Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Guest Post: UN adopts P5+N9+R1 formula

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Robbie A. Taylor and Thomas Wm. Hamilton.

Oct 25, 1971

The official recognition of the People's Republic of China (PRC) was accompanied by a structural change to the Security Council that was adopted without amendment to the UN Charter.

The problematic one-permanent-member veto had been a safeguard that had been designed to prevent a World War breaking out and, in a sense, was a legacy of the failed League of Nations. UN membership had quadrupled since 1945, and the rise of new nations created an appetite for change as the superpowers vied for allies. All parties broadly agreed that the current structure was outdated and required more balanced representation but geopolitical differences prevented reform. For example, Brazil becoming a permanent member of the Security Council was blocked by the Soviet Union as they felt it would just be an American proxy.

US Ambassador to the UN George H.W. Bush called for a super-majority (four-fifths of the whole 15-member Security Council) override of a single member veto, a voting mechanism granting more power to the nine non-permanent members (in the event of two or more vetoes, the super-majority would not prevail). This "weakened" voting scheme (or the alternative minimum two permanent member veto) had always been blocked by the Soviet Union. Arguably, the weakening of the Soviet veto would be less objectionable now that there would be two communist states on the Security Council. This was why Bush had chosen the expulsion of the Republic of China (ROC) as the ideal time to make his move.

This democratic initiative might well have been well received in Moscow if not for the Sino-Soviet Split. This division led Leonid Brezhnev to fear that the US was seeking to encircle the Soviets by forcing a permanent wedge between the USSR and PRC. Certainly he lacked confidence that Soviet influence would prevail over the super-majority simply because the US had a greater number of allies and client states in the Third World. Nevertheless, this was the age of d├ętente, and Brezhnev wanted to reciprocate in some limited form. He sought to favor countries in the Soviet orbit as well as non-aligned nations such as Albania and India, boosting the prestige of the USSR by demonstrating global leadership. His counter-proposal was the creation of a sixth veto on the Security Council held by a rotating member from the General Assembly as an alternative to the American four-fifths override mechanism, not as an amendment or addition to the override, but in outright opposition to it.

Ultimately, a compromise was reached that added a rotating voting member with the right to veto under the P5+N9+R1 ("five permanent, nine non-permanent and one rotating") formula proposed by Bush, raising his profile as a global statesman. Under the existing rules, non-permanent members were elected by the General Assembly and could be involved in global security briefings. However, in practice, frequent voting disputes delayed certain ambitious nations from being elected.

Of course, none of these changes favored the ROC's government in Taipei; they merely took the bitterness out of the pill for their American allies. The ROC had used its Security Council veto only once, to stop the admission of the Mongolian People's Republic to the United Nations in 1955 on the grounds it recognized all of Mongolia as a part of China. Support from the United States and her allies Britain and France slowly weakened, most obviously in 1961 when they were persuaded to pressure the ROC government to accept international recognition of Mongolia's independence. Thereafter, Albania brought annual votes to replace the ROC with the PRC. With this part of the Cold War struggle clearly lost, the ROC was formally expelled from the UN by a vote of the General Assembly. Repeated attempts to rejoin would continue long after Chiang's death four years later.

To reduce the consequential damage to relations with the US, Brezhnev made a magnificent gesture of goodwill, suggesting that Brazil was invited to serve as the inaugural rotational member. A rotation scheme was then developed that saw any member of the General Assembly join for a month, in tandem with the change of Presidency. This mechanism would see Israel, Cuba, South Africa, Iran, Albania, and many other ambitious nations participate in contentious debates during the dramatic years leading up to Bush's election as President in 1980.

Author's Note

In reality, just the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758, Albania's motion to recognize the People's Republic of China (PRC) as the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations, was passed.

Provine's Addendum

There were soon tests of the system with overrides of vetoes such as the UK in Dec 1971 and Feb '72 over Rhodesia, China in '72 over entry of Bangladesh, and the USA over Israeli occupation in '73. The USA was soon seen as the loser in Bush's gambit as more UN involvement was seen in Vietnam, Africa, and the Middle East. However, Bush held that it was fear of UN action that persuaded the USSR to refrain from unilateral action in Afghanistan, which would later be divided into North and South by UN resolution. The UN gradually came to be seen as a protector in the post-colonial world with votes overriding neo-colonial efforts between the USA and USSR, especially in the division of spheres of influence in the Middle East. Analysts sometimes suggest that there could have been warfare beyond the UN-led removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq leading to the independence of Kurdistan.

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