Role of the UN in the contemporary world

India has played a pivotal role in the United Nations right from its inception and has aggressively pushed forward the values of the UN Charter, Ambassador Asoke K. Mukerji has said.

He was delivering the first Institute Lecture for this academic season-Role of the UN in the contemporary world-on Wednesday.The talk was a part of the Ministry of External Affairs Distinguished Lecture series.

Mr. Mukerji is currently an elected member of the governing Council and Executive Committee of the United Service Institution of India (USI), which is India’s oldest think tank, and a member of the National Executive Committee of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

He served in the Indian Foreign Service for more 37 years, before retiring from New York as India’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in December 2015. His tenure was marked by the remarkably swift implementation, within 75 days and with the co-sponsorship of 177 countries, of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's proposal for the UN to declare an International Day of Yoga. He headed the Indian negotiating team for the adoption of Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development by the UN General Assembly.

Noting that India had been at the forefront of responding through the UN to global challenges he said: “India has pushed forward the values of the Charter through various initiatives. The Declaration by United Nations was formally launched on 1 January 1942 at a conference of 26 allied nations in Washington DC, convened by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the United States. The intention was to create structures of global governance under the broad framework of the UN to both secure and sustain the peace that would come after the Second World War ended. Though divided between British India and Indian Princely States, India was one of the 26 participating nations in this Conference. India participated in the UN process as an original member. Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai, then India’s Agent-General in the United States, signed the Declaration on behalf of India.”

“Any assessment of the role of the UN in the world today would have to begin with a survey of the structures that the UN has created, because the responsiveness of the UN to the issues confronting the world can only be gauged by the effectiveness of its structures,” he maintained.

Elucidating on the changes that have occurred, he said: “It would be fair to say that since the UN was created in 1945, the political landscape of the world has undergone radical change. This is illustrated by the membership of the UNGA, which was 51 in 1945 stands at 193 today. The main driver of this has no doubt been the process of decolonization, which was accelerated by the independence of India in August 1947, and which culminated with the admission of scores of newly independent developing countries.”

The second broad change that has occurred since 1945, he said is the steep rise in the numbers and aspirations of people across the world for a more prosperous life, which has been accelerated by emerging technologies. The third momentous change for the UN is focused on asserting human rights and empowerment.

“In the larger framework of international relations, the UN is confronted more and more by the emergence of trans-boundary, global issues, involving both states and non-state actors, which make its core function of international cooperation more relevant today than ever before. This includes challenges like terrorism, organized crime, humanitarian disasters, and securing the global commons in the maritime, cyber and outer space domains,” he stressed.

Earlier he referred to the three pillars of the UN—Peace and security, Global Socio-Economic issues and Human Rights and touched all three of them separately through interesting slides. The photographs—including the historic photo from 1953 showing Vijayalakshmi Pandit taking over as the first woman President of UN General Assembly and that of Sir A Ramaswami presiding over the first session of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in 1946—all mirrored the strong presence of India in the UN.

Stressing on the need to unify the three pillars of the UN, he said that the Security Council should also be reformed sooner or later.

“In all the structures of global governance today, decision-making reflects the democratic norms of transparency, accountability and majority voting. Even the IMF has agreed to reform its system by 2019 to enable emerging economies equitable representation in its decision-making. Only the UN Security Council continues to be deadlocked on this issue, which is an aberration in the 21st century, especially when the clear majority of the 193-member states of the UNGA are democracies.”

The only way to break this deadlock, he said is through amending the Charter by a UNGA resolution. “The most successful method adopted by the UNGA in recent years, while responding to challenges posed by sustainable development or upholding human rights, was to adopt a multi-stakeholder approach to inter-governmental negotiations. These were web-cast to provide transparency and accountability. A similar approach by the UNGA on Security Council reform would generate public pressure on more than 128 member states for adopting a resolution to amend the Charter.”

It is generally accepted that the United Nations (UN) has been given the mandate by the UN Charter of 1945 to play a role for maintaining international peace and security, for using international cooperation to address global socio-economic, cultural and humanitarian issues, and for upholding respect for human rights and non-discriminatory fundamental human freedoms. These are often called the three pillars of the UN system.

The second broad change that has occurred since 1945 is the steep rise in the numbers and aspirations of people across the world for a more prosperous life, which has been accelerated by emerging technologies.

The third momentous change for the UN is linked to the first two, focusing on asserting human rights and empowerment. In the larger framework of international relations, the UN is confronted more and more by the emergence of trans-boundary, global issues, involving both states and non-state actors, which make its core function of international cooperation more relevant today than ever before. This includes challenges like terrorism, organized crime, humanitarian disasters, and securing the global commons in the maritime, cyber and outer space domains.

In all the structures of global governance today, decision-making reflects the democratic norms of transparency, accountability and majority voting. Even the IMF has agreed to reform its system by 2019 to enable emerging economies equitable representation in its decision-making. Only the UN Security Council continues to be deadlocked on this issue, which is an aberration in the 21st century, especially when the clear majority of the 193-member states of the UNGA are democracies.