16th May 1999

Most of the world's nation states have inherited the earth from the colonialist - the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, the French and finally the British - who drew the political boundaries of Asia, Africa and Latin America with little regard to geography and demography. Their creation resulted in many small, weak and poor nations.

One hundred and eighty five nations are members of the UN. Fifteen of them are members of the powerful Security Council, five of which are permanent members - the US, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France - whilst the other 10 are elected for two year terms and currently compromise Malaysia and Bahrain from the Asia Group, Gambias, Gabon and Namibia from Africa, Argentina and Brazil, from Latin America, as well as Canada and the Netherlands from Western Europe and other group.

The permanent members were the victors of the Second World War who created the UN to protect their interests and security through managing world peace and order.

The Security Council is prestigious, powerful and dominant because all states are obligated to carry out its decisions on international peace and security. Though each council member has one vote, the permanent members have veto power. Besides the Security Council is the General Assembly, the only universal organ of the UN.

One of the smallest members of the UN, both in land area and population, is Leichestein but it has one vote like India, China, Brazil and Indonesia. The difference is Liechtenstein pays its membership fees before the New Year whereas the US does not.

The latest figures I have in my possession show that the US owes the world body US$1.3 billion (RM4.94 billion) made up of :

    • US$315.7 million (RM1.19 billion) for regular budget
    • US$2.8 million (RM10.64 million) for international tribunals and
    • US$ 977.5 million (RM3.7 billion) for peacekeeping

Palestine is not yet a member. It has observer status but last year the status was upgraded by the General Assembly allowing the Palestinians to participate in the General Assembly debates though the Palestinian delegate cannot vote. Before this, Palestinians could only speak on issues concerning Palestine. It can also now cosponsor resolutions. In other words, it is almost like an associate member.

The US, though a defaulter, a delinquent and a debtor, dominates the Security Council but not the General Assembly in January 1999 because of non-payment of dues but escaped the humiliation when Washington advanced US$197 million (RM748 million) in early November 1998 as part payment. This has been the practice and behavioral patterns of the US for sometime now. All members, the US in particular, should be exemplary paying their dues on time, in full and without conditions!

You would have heard about reform at the UN. Well, reforming the UN is a long standing issue. It started four years after it was founded in 1945 and since then, I am told, cycles of groups under different designations recycled available documents (about reform) with renewed vigour. Reform is a search for better results if not for excellence and the best use of available resources, the most important of all is human resource.

Kofi Annan was a reformer when he was head of Personnel or Budget. What he does now as Secretary-General should have greater impact with his accumulated experience and the new power.

The American Congress wants the UN budget reduced, staff down sized and the UN accountable to Washington besides other conditions including that the American contribution should be reduced from 25 % to 15 % before it would release payment for its obligatory debt. What insolence; it is offensively contemptuous and insulting to other members.

Kofi Annan, with some understatement, remarked that "it's a messy world". I hasten to add, if I may, that it would have been messier if it was not for the UN.

It is the most effective protector, indeed the only defence available for small nations against big powers and bullies around the block. Without the UN, Iraq would have been devastated. But the UN failed in a spectacular fashion in Bosnia. There are few bright spots to be found worldwide.

Even Europe is having all sorts of problems. Demands for expulsion or killing of people from opposite ethnic or religious groups and racism and neo-Nazism are on the rise. I would not call it ethnic cleansing but that is what in effect it means.

Asia is in deep recession and Brazil threatens to drag down much of Latin America. The worst is yet to come!

It does seem that the US is the only bright spot. These are astounding times for the Americans. The consumers are spending with abandon. I continue to be surprised how robust the American economy is as much as I am amazed by its lack of morality in government and its foreign policy

There are a dozen member states each with less than 100,000 people; many with a population of less than one million and even more with less than ten million. The smallest are Palau (17,000) and San Marino (26,000). All nations - big or tiny - pay aues assessed on a scale approved by the General Assembly

You would have also read - I presume - that there are sharp divisions in the Security Council on how to deal with non-compliant Iraq. Russia, China and France sympathise with Baghdad whilst the US and UK are the hawks. The division is threatening to upset the collegiality that has developed amongst the five permanent members with the ending of the Cold War.

Malaysia and Bahrain normally side with Russia, China and France while the rest tend to follow the Washington-London alliance (in respect of Iraq). But Kuala Lumpur, in the case of Kosovo, is closer to the American line.

Realpolitik always dictates who supports or opposes, besides justice and morality. It is often noted that political expediency, bilateral considerations and subtle threats also play a major role in deciding which issues to endorse or support.

Every member nation It does seem that the US is the only bright spot. These are astounding times for the Americans. The consumers are spending with abandon. I continue to be surprised how robust the American economy is as much as I am amazed by its lack of morality in government and its foreign policy

There are a dozen member states each with less than 100,000 people; many with a population of less than one million and even more with less than ten million. The smallest are Palau (17,000) and San Marino (26,000). All nations - big or tiny - pay dues assessed on a scale approved by the General Assembly

You would have also read - I presume - that there are sharp divisions in the Security Council on how to deal with noncompliant Iraq. Russia, China and France sympathise with Baghdad whilst the US and UK are the hawks. The division is threatening to upset the collegiality that has developed amongst the five permanent members with the ending of the Cold War.

But the contention is the size - whether it is 23 to 25 or a 26-member council. The US prefers it not to be more than 20, but of late, I understand, Washington has become more flexible. Italy supported by Pakistan, Egypt and Mexico amongst others, believes the enlargement, for the time being at least, should not exceed 5-6 seats, for a total of 2021 so that the Council remains manageable and effective.

Italy opposes the American - backed proposal to make Japan and Germany permanent members of the Security Council because it would diminish the interest of the excluded such as Italy, India and Egypt, thus making them to feel marginalised.

Besides, two members of the European Union - UK and France - have been permanent members of the council since its inception 54 years ago. Adding a third member from Europe, Italy argues, is not a move in the direction of a common EU Foreig n Policy which should logically and naturally follow the introduction of the Euro currency

The plan by Razali Ismail (the Malaysian president of the General Assembly in 1997) - not necessarily reflecting that of the Malaysian government- is to increase Security Council membership to 24 made up of five permanent members (two from industrialised world, three from developing nations, one each for Asia, Africa and Latin America) and four non-permanent members - one each from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Under the proposal, the new permanent members would have no veto power. It has been popular among some members, including the US. But for some others, this proposal will in effect make membership four-tiered - first class (permanent members with veto power), second class (permanent members without veto power), third class, (the elected non-permanent members), and lastly the low caste (the ordinary members).

I do not believe it is acceptable to the majority In any event, nothing will happen for a long time though discussions will continue to take place.

There are many countries which have never been elected to the Security Council. Greece, though a founding member, has been elected only once and Malaysia and several other nations, though relatively new members, have been elected three or more times.

Member states will elect those nations they feel can contribute and represent the developing world without favour or fear. A few rich nations and regional powers have been regularly elected because of their generosity and hard campaigning. But there were times, too, when they had been humiliatingly rebuffed.

(Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad is our envoy to the United Nations)

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )

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