A U.N. With One Person, One Vote May Be A More Effective Peacekeeper

The once widespread hope that the United Nations
represented the chance of a new and peaceful world order, has faded on in
recent years. One possible reason is that the body is not representative but
has a built-in bias, which puts decision-making in the hands of a very few
nations. Sarvate is a nuclear physicist and writer for India Currents and
other publications.

“A front page picture caught my eye the other day — not because of
what it showed, but because of what it failed to show.

It was a photo of two white men, lawyers, dressed in blue suits and
blue shirts — they could have been brothers — telling the world how
things were.

I am talking of course of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, addressing the
Millennium Summit of the United Nations.

The picture seemed even more ironic when I realized that, together,
they represented only about 5 percent of the world’s population. I was
seven when my father first told me about the United Nations. In my
primary school in India, where construction paper was scarce, and
Crayola markers unknown, the one art project we did every year was a
scrapbook of pictures.

My book, which my father helped me make, included a newspaper
photo of the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb, and beside it a
drawing of the United Nations. These were the icons of my father’s
generation. The first symbolized the end of colonialism; the second,
the beginning of international cooperation and world government.

At the mid-point of the 20th century, most people of the “third world,”
like my father, looked to the UN as the guardian of freedom and
peace. Even our prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, made that mistake
when, in 1947 — as political power passed into our hands from the
British — he referred India’s dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir to that

Little did he realize that the UN had no moral or political authority to
resolve global disputes, because the superpowers had designed it that
way. So there ensued 50 years of moving cease-fire lines, infiltrations,
and terrorist attacks, in that pristine valley that was once our paradise.

In the Technicolor Hindi movies of my youth, men chased women
around the Chinar trees of Kashmir against the backdrop of the
Himalayas. Imagine my delight, therefore, when I was finally able to
stand in its saffron fields, ride in its Shikaras (paddle boats) on Lake
Daal, while on a school trip, in 1967.

Alas, no one can travel there now. Kashmir has been ravaged by
communal violence for two decades. Perhaps a UN military intervention
would not have solved the problem, but a truly representative world
government might have prevailed on India and Pakistan to achieve a
negotiated solution.

But the UN has repeatedly failed to resolve similar conflicts in the
Middle East, Bosnia, Herzegovina, East Timor, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and
many other lands — not because they involve matters of national
sovereignty (the usual excuse), but because the superpowers have
failed to establish a moral prerogative.

For me, disenchantment with the UN was symbolized by the fact that
my father simply ceased to talk of the glorious day when our UN
representative, Madam Vijaya Laxmi Pundit, addressed the General
Assembly, one of the first few women to do so.

Since the NATO alliance has always controlled the Security Council, the
UN has failed to function as a true world government. Instead, the
mighty nations have continued to act selfishly, while preaching to the
world about “human rights.” No wonder such sermons have fallen on
deaf ears.

At its conclusion, the Millennium Summit adopted a declaration
attacking the “usual suspects” –poverty, malnutrition, AIDS — enemies
worth fighting. But the UN failed to address regional conflicts or the
serious flaws in its own structure. And without remodeling itself, the UN
cannot truly serve the people it purports to protect.

Why not give each member votes in proportion to its population — why
not extend the “one citizen one vote” principle to our only international
body? Perhaps the UN can never exert much political or military power
over individual nations, but constituted as a truly democratic agency, it
will at least possess some moral clout.

The superpowers fear that the “rogue nations” will hijack the UN, but if
that happens, the UN would have little to lose, since it exercises little
control over its members now. And there is a chance, however slim,
that “third world” nations, given democratic representation in the UN,
will follow the principle of noblesse oblige.

Perhaps member-states will find it harder to ignore a truly
representative United Nations. For regions like Kashmir, where the
notes of evening ragas once echoed in place of today’s bomb
explosions, a new UN is perhaps the only hope for the new millennium.

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