John Pazmino
 NYSkies astronomy Inc
 2016 Janary 9

    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 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 
    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.

    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 

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 
    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. 

    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 
    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 
    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. 

    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. 

    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 
    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.