. Recently United nation celebrated the 75th anniversary of its founding. But the pandemic has robbed the UN of all cheer.
The missing buzz at the UN is arguably less important than the fact that the coronavirus has exposed the structural weakness of the system that was set up amidst the ruins of the Second World War. Put simply, the UN has been unable to respond effectively to the once-in-a-century global crisis triggered by the coronavirus.
At the UN Security Council, China blocked a serious discussion on the origin and sources of the crisis. While the World Health Organisation did move a bit in that direction, the US was not satisfied with the outcome and walked out of the forum.
Those who view the UN through the realist prism are not surprised. If you cut through the collectivist rhetoric of the UN, it was meant, by design, to be a concert of great powers who had a permanent seat in the Security Council. In other words, cooperation among the great powers was the precondition for its success in the security arena.
Barring a brief decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, collective security has been hard to come by. During the Cold War, Washington and Moscow were at each other’s throats and the UNSC was deadlocked. During the brief unipolar moment of the 1990s, post-Soviet Russia was willing to acquiesce to the sweeping US agenda for global security. China, which was getting its internal act together after the Tiananmen uprising of 1989, was feeling its way around multilateral institutions and avoided any challenge to the US and West.
India must come to terms with a number of propositions. First, it should shed the illusion, cultivated since the 50th anniversary of the UN in 1995, that the expansion of the permanent membership of UNSC, with or without veto, is within reach. UNSC reform is unlikely to happen soon.
Second, India’s own experience during the Cold War points to the fact that the UN is a lot more than the Security Council. While the UNSC was dysfunctional, India developed a multilateral agenda of its own — from decolonisation and disarmament to a new international economic order — and mobilised considerable political support for it. Not all of India’s efforts were successful during the Cold war, but the past underlines the possibilities for shaping the global discourse in the present.
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