P5 of the United Nations and Burma political situation

Published on September 10, 2007

By Nehginpao Kipgen


Asian Tribune – September 9, 2007

Founded by 50 countries at the end of World War II, on October 24, 1945, the United Nations Organization has survived the multi-faceted conflicts of Cold War era and expanded to a world body of 192 nations today.

The increasing numerical strength of the United Nations is an indication of success. While members is on the rise, power remains to center around the five permanent members – United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China – referred to as P5 of the Security Council.

Article 27 of the UN Charter says that Security Council decisions on all substantive matters require affirmative votes of the P5. A veto or negative vote on the part of any permanent member prevents a resolution from adoption. This was happened to Burma’s case on January 12 this year when a draft resolution was vetoed by China and Russia. 

However, all procedural matters are not subject to a veto, which means no veto can be used to prevent a matter from discussion provided that it has the required 9 votes. 

The first successful placement of Burma situation in the permanent agenda of the Security Council on September 29, 2006, has had a tremendous effect – it boosted the morale of activists and politicians both inside and outside Burma. 

Noticeably, in recent months, the United Nations has formulated a new policy with respect to Burma. The UN Under-Secretary General, who is also the Secretary General’s special envoy to Burma, has engaged in talks with “key interested countries.” 

In his September 4 letter to the Washington Post, Ibrahim Gambari wrote: “…..for the first time, all key interested countries, including China, India, Russia and Myanmar’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations neighbors, are mobilized to encourage the country to make progress.” 

Meanwhile, the Washington-based United States Campaign for Burma has also begun to echo a similar tone. In its major policy shift in recent years, the organization announced to focus its campaigns toward China. 

Political developments at the international arena have impacts on activities inside Burma and vice versa. Although it does not reach the scale of 1988 popular uprising, the continuation of protests and demonstrations in different parts of the country, which began on 19th August, is an outburst of public simmering discontent. 

The protests may come in the backdrop of hike in fuel prices, however, to many experts; it has ingrained rationale behind all these developments. Economic mismanagement, spiraling out of the country’s political imbroglio, remains the prime factor. The ongoing protests may be suppressed with coercion, yet the spirit of people’s desire for change will persist. 

It has now been some years that the United Nations Organization has failed in its attempts to find a solution to Burma’s dragging problems. Resolutions have been passed, but of little effect to be seen. 

In different perspectives, strategists have conceptualized on how to bring forth a genuine democracy. I believe that solutions to the ongoing political problems in Burma can be achieved basically in two ways – Intervention and Popular Uprising. 

Intervention comes mainly from the international community. In this regard, the support of western powers – particularly the United States – has been unflagging. European Union’s support has also been encouraging. But, the non-cooperation from neighboring China and India makes the intervention less effective. 

Burma has strengthened ties with China and India in recent years. China being her traditional rival, India, the world’s largest democracy, has acted to counter the alarming growing influence of China over Burma. The shared similar culture and geographical proximity also gives China and India the upper hands in Burma’s affairs. 

Unless China sees or is convinced that she can have a similar or greater influence in a democratic Burma, a swift and major shift in bilateral relationship is unlikely to emerge. China is also concerned on the possible future influences in her backyard by the western powers. 

For an international intervention to be effective, the participation of China is paramount. Had western powers’ sanctions on Burma been cooperated by China and India, greater results could have been achieved. 

A change from within the country is the more likely one. At this stage of history, Burma’s military regime probably fears people’s uprising most. And, the next could be foreign policy change of the veto welding China or vice versa. 

People’s uprising will have greater impact if rallied behind by people from different walks of life – students, civil servants, disgruntled military personnel and religious leaders, particularly the monks. For Burma’s situation, P5 unanimity did not occur, and this is not expected to happen in the near future.

P5 roles have been controversial: proponents say that the P5 are the police officers policing the flow of the United Nations, while critics argue that there should be a body to control the power abuse of the P5. 

Nehginpao Kipgen is the general secretary of US-based Kuki International Forum and a researcher o­n the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004).