"Man of the Century" Albert Einstein is reputed to have defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again in the expectation of a different result each time. The comment is very apposite when applied to the history of UN reforms. The last big push for major reforms of the organisation came in 2005, when the most optimistic had hoped for a San Francisco moment in New York, as decisive and momentous as the signing of the UN Charter 60 years earlier in the city by the bay. Instead, the UN had an Einstein moment as the head of momentum built up for overhauling the anachronistic and creaking UN machinery fizzled out.

One front of the reform movement was led by four aspiring permanent members of the UN Security Council: Brazil, Germany, India and Japan. It became known as the G4 campaign. They came tantalizingly close, closer than most people realize. Unfortunately, there are no consolation prizes for coming close to but not crossing the finish line. Yet, seduced perhaps by the memory of how the prize was snatched from their overreaching grasp at the last moment when the African Union insisted on a deal-wrecking position that all new permanent members must have the veto right to, the G4 seem to be reprising the same tactics. This is a triumph of misplaced hope over bitter experience.

The Security Council is long overdue for a major overhaul of composition and procedures. The longer it is thwarted, the less authority the council will command in the real world. On July 3, for example, the African Union sent an emphatic message to the council and the International Criminal Court that it disagreed with the council's referral of Sudan's president to the ICC and would not abide by the court's ruling.

The veto-wielding five permanent members (P5) can safeguard their privileged and exclusive status indefinitely, but only at the cost of making the Security Council increasingly irrelevant. Just as the failure to give the award to the 20th century's most famous apostle of peace diminished not Mahatma Gandhi but the Nobel Peace Prize, so the exclusion of the deserving countries from permanent membership diminishes not them but the Security Council.

How then might the G4 escape from the Einstein trap? First, by recalling the great success of Gandhi's non-cooperation strategy that did, after all, defeat the mighty British Empire. And second, by recognising that in the Security Council, hardball tactics rule the roost in pursuit of hard-nosed interests. Those not prepared or able to engage in hardball diplomacy do not deserve to be permanent members of the Security Council.

Combining the two, the conclusion is obvious. The G4 countries should engage in a deliberate and combined campaign of non-cooperation. This need not take offensive form; as Gandhi showed, passive non-cooperation is also very effective. To begin with, they should refuse to take part in elections as non-permanent members. By participating in the process and taking two-year turns as elected members, they legitimise the Security Council as presently structured. Conversely, all four off the council for a decade or more would thoroughly delegitimise it.

India, last on the Security Council in 1992, reportedly decided last year to mount a campaign for a seat in 2011. Brazil, Germany and Japan contest and win frequently. All four need to realise that in this case, the good winning elected seats is the enemy of the best becoming permanent members.

Next, to drive home their conviction that the Security Council as presently composed is illegitimate, the G4 countries should refuse to vote for referring or citing any country for bad behaviour, such as non-compliance with nuclear non-proliferation obligations, to the Security Council. Again, they need not be aggressive about this. They don't have to support or speak up in defence of Iran's and North Korea's nuclear policies. Nor do they have to campaign against efforts by others to refer international outlaws to the Security Council. But they can politely remind everyone each time that as they do not believe that the council is legitimate, they would feel hypocritical in subjecting others to its compulsory coercive authority. Therefore, they will abstain.

Finally, since all UN peacekeeping missions are authorised by the Security Council, they should refuse to contribute troops or civilian personnel to UN operations until such time as the council is reformed. Once more, they do not have to oppose the establishment of such missions. But they should let others provide the necessary personnel. And, since peacekeeping operations are funded by voluntary contributions, they should refuse to volunteer any funds. Where the United States has led in showing the effectiveness of purse diplomacy, they should follow.

These three steps will show the depth of their anger and resentment, throw a monkey wrench in the UN system, and force the membership to tackle the thorny issue instead of the preferred posture of permanent procrastination. Or, of course, they can continue to prove Einstein right.

Ramesh Thakur is a distinguished fellow at CIGI and director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada.

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