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Institute Distinguished Lecture on 'UN Reforms: Myth or Reality'

The Indian Institute of Technology Bombay organised an Institute Distinguished Lecture on Friday, November 3, 2017 on the topic  "UN Reforms: Myth or Reality" delivered by Retd. Ambassador Suresh Goel, Indian Foreign Service (Retd.)-Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Former Director General, ICCR

Below is the abstract of the lecture:

The end of cold war in 1991 raised expectations of International community that the United Nations would be enabled to perform its primary function of maintaining International peace and security which was the primary raison d'etre when it was founded in 1945 after the end of the second world war. For practically four and a half decades the work of United Nations had been impacted by the power contest between the two superpowers namely the United States and the USSR.

The work of the United Nations had been entrusted to several principal organs namely the General Assembly, Security Council, ECOSOC, the Trusteeship Council and the International Court of Justice. The General Assembly was considered to be the first among the five since it was the only body with universal membership of the United Nations and reports of all other principal organs were presented to the General Assembly.

The Security Council was however on entirely different footing, being the main organ entrusted with the responsibility on issues relating to international peace and security. It also reflected the power architecture prevailing at the end of the World War II. The victors and their proxies including the US, the UK, USSR, France and China were permanent members with veto powers. Other members called non-permanent members had a term of two years at one time without consecutive re-election. The veto power gave over riding authority to permanent members to take decisions even against majority.

Expectations of a more effective United Nations gave rise to the demands of the majority of the United Nations in 1991 for reforms which included mainly the reforms and restructuring of the Security Council including expansion in membership in both the permanent and non-permanent category as well as review of veto powers, revitalization of the General Assembly providing for greater powers to receive full reports from other principal organs including the Security Council and making recommendations even on the issues relating to international peace and security, greater focus on developmental agenda of the United Nations etc. The expansion in the membership of Security Council was to reflect the changed realities of much higher number UN members in 1991 as compared to 1945 and greater contribution from non-permanent members in UN activities in maintenance of international peace and security through its peacekeeping operations. The 1991 was also witness to rise of emerging powers such as China, India and Asian tigers, primarily in economic areas but also in the political and strategic influence they exercised.

The expectations of UN reforms were soon belied and in fact stymied  because the end of Cold War did not lead to democratization of the United Nations. The permanent members which were the most influential members like a cabinet, obviously would not want to relinquish or dilute their hold on the power structures resulting in the process of Security Council restructuring and expansion having dragged on for almost three decades. The changed realities have made such restructuring even more of a stark need of the hour.

The work of the General Assembly which before 1991 had functioned effectively in eradicating colonization in the world and apartheid in South Africa, seems to have become even more marginalized than before. Even the areas such as humanitarian assistance and developmental agenda have been linked to international peace and security leading to new ideas and resolutions such as R2R providing the security council with unprecedented  authority even in area which were traditionally the preserve of the GA or ECOSOC. Constitution of International Criminal Court provided the Security Council with further leverages to guide work of other UN agencies.

The experience has shown that the essential dynamics of international relations continues to be impacted by the competitive power equations and thus the attempt to keep the real power in the hands of the permanent members. The democratization of the United Nations and thus the reforms would continue to elude the members till such time as the emerging powers such as India are involved in the effective decision making in organs where it matters such as the Security Council.

About the speaker:

Suresh K Goel, a veteran IFS officer of 1978 batch, retired as Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs and Director General of Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which is the preeminent institution engaged in cultural diplomacy and sponsor of intellectual exchanges between India and other countries. He has served in various diplomatic positions in Indian Missions in Singapore, Malaysia, China, Egypt and South Africa. He has also served at Permanent Mission of India to UN in New York during 1991-95 where he coordinated and advocated Indian positions on the UN reforms in a comprehensive manner. He also headed UN efforts on removal of Apartheid structure in South Africa. Before joining as Director General, ICCR, he served as Ambassador of India in Lao PDR.

His position as Director General of ICCR has provided him an opportunity to give shape to his vision of the global cultural perspective of India. ICCR has increasingly worked to bring out the prominence of cultural, intellectual, civilization and historical communications between different segments of societies and nations as a step towards civilizational dialogue and connectivity. He believes that this would be the durable basis for international interactions towards the building the vision of “Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam”, particularly in today’s world fragmented by all types of strifes, terrorism and extremism.

He was awarded Hon Doctorate by the University of Edinburgh for his contributions to the field of cultural diplomacy. He has also acquired considerable expertise in international relations through his work at the Permanent Mission of India in New York, Egypt and in East and South East Asia through his postings in China and ASEAN countries. At the UN, he was dealing with all UN reforms both in General Assembly and the Security Council as well as the “Agenda for Peace” proposed by Boutros Ghali which introduced radical departures in concepts of international structures such as sovereignty and intervention in national situations.

During his tenure as Director General of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations,he has piloted several workshops and seminars including the Conference on Civilizational Interactions between India and South East Asia at Patna in 2012. He also organized several  seminars in various South East Asian countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and China on history of relations between India and the region.

He continues to support various cultural projects, and organize niche cultural events to encourage young creative minds and develop performing arts platforms which are deeply rooted in Indian idiom and yet highlight the young creative energies. He had recently organised the first ever International Contemporary Dance Festival in New Delhi to emphasise the Indian attempts to accommodate and develop ideas beyond traditional. This has become an annual event now. Besides being an author of several articles, he also chairs a monthly panel discussion under the title "Pendulum Dialogue" on subjects of cultural importance where eminent artists debate and talk on these issues for future developments.