the delegates. My invites come irregularly, with most UN public activities passing me over. The same erratic action seems to happen with other inviteds whom I banter with at the events. I treat each invite as a specific instance with no expectation of further invites. I have no clue how I ever got started with this diet of UN activities or how I am chosen for each occasion. The invite -------- In most of 2015 I got NO invites. Maybe my name sifted to the bottom of the barrel where it has little chance of getting picked? In June 2015 I got my first invite of the year, a supper party to celebrate the UN's 70th anniversary. I attended that event and actually did a bit of ASTRONOMY public outreach with the half-moon in the daytime sky. In early October 2015 I get an invite to a presentation at the UN headquarters. The event was a discussion about proposals for reforming the UN Security Council. With now 2015 being behind me, this was the second and final invite of that year. What 2016 will favor me with is anyone's guess. The meeting was posted for October 30th in afternoon with muster- up at a specified gate at the campus. I arranged leave from work and walked to 42nd St to catch the 42nd Street bus to the UN. The bus came in a minute or two. It made good way in light traffic to the last stop at the United Nations campus. On to the meeting --------------- I walked to the gate, where already there was several early arrivals. Some seemed unsure what to do and asked around if this was the right meeting place. Maybe this was their own first instance of being invited to a UN function? Maybe the UN scooped up a fresh catch of people to consider? At about 12:30PM under a warm sunny sky a UN agent came out and called the inviteds to gather around him. He checked us off on a invitation roster and handed us our passes. He directed us as a group to the Secretariat Building, beyond the public perimeter, where an other agent received our group. She leaded us to the lobby, filled with tourists, and told us to wait until doors open to the auditorium father inside the building. We had to loop around the perimeter to get back into the public lobby but I can't recall how we did that. The lobby is the drop-dead incredibly marvelous hall you visit on the nickel tour of the UN. It showcases the Foucault Pendulum and Sputnik backup satellite shell. There was a photo exhibit that I couldn't get enthused about. I did admire the paintings of past UN Secretaries-General, about a dozen of them since the UN opened. The auditorium ------------ The meeting hall was much like other UN chambers except it was less ornate. It ws more like a corporate or collage auditorium. It seated about 150 with about 3/4 occupied for this show. Each seat had its own UN panel sign and audio console. We used the audio later for the Q&A. During the talk the earphone echoed the mike better than the loudspeakers and had the advantage of adjusting the volume. The entire proceding was in English with no simultaneous translations. The panel signs were blanked out for this meeting. In normal use they display the country seated behind it or the name of the meeting. Except for the front couple rows we could sit any where in the room. I picked a seat about six rows back near the center to more squarely face a projection screen, under test behind the stage before the meeting opened. The other inviteds milled around, some at sea about the procedure, askng where to sit or what to do. They wore clean street dress as if they came from a business office. I heard only a couple of folk speak in a foreign language. Every one could speak regular English. The Speaker --------- The moderator welcomed us to the meeting and presented the speaker, Thomas Pickering. He was US ambassador to several countries and served else wise within the US Department of State. He also was for several years the US ambassador to the UN itself. From the tone and style of this introduction, this particular UN function looked like it was prepared for outsiders and not an internal UN session. I also did not notice any one like UN delegates in the auditorium. An other clue ws the moderator's reminder that this session was also televised on a UN website. The UN unit staging this show apparently could comply with the public outreach policy by setting up a distinct public event in the stead of letting the public sit at one of its own meetings. This present arrangement had the bonus of allowing an extended Q&A from the floor after the presentation. Pickering first described the evolution of several world issues over the life of the UN. He then leaded into his main topic, the ongoing dialog to restructure the Security Council. His discussion was accompanied by slides, which didn't add much to the show. I let most of them pass by as distraction against listening to Pickering's spoken discourse. Security Council -------------- The Security Council is one of the the main branches of the United Nations. The others are the General Assembly and Trusteeship Council. It consists of fifteen members, five permanent and ten rotating. The permanent members are: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States. With only one exception, these members maintained their seats thru changes in government and effects of revolution. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused only a name change on Russia's seat. The exception is China. When originally seated, China was the country on the mainland of Asia, plus many nearby islands in the Pacific Ocean. In 1949 a Communist revolt on the mainland pushed China off to the island of Formosa. It became the Republic of China, or Taiwan. Taiwan held China's Council seat and UN membership while mainland China, People's Re[in;oc pf China, was excluded. The PRC protested for years that Taiwan was merely a part of China and not a separate country. In 2971 the UN admitted the PRC to take over the membership of Taiwan and transferred the China seat of the Security Council to it. Taiwan since then, thru 2015, remains out of the UN but it cooperates with it on various projects. Each year the UN and Taiwan discuss ways to allow Taiwan back in, perhaps with an observer status. As at 2015 there is no positive action for admitting Taiwan into the UN The UN never 'expelled' Taiwan. It treated Taiwan as an internal section of the PRC with no nation standing. Each permanent seat hs the power to veto any proposed Council action, regardless of the vote count among its members. For a long time the US never exercised its veto function. The other seats used the veto option routinely. The rotating seats are elected by the General Assembly for two- year terms. The current, in 2015, rotating members are: Angola, Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Spain, Venezuela. All seats represent their home countries, not necessarily their continent or region. In spite of the long life of the Council, there are some 60, SIXTY, countries who were never elected to the Council! Any UN member not on the Council may, can at the Council's invite participate in deliberations relating to that country but it has no voting function. The Council has the authority to commit peacekeeping soldiers to conflict zones and to assemble formal military intervention from forces supplied by UN member countries. This was done many times. Usually the UN presence is modest, enough to deter military actions and to protect unarmed or civilian efforts to resolve the conflict. Example Council case ------------------ The Security Council handles cases involving interaction among countries, but there was never a firm definition of which kinds of interactions really belong in the Council. Here's one example I learned of during chat at this meeting. On the perimeter of the UN campus is the palisade of flags for the member nations. As the number of members increased the flagpoles were shifted closer together to accommodate the newcomers. On certain windy days the flags on adjacent poles slap against each other. Some countries complain to the Security Council about acts of disrespect and insult to their flags. The Council refers such matters to a committee, where they eventually melt away. Possible reforms -------------- It surprised me to learn at this show that agitation to restructure the Security Council started in about 1960! The debate now in progress is a lineal continuation of the decades-long dialog about the Council. Some newer delegates who now take part in the dialog are amazed to learn that they are in a negotiation older than they are! No significant changes were so far made to the Council. A substantial modification would require an amendment to the UN charter. Some of the proposals are soft ones, implemented by procedure changes or voluntary action. The deliberations are carried out in a maze of committees and workgroups, who report from time to time to the General Assembly. The dialog takes in all UN members, not just those in the Security Council. Some members formed coalitions for the debates, arranged by global regions. The several ideas explained by Pickering overlap and conflict among themselfs. When a definitive plan of action is worked up, some amalgam of these ideas must be assembled. Triumvirate --------- This present show reminded me of a long-ago serious pitch by the Soviet Union to reform the United Nations. In the late 1950s it agitated for a 'triumvirate' to replacing the Secretary-General. The three chiefs would come from the Western, Eastern, and Nonaligned sectors of the world. I don't recall how the leaders were to be chosen. Presumably the Eastern one comes from, erm, the Soviet Union. Secretary-General Hammerskjold favored a dialog for his plan without without taking sides. He was killed in an airplane crash in 1961 and the idea quickly faded away. Expanded membership ----------------- When the Council started its fifteen seats were about 1/3 or 1/4 of the whole UN membership. The Council had a reasonably adequate representation of the whole world. Most current countries were still colonies or combined under one rule. As the colonies split away and some countries broke apart in smaller ones, the UN membership swelled to the present 192 (as at mid 2015). Many of these new countries joined into new political and social blocs. The Council, staying at 15 seats, covers less than 1/10 of the world. Proposals for enlarging the Council seek a modest increase to around 25 seats. They go to more rotating members, leaving the permanent seats unchanged. The extra seats should be allocated to representatives of the new spheres of power. A variation of this plan increases also the permanent seats to 7 or 8. The additional seats are designated for under-represented sectors of the world. Regional seats ------------ In this proposal the Council seats are held by representatives caring for a group of countries in a distinct region of the world. The delegation has members from the region's countries and their seat is named for the region. Possible arrangements include seats for African States, Caribbean States, Arab States. This plan is ill-defined because there are no solid alliances of countries, for general UN business, arranged by region. Those that exist come and go, or have memberships in continuous flux. It seems that the UN somehow must assign countries to their regional delegation, perhaps against their preference. Veto elimination -------------- A persistent issue for many UN members is the veto function of only the five permanent seats. Some believe that worthy actions, approved by a definite majority of Council members, are tossed because one of the permanent members exercised the veto. The action is absolute and can not be overrided. Only a renewed placement of issue before the Council can review it. This particular proposal actually can be implemented without touching the charter. If the permanent seats agree to suspend use of the veto voluntarily the workings of the Council could be substantially altered. Perhaps enough to study the no-more-veto agitators. Council of statesmen ------------------ The Council is made from representatives of countries. The delegations are tied to their home countries in the work of the Council, even if a regional scheme is in force. The rebuilt Council will no longer seat 'countries' but a set of statesmen, scholars, academics, diplomats chosen by their individual and associative skills and resources. They come from which ever country they live in with no regard for allegiance to that country. The seatholders do not represent their home countries. They act as an independent board to resolve disputes. This Council has no veto function for its members, each being equal in strength. Reduced caseload -------------- The Security Council handles many cases that are more within the domain of other UN units. It issues many resolutions relating to ad- hoc acts, including those entirely internal to a country. The Council's caseload mostly involves actual transgression of national frontiers, by military acts or migration of civilians. Yet there is no general agreement for the kinds of case requiring Council intervention. The general desire appears to be limit the Council's work to cases of a clear threat to international peace and security. Typicly these are those with actual transgression of borders, even by remote or ballistic means. Transparency --------- Many UN members believe the Security Council isn't fully open and transparent outside its own meetings. An outside country, who is a party to the case to hand, isn't always invited to join the negotiations. Until the Council issues the minutes of ti s meetings these often come out after the chance for other countries to comment or enter the dialog. Often the minutes give only the final action, without a discussion of the negotiations or copies of texts presented during them. A general desire calls for punctual written reports of Council meetings. The reports should include at least a summary of the actual commentary of the members leading to the final action. An other situation is the debates for Security Council reform, many done with no written records. Members not present at the meeting learn of the activity thru verbal recollections. Modernized operations ------------------- When the Security Council authorizes UN intervention in a military conflict situation, the UN fields conventional lightly-armed soldiers . These are mainly to protect unarmed or civilian UN operations in the conflict area. They, the peacekeepers, do not engage in front line combat, altho they may be caught in cross-fire or defensive fire- fights. It has no naval or aerial military units. The UN depends on the friendly side of the conflict for news and information for managing the peacekeeper forces. Such assistance isn't all that reliable or timely. The UN has no intelligence faculties for itself. The Council should modernize its intervention capabilities to include UN-operated or contract services for intelligence-gathering. These could be unarmed ships and planes or even satellite remote sensing. No proposals suggest increasing the firepower or military strength of the UN beyond its present light-arm protective function. No plan calls for a new 'UN navy' or 'UN air force'. The combat operations continue to be the role of the member countries. When is the reform? ----------------- Pickering offered no schedule for a final recommendation and General Assembly action on the restructure of the Security Council. It is certain that a major restructuring requires revision of the UN charter, a process that is slow and tedious. On the other hand, the fact that so many and varied world interests are involved in the negotiations for Council reform is a sign that the basic function of the United Nations is satisfied. That is to get nations to talk over their disputes rather than march armies against each other. Q&A - This United Nations show allowed for audience question-and-answer via the audio console. Since so many in the auditorium were outsiders, they didn't at first know how to work the console. Others, from previous UN shows, showed them the lights and buttons. the audience heard the question and response both acousticly by the loudspeakers and the earpiece on the console. The entire session was in English with no simultaneous translations. All of the questions were for elaborating or clarifying points of Pickering's talk. He answered them, sometime for several minutes. When questions were exhausted, the meeting, lasting about 1-1/2 hour, concluded, the audience gave a round of applause, and we were dismissed from the hall. Ushers leaded us to the public zone of the lobby. From there we were free to leave the campus. Conclusion -------- This meeting at the United Nations was yet an other kind of show, one apparently staged for outsiders. It was a dense presentation. of I did take notes being that the topic was so important for understanding the UN's actions in world affairs. While this summary look thoro and complete, it isn't. There was just too much to decipher from my notes or recall from memory. The audience could have included UN watchdog orgs and news media. I didn't notice anyone obviously from these disciplines. They could have just blended into the crowd without calling attention to themselfs. This was the second and final invite I got from the United Nations in 2015. As I note in my other UN-related articles, I am just thankful for the erratic instances I get a ring-side seat to the 'mysterious goings on' inside the UN perimeter fence.