The Good Fight

por Vance Serchuk, 16 de septiembre de 2005

(Published in the American Enterprise Institute,  from the New York Times, September 13, 2005)

This week, the heads of state of more than 170 countries are meeting to consider wide-ranging reforms for the United Nations. But any mention of the expansion of the Security Council will be off the agenda, thanks in no small part to the diplomatic exertions of the Bush administration.
The White House's foreclosure of discussion on Security Council expansion has drawn cheers from conservatives worried about any dilution of American power, and scorn from liberals convinced that the Bush administration is once again unilaterally sabotaging the international system. In fact, both sides are wrong.
The American position, by prioritizing practicable goals like cleaning up the Human Rights Commission and strengthening peacekeeping capabilities, is actually good for the United Nations, which would suffer from a drawn-out fight over Security Council expansion. But while the Bush administration's stance helps United Nations reform, it does not serve America's interests. To understand why, it's necessary to recognize that the expansion debate is above all a geopolitical contest for power and influence.
Just consider the maneuvers this summer by four aspirants to the Security Council--Brazil, Germany, India and Japan--which have joined together in the so-called Group of Four and have been furiously trawling the developing world for support. Rivals of these countries, like China, Italy and Pakistan, have meanwhile been working to block them. The resulting game of chess has been almost entirely defined by realpolitik, with nations unabashedly trading favors and threats, and the council's effectiveness an afterthought at best.
Such cold-blooded competition should come as no surprise. A seat on the Security Council, after all, is a prized symbol of power and prestige, establishing a country as a regional leader. This has particular importance in Asia, where China is determined to preserve its regional monopoly on the Security Council, while Japan and India are equally determined to break it. Given the Bush administration's concerns about Beijing's rising power and Washington's avowed interest in deepening our relations with Tokyo and Delhi, it's clear which side of this debate we should be on.
Getting Japan, in particular, on the council should be a top priority for the United States, not just as a reward for past support on countless issues--from Iraq to North Korea--but also because of its central role in America's grand strategy for the region. Equally important is the development of a long-term alliance with India. Skeptics warn that New Delhi has often voted against the United States at the United Nations, but given that India has been under American sanctions for its nuclear aspirations until recently--and was aligned with the Soviet Union for decades before that--such past recalcitrance may prove a poor guide to future behavior.
Although the Bush administration rhetorically backs Japan's bid and has been supportive of India's as well, these two states alone will never muster sufficient support in the General Assembly. The best remaining option, then, is for the White House to grit its teeth and embrace the Group of Four.
It hasn't done so, partly because it fears a larger Security Council would be less effective. But the sad truth is, the council already isn't likely to help Washington on first-tier problems like Iran or North Korea. And while a bigger membership would make deliberations more unwieldy, we shouldn't worry too much about damaging an institution that is already broken.
In the end, American support may not ensure passage of the Group of 4 proposal. China will marshal votes against it and, failing that, threaten a veto. But that might not be so bad either. Instead of focusing on the Security Council as an abstract institution, Washington should treat it the same way its peers do: as a commons for bare-knuckle great-power diplomacy. Pushing Beijing into a confrontation with Germany, Brazil, Japan and India would be the kind of ruthless realpolitik to make Metternich proud.
Vance Serchuk is a research fellow at AEI.