Reforming U.N. Voting System

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If a highly regarded political segment and, public opinion leadership of the United States, a founding member of the United Nations with enormous economic and military capabilities of a unique superpower dimension are fearful of the consequences of United Nations’ encroachment upon the American sovereignty, how much more fearfully would Africa and other developing regions of the world, all of which are fledgling but not inconsequential players in world affairs, perceive a weighted voting principle that has the potential for undermining their national sovereignty?

Professor Joseph E. Schwartzberg’s monograph on "Revitalizing The United Nations -- Reform Through Weighted Voting" (ISBN #0-9710727-4-4) is an excellent theoretical endeavor from the inmost recesses of a great intellectual mind. Coming from one whose versatile understanding of the contemporary issues of international political management challenges is widely respected, his contribution to the great debate on reforming the United Nations can not escape the attention of the global intellectual community.

By reason of the highly imaginative ideas contained in his weighted voting theory, his monograph on the United Nations reform implicitly stands out in its own right, as a pivotal contribution to continuous global efforts to advance international peace and security to a supreme level of consciousness that can guarantee the prosperity of all nations and, strengthen the resolve of the living generation to bequeath even a more peaceful world community to generations yet unborn.

Professor Schwartzberg gives some of the reasons that prompted him to prepare this monograph which central theme is his Weighted Voting Theory at the United Nations, the Security Council and other agencies of the organization. Accordingly, he highlights his observations that:
1) The United Nations is presently buffeted by a perceptual crises situation leading to, among other deficiencies, the inability of the Security Council to craft a workable UN resolution on the strategy needed to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

The extant perception in certain quarters of the international community that the United Nations is remarkably an instrument of American foreign policy with the attendant consequence which makes UN personnel the targets of extremist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The dwindling legitimacy of the Security Council is due to changes in the dynamics of multilateral relations. He opines that these changes have induced many critics to question the relevance of a UN Security Council now viewed as an anachronistic legacy of World War II. He contends in this regard that the Council has never been representative of the UN membership and the growing world population that progressively reduces permanent members’ aggregate share of world population.

.The increasing irrelevance of the United Nations due to the powerlessness of the General Assembly that is much often criticized for its sterile debates and, the systemic ineffectuality that flows from one-nation-one-vote principle. His conviction is that the present voting system at the UN gives "inordinate voting power" to weaker nations. Professor Schwartzberg further contends that this system of allocation of power within the United Nations bears no relevance to the distribution of power in the world outside the arena of the UN itself.

The global "North", the relatively affluent but numerically small group of nations that have the capability to effect positive change in the world, should it wish to do so, finds itself in a permanent minority, outvoted on issue after issue by nations of the global "South" the great majority of which are not only poor but small in population and, "disposing of negligible individual influence which makes them inconsequential players in the political and economic arenas outside the UN."

In order to eliminate these deficiencies and strengthen the United Nations Organization and its numerous agencies, Professor Schwartzberg firmly espouses an "eventual system of democratic, federal world governance with built in checks and balances to ensure that the organization will not take on an authoritarian character". These he opines, would offer the best means of advancing the twin goals of global peace and justice while guaranteeing to individual nations the preservation of their national identity and the sovereign right to manage all affairs that can best be dealt with at the national level.

He proceeds to propose a number of reforms which the international community could implement to enhance the relevance of the United Nations and, restore the high esteem that characterized the organization in the earlier periods of its existence. These include:

. The elimination of one-nation-one-vote principle at the UN General Assembly and the veto power of the permanent five at the UN Security Council. While he opines the substitution of one-nation-one-vote with the weighted voting system at the UN and its numerous agencies, he advocates a system of regional representation at the Security Council based on his weighted voting principle.

.Under the weighted voting system, each nation’s population (demographic/democratic principle ), economic capacity or its assessed and paid contribution to the UN budget, and the legal /sovereign-equality-of-nations would be applied to determine the number of votes which each nation would be qualified to cast according to the following formula:

Weighted Vote (WV) = Population (P)+Assessed and paid financial Contribution to UN as a percentage of total contributions over three years (c) + A nation’s unit share of the total membership i.e. 1/191 or 0.524% (M) over three. WV = P+C+M Over 3. C) Strengthening UN’s peace keeping capability through the establishment of a standing internationally recruited, all-volunteer, highly trained and rapidly deployable peace force.

Comments on Professor Schwartzberg’s position:
The debate has loomed large for several years on the need to reform the United Nations and its many agencies. While it has been the view of the majority of member nations and, United Nations watchers that a reform of the organization is long overdue, the bone of contention between peoples from different regions of the world has been the determination of the extent to which the United Nations and its agencies should be reformed and, how best that reform should be done for the benefit of all nations.

For years also, there has been a protracted debate on the enlargement of the UN Security Council within the majuscule debate on UN reform. The need for the enlargement and the strengthening of the Security Council has always been predicated upon the kind of concerns which Professor Schwartzberg ably articulated in his above referenced monograph. That is, that the Security Council needs to be endowed with a "statutory" empowerment and a universally approved legitimacy that can mandate it to pursue effectively and equitably the enforcement of its numerous resolutions that are often unilaterally ignored by member nations upon which the obligation of compliance devolves.

But the Security Council cannot be entrusted with such sweeping powers except perhaps, in the conditions of an extreme makeover which removes the vestiges of the authoritarian oligarchy of the five "primus inter pares". The extant composition of the Security Council is inherently corrupted by overarching national interest of the big powers and inordinate dispensation of favors to their ideological satellites. In the course of these two debates, the position articulated by the majority of member nations, particularly those nations that still labored under the tutelage of foreign rule when the UN Charter and a preponderant volume of our international law were written sequels implicit and fundamental revision of the UN Charter and, the decision making mechanism of the General Assembly, the Security Council and other UN agencies.

The logical argument of these former colonies that have today become full fledged sovereign nations is that they did not subscribe to the making of the UN Charter and, that the international community should now endeavor to accommodate the dynamics of global politics that has evolved several more times since the Charter came into force.

If the UN members which share this point of view are mostly developing nations and, were to justify their position by arguing that they were yet under the tutelage of Colonial Europe at the time the UN Charter came into force, the position of the founding nations and those of their allies could be predicated upon a dearth of political will to embrace the changes that might jeopardize their extant ability to leverage a significant amount of their cumulative political influence on the affairs of the United Nations and the world at large.

Therefore, for each member nation or regional group of nations in the UN that share common ideology, aspirations or interests, what is evidently at stake is the implicit preservation of each nation’s international sovereignty and, the freedom and the potency of regional political and economic blocks to have equal voice in world affairs regardless of the military, political and economic fortunes of each region. This would be honest democracy in evidence and, a true reflection of the fact that the United Nations is not as yet a supranational government beside being an organization of voluntary membership. Where then do the reformist demarches of Professor Schwartzberg stand in all the above?

His demarches are seemingly indicative of a desire to construct a synthesis that could strike a balance that would bring the two sides of the debate to a point of equilibrium. Yet in these emotionally charged debates between contending passions of national, ideological or regional identities, the moderator’s sense of affinity  and attachment to the political ethos of his or her group, as amply demonstrated in the case of Professor Schwartzberg, could be most challenging to the passion for equity and political realism.
Much as Professor Schwartzberg’s passion for the detribalization of global politics is ostensibly evident, he also seems entangled in the web of emotions which strongly contradict his professed stance as a global democrat. It is to compensate for this natural order of man’s parochial instinct that Afro centric and Euro centric models of reasoning among others, have evolved to complement each other in the search for common grounds for the enrichment of knowledge and international peace. Perhaps the best arbiter for these particular debates could be found in some of the provisions of the UN Charter and more importantly, in what the international community is saying today within the context of the Charter about sovereign equality.

United Nations Charter And The Weighted Voting System: A thorough grasp of the purposes of the UN and, its juridical interpretation of the sovereignty of member nations of the organization would be a necessary step in the direction that leads to approximate assessment of the divergent reactions which the reform proposed by Professor Schwartzberg would most likely generate in different regions of the world. Consonant with the Preamble to the United Nations Charter, the purposes of the United Nations are :

.To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.

. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.

. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

.To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends. Article 2 of the Charter further states inter alia, that the Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the purposes stated in Article1 shall act in accordance with the following Principles:

That the Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.

That all Members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter. 

c. That all Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.

It becomes imperative for the purposes of guidance that all demarches for future reform should take due cognizance of the fundamental provisions of the UN Charter with regard to "the good faith of nations" and "the principle of sovereign equality " of all member nations of the United Nations. These predications are the overarching criteria upon which all bilateral and multilateral relationships are based. Consequently, due to the fundamental character of these criteria, the presumption follows that they are critically relevant to the membership and, the participation of each nation in the decision making process of the United Nations.

It is evident however that the Charter neither prescribed any preconditions based on economic or demographic criteria for the attainment and the exercise of national sovereignty within the organization nor did it determine that the quality and the substance of one national sovereignty are relative to the other. There is thus the unspoken but incontrovertible statement of fact that each nation’s population, the size of its territorial integrity and military, the capacity of its national economy  the sophistication of its technology either for the purposes of modern industrialization or outer space exploration or, even the lack of the capacity to possess modern technology can not be prejudicial to the overarching principles of equal sovereignty and the good faith of member nations.

Also, sequel to the options which exist in most international organizations, the choice of membership or, the choice by a nation to discontinue its membership of the United Nations remains the absolute prerogative of each sovereign member nation. Reliance on the good faith of member nations conveys the message that the United Nations Organization is not synonymous with a supranational government This principle underscores the fact that membership of the UN is voluntary and that the organization lacks the legitimacy to enforce its decision or laws as though it is a national government.

To this effect, the "Restatement of the Law of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States, Third" which is an attempt to codify the relationship of U.S. law and international law says: "The international political system is loose and decentralized. Its principle components ‘sovereign’ states retain their essential autonomy. There is no ‘world government’ as the term ‘government’ is commonly understood. There is no central legislature with general law-making authority; the General Assembly and other organs of the United Nations influence the development of international law but only when their product is accepted by states.

There is no executive institution to enforce law; the United Nations Security Council has limited executive power to enforce the provisions of the Charter and to maintain international law generally; within its jurisdiction, moreover, the Council is subject to the veto power of its five permanent members. There is no international judiciary with general, comprehensive and compulsory jurisdiction; the International Court of Justice decides cases submitted to it, and renders advisory opinions but has only limited compulsory jurisdiction." [Vol. I, pp.16-17]. Citing the noted constitutional scholar Herb Titus, Hon. Ron Paul of Texas maintained that UN Charter is not a treaty at all, but rather a blueprint for supranational government that directly violates the Constitution.

As such, the Charter is neither politically nor legally binding upon the American people or government. The UN has no authority to make "laws" that bind American citizens, because it does not derive its powers from the consent of the American people. We need to stop speaking of UN resolutions and edicts as if they represented legitimate laws or treaties. They do not. (HON. RON PAUL OF TEXAS IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES April 29,2003 America National Sovereignty vs. UN "International Law"- Time for Congress to Vote.) The position of Hon. Ron Paul on the United States’ national sovereignty in relation to the authority of the UN is favorably comparable to those of Henry Hyde, former Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, and those of many more equally eminent United States law makers and influential public opinion leaders.

It is also least surprising that some ultra conservative political activists in the country consistently advocate the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations. While contending that none of the treaties under which the constituent parts of the United Nations were established contain perpetuity clauses or duration clauses Dr. James P. Lucier, Sr. Board Member, The Conservative Caucus, Inc. and former Minority Staff Director, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee argues that "the United States could withdraw from the UN at any time. From the standpoint of continuing positive international relationships with other countries, a President might choose to execute an orderly shut-down of the U.S. participation in the United Nations, but there is no enforceable obligation to do so.

The United States has every right to quit tomorrow, if it so chooses." (WITHDRAWING FROM THE UNITED NATIONS -Speeches and Statements) As the surviving Super Power of the cold war with an impressive record of post cold war multilateral diplomatic successes that have provoked the allegation of improper manipulation of the UN to accomplish US foreign policy objectives, this apparent desperation of some important politicians to isolate the US sovereignty from the authority of the UN or, diminish that authority is flabbergasting. Given the preponderance of US influence on the decision making mechanism of the UN and the capability of Washington to neutralize threats against  US national security, the fear of UN incursion upon the US national sovereignty should not be a matter of profound concern at the apex of the US polity, either for now or in the near future.

Yet the political reality is that the strong views expressed with regard to the supremacy of the American sovereignty and law over those of the UN and international law are authentic American views which no one should relegate to the background of the debate to reform the UN. But, in a sense, the views that the American sovereignty should be extricated from the virtual domination of the UN are diametrically in conflict with Professor Schwartzberg’s major proposal that the United Nations Organization should be strengthened to evolve into "an eventual system of democratic, federal world governance with built in checks and balances to ensure that it will not take on an authoritarian character."

Although Professor Schwartzberg’s weighted voting principle  at the UN would endow the United States and its allies with greater voting powers there is, for the time being, a fundamental concurrence  between America’s restive perception of more regulatory power to the UN and the trepidation quite often expressed by the developing regions of the world with regard to the probable emergence of a global supranational governance.

If a highly regarded political segment  and, public opinion leadership of the United States, a founding member of the United Nations with enormous economic and military capabilities of a unique superpower dimension are fearful of the consequences of United Nations’ encroachment upon the American sovereignty, how much more fearfully would Africa and other developing regions of the world, all of which are fledgling but not inconsequential players in world affairs, perceive a weighted voting principle that has the potential for undermining their national sovereignty?

How much more fearful would developing nations be in the presence of a world federation of nations  in spite of the assurances of built in checks and balances that would ensure that a UN government will not take on an authoritarian character? How could the developing regions of the world abandon their aspirations to a would-be system of checks and balances with a built in weighted voting principle that envisages the reduction their UN voting power to infinitesimal proportions?

All of the above doubts and fears on the possibility of a UN global governance as expressed by nations albeit, in varying degrees that correspond to military might, economic and demographic capacity of each nation, affirm that the international community is not willing to accommodate  any political doctrine that denigrates the international sovereignty of nations in the condescending terms of "inconsequential players" whose plenipotentiary right to participate  in the decision making process of the UN must be surreptitiously marginalized.

The introduction of the weighted voting principle at the UN and, the enthronement of a world governance either in the form of a federation or a unitary system of governance is antithetical to the spirit of the UN Charter in so far as these systems distort the concept of self determination or, circumscribe the right of nations to exercise the very attributes of nationhood.

Freedom and democracy are the inherent desires of men and, since the universality of the fundamentals of democracy is not often subject to cultural relativity, the founding members of the United Nations did not err in conferring the democratic right of one-nation-one-vote upon themselves and  all future members of the organization. In the course of its history, the United Nations has continued to uphold the legitimacy of one-nation-one-vote and, has never construed this principle to mean that "inconsequential nations" are custodians of "inordinate degree of power" within the system.

Part two of this six-part essay will examine the flaws in Schwartzberg’s Mathematical Concept of Decision- Making in Multilateral  Diplomacyâ€? and other issues related to U.N. reform. Black Star News managing editor F.C. Nwoko can be reached at For more reports please click on “subscribeâ€? on the homepage or call (212) 481-7745 to order the newsstand edition of The Black Star News, the world’s leading Pan-African news weekly.

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