The U.N. after the War

February 17, 1991

Germany's foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, says his country's price for participation in future United Nations military operations will be a bigger German voice in the Security Council. He makes an interesting point despite Germany's reluctant response to the Persian Gulf war.

The current crisis marks the first time the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Soviet Union -- have really acted in concert as the U.N. founding fathers envisaged 45 years ago. But what relevance does that particular combination of victorious World War II powers have to the international scene today? The U.N. Big Five does not include Germany and Japan, the economic powerhouses of Europe and Asia, nor is the veto power that comes with permanent status given to any Latin American, African or Middle Eastern nation.

Mr. Genscher is not proposing to add to European over-representation by claiming a permanent seat in the Security Council. Instead, he would have Britain and France act as Europe's spokesmen, an idea former Chancellor Willy Brandt crystallizes by proposing two rotating European seats.

But why two? Why should Europe have two vetoes when whole continents have none? Clearly, the United Nations will have to examine its Security Council setup once Iraq is defeated.

International realities are ever in flux. With military hardliners in ascendance in the Soviet Union, the U.S. cannot count on Moscow's cooperation. China remains a question mark. Germany and Japan seek to express their economic prowess. Any move to give the veto to some of the large Third World countries runs the risk of turning the Security Council into a forum for East-West struggle. The question, then, is how to have a Security Council that is both representative and capable of action.

Finally, there is the American position to consider. If the gulf war concludes successfully, the U.S. could be close to President Bush's jingoistic goal that "what we say goes," at least in that region. Implied is a global policeman role that overstates American desires, let alone foreign acquiescence.

If the United States is helpful in the postwar gulf, as it was in Germany and Japan after 1945, its efforts could be crowned with the kind of success achieved in the Cold War. Nevertheless, this country must take care not to be overbearing. If the new world order is to work, it will have to reflect an international consensus on how the United Nations should deal effectively with future threats to peace and stability among nations. Perhaps the voting and veto powers now allotted in the Security Council will stand for some time to come; they won't stand forever.

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