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Changed world, unchanged SC

UN Security Council represents that privileges are hierarchical. And memberships dictate the new caste orders. A look at the Permanent Five in 2003 shows the dramatic shifts that have taken place in the power realities since 1945.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2003 03:14 IST

Fleeting images from the small screen of a summit in Davos or Geneva reflects power. There are powerful men in Savile Row or its equivalent suits, taking powerful decisions that effect the smallest nations. However, there are only a few of these elite. Privileges are hierarchical.Memberships dictate the new caste orders. And the United Nations Security Council represents one such gulf through its permanent membership.

The fault lines are clearly drawn between the traditional aspirations of the Security Council to reflect the true balance of power in the international system and the existing reality of power and influence in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.

The reality of the war victors that occupied the UN centre stage in 1945 has changed. The vanquished nations of World War Two - Japan and Germany - are today the world's 2nd and 3rd largest economies and well down the path of strategic normalisation.

The independence of Africa and Asia is illustrated by the rise and the aspirations of India, Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa. A look at the permanent members in the world of 2003 will show how dramatically the power realities have changed since 1945.

The moment of 1945

The United States, then as now, was the predominant power. But the nature and extent of its power were quite different.

US posture in 1945 reflected traditional anti-imperialism of the American republic and by its current standards, US took a modest approach to international affairs. It lived up to the maxim of Theodore Roosevelt to "walk softly and carry a big stick".

Economically, it had emerged triumphant from the Second World War. US gross domestic product represented a significant share of the world economy. There were 12 million American soldiers, sailors and airmen in arms.But the posture of the US reflected the traditional anti-imperialism of the American republic and - by its current standards - the US took a modest approach to international affairs.



It lived up to the maxim of Theodore Roosevelt to "walk softly and carry a big stick". The aggression of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had "awoken the sleeping giant" but the US exhibited little enthusiasm for an imperial role. It took some years before the US mobilised against the threat posed by its erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union, in 1945, was exhausted. It had prevailed in the life and death struggle against Nazism, but at a vast human cost of approximately 20 million deaths.

A century on from the Communist Manifesto, the Red Army was the spectre that haunted Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. Russia's late involvement in the Pacific theatre demonstrated its global reach.

And this all which followed the internal ravages of the 1930s - famine, collectivisation and purges. At the same time, the Red Army was the dominant force in Europe. A century on from the Communist Manifesto, the Red Army was the spectre that haunted Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. And Russia's late involvement in the Pacific theatre demonstrated its global reach.



If territory alone were the measurement,Great Britain in1945, remained the world's superpower.

The sun still did not set on the British Empire, a glittering patchwork of territory that included India and much of Africa, the Middle East and maritime South East Asia and in whose close embrace the dominions of Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand were still making faltering steps towards independence.

But Britain too was exhausted.Its treasury was empty and an ancient maxim of British strategy had been vindicated: that involvement in the military affairs of continental Europe would sap the strength of Britain's overseas empire.

France's inclusion as one of the world's major powers was, by almost any standard, an anomaly.A country which had been overrun so rapidly and decisively by the Wehrmacht in 1940, and which had not won a major battle since 1806, relied on bluff and delusion to maintain the appearance of greatness. And Charles De Gaulle provided both.

To be sure, France retained an overseas empire, but the coming decades were to demonstrate - in North Africa and South East Asia - the human costs associated with the bluff and delusion of France's great power aspirations.

In 1945 China was devastated and divided and on the eve of a wrenching civil war. It had not yet emerged as a modern state and its inclusion as a P5 member represents much of an exception.

China

as the fifth permanent member was also something of an incongruityamong the major powers. Its economic and strategic potential were obvious and reflected China's historical status as the world's single most powerful state. But in 1945 China was devastated and divided and on the eve of a wrenching civil war.It had not yet emerged as a modern state.



China's inclusion as a P5 member represents the exception: the UN Security Council looking to the future, rather than the past or the present, of the international order.

First Published: Nov 28, 2003 19:32 IST