Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 January 2020

Former UK PM John Major says world order needs reform

Rivalries on UN Security Council have blocked decisions on Syria, Middle East

John Major says he is fulfilling a promise to launch legal action against Boris Johnson's plan to suspend parliament. Reuters
John Major says he is fulfilling a promise to launch legal action against Boris Johnson's plan to suspend parliament. Reuters

The gang of five countries that has controlled the world order for nearly 75 years needs to embrace new members to retain its global credibility, the former UK Prime Minister John Major has told a London conference.

In a gloomy assessment of the current system to govern global laws on trade and security, Mr Major called for an end to the veto power wielded by each of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Disagreements and regional rivalries between the United States and Russia has stymied a series of diplomatic efforts including confronting the use of chemical weapons during the war in Syria and to try to secure breakthroughs in the Middle East crisis.

The EU’s security commissioner, Julian King, also told the conference that the spread of fake news represented one of the greatest threats to the global order. “It’s certainly poisoning our political debate,” he told the Chatham House London Conference 2019.

Ranking the phenomenon alongside extremist violence and terrorism, he noted the uptick of hostile cyber attacks by states and individuals targeting political and economic interests. The “pernicious poison of disinformation in our political lives” had the effect of undermining other multilateral efforts to prevent conflict, he said.

The UN security council's permanent members – China, Russia, France, the US and UK – were decided at the end of the Second World War and Mr Major said the system was ill-suited to tackle modern challenges and the rise of new powers.

He called for an expansion of members on the UN security council and reduce the power of individual countries to veto proposals. He did not identify countries who should be added to the security council roster.

“They no longer represent the real power structures around the world,” he told the conference that is focused on modernising global rules.

The system had to change so “nations further down the power pecking order feel that the UN reflects their interests rather than that of the P5 [permanent five members].

“It should be as fair to the Faroe Islands as it is to the US and China,” said Mr Major.

He said there was no current political leader who had the power and vision to redraw the boundaries for multinational relations. “I think it ought to be changed, it desperately needs to be changed - but I suspect sloth will leave it as it is for some time,” he told the conference.

Sir John, who was prime minister from 1990 to 1997, also highlighted the turmoil at the World Trade Organisation where the US has blocked judicial appointments that hamstrung its efforts to rule on international trade disputes.

The move could undermine efforts to tackle trade protectionism amid increasing tensions between China and the Trump administration. “I can’t think of anything more stupid or damaging to the international system,” said Mr Major.

Mr Major, an outspoken supporter of Britain’s membership of the European Union, said that the UK’s ability to have an effect on the world stage was diminished by its decision to leave.

And the former premier – who headed a Conservative government at war over Europe more than 20 years ago – saved some of his harshest words for the predominantly eurosceptic candidates jockeying to take over leadership of his party.

He criticised the candidates who suggested they could suspend parliament to ensure that the UK left the 28-nation bloc as planned on October 31.

He described that as “hypocrisy of a gold-plated standard”. He said the UK’s future role would be defined by the new leader and whether they were seen as “internationally-respected … or a mouthpiece of particular faction.”

Updated: June 13, 2019 08:29 PM