On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the UN Security Council to reform or resolve, citing its failure to maintain peace. With five permanent members with veto power, including Russia, this WWII-era system is now showing its limits. decoding.
On Tuesday, April 5, Volodymyr Zelensky did not utter his first address to the UN Security Council since the start of the Russian invasion of his country. The Ukrainian president, now in his distinctive military uniform, emphasized the inability of the main world body to fulfill its mission of maintaining international peace and security.
“You can exclude Russia from being the aggressor behind the war, so that it does not impede decisions on its aggression,” said Volodymyr Zelensky. “Or, if there is no alternative, the next option is entirely yours.”
Volodymyr Zelensky gave the speech a day after his high-profile visit to Bucha, where he accused Russian forces of committing “war crimes” and “genocide” during their occupation of the town northwest of Kyiv.
He called before the fifteen member states of the UN executive body to exclude Russia from the Security Council and reform the UN system, so that “the veto does not mean the right to die.” Before warning: “If this continues, states will only be able to rely on the strength of their own forces to ensure their security, no longer on international law, on international institutions,” and “the United Nations will have no more than close.”
Once again, the war in Ukraine exposed the flaws of the world’s main security body, in which five permanent members – China, the US, France, the UK and Russia – have the power to block votes on resolutions. Moreover, discussions about the United Nations system and reform proposals have been abundant since its inception, after World War II.
Expanding the circle of permanent members
The veto—the root of much of the Security Council’s current difficulties—was laid at the San Francisco Conference in 1945, which was intended to lay the foundations for the United Nations by creating a successor to the League of Nations (LON), which had proven powerless to prevent a world war. the second.
In discussions with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, then-US President Franklin D. Roosevelt argued that the veto power should be limited to a limited number of countries with the manpower needed for military missions. According to Roosevelt, consensus—easy to find with a limited group of countries—should allow the new Security Council to overcome the problems that plagued the League of Nations.
“But two years after the creation of the United Nations, the Cold War began, and that was the end of the consensus that Roosevelt was trying to establish with Stalin at the time,” explains Yves Doutreaux, the former French deputy ambassador to France. United nations.
However, the end of the Cold War did not allow obstacles to be overcome. Since 2010, Russia, often associated with China, has used its veto 23 times, notably in the Syrian conflict. Compared to the same period, the United States used it only four times, especially in the “Palestinian issue”. The United Kingdom and France have not vetoed since 1989.
Besides the issue of the veto, emerging powers such as India, Brazil and South Africa argue that limiting the Security Council to five permanent members does not reflect the changing balance of power in the world nor the population.
As former US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said in 2009, the five permanent members initially represent40% of the world’s population compared to only 29% now.
Among the reform proposals we find calls for the council to be expanded to include the world’s most populous country – India, Brazil or even Indonesia – or to include one or more African countries – Nigeria, Ethiopia or Egypt.
The difficulty of the “global coalition” that “secures the free world”
However, the war in Ukraine showed that many Security Council aspirants did not join a “global coalition that unites democracies” and “secures the free world,” as Michael Beckley and Hal Brands explain in an article for US magazine Foreign Affairs. .
Not many of them joined in condemning Russian aggression and Ukraine’s violation of sovereignty. Nor have they responded to calls from the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions on Moscow.
About 35 countries, including India and South Africa, abstained on March 3 from a vote in the United Nations General Assembly to condemn the invasion of Ukraine. While the resolution passed by an overwhelming majority (141 votes out of 193 member states), 16 African countries with close ties to Russia abstained.
Reliance on cheap Russian military equipment and sympathy for Moscow during the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles explains, to some extent, the abstention of most of them. Russia has also benefited from anti-Western sentiment in many countries in Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, targeting countries such as India, Pakistan, Mali, and the Central African Republic with disinformation campaigns.
No consensus, no reform
India’s position, for example, is ambiguous regarding the invasion of Ukraine. New Delhi has repeatedly refrained from condemning it, but its discomfort with Russia’s actions is evident in its strong statements at the United Nations calling for “respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states” – without naming Moscow.
>> Also read: The war in Ukraine: India is under siege due to its proximity to Russia
For India and other countries, this balance depends not only on dependence on Russian weapons, but also on diplomatic debts to Moscow’s former support of the Security Council on issues related to New Delhi’s regional interests and foreign policy.
In the diplomatic tradition of the United Nations, member states of the General Assembly generally join one of the permanent members of the Security Council. The latter will veto any decision directed against it in exchange for diplomatic, economic or security advantages.
Although most of the permanent members officially declare their support for expansion, the movement is practically hidden behind the scenes by veto-holders, as well as geopolitical rivalries.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), notes that “the Security Council is intentionally outlawed, because the United Nations was built like this.” “La réforme du Conseil de sécurité est à l’ordre du jour depuis longtemps, mais elle ne peut aller nulle part, à moins que les cinq membres permanents ne soient d’accord. Or, il n’y a pas de consensus à ce subject.”
UN bodies work despite Security Council ‘pause’
However, the head of Human Rights Watch warns against excessive criticism that would make the UN system a failure. Kenneth Roth explains that “the Security Council may be at a dead end, but other UN bodies have been able to operate in their periphery.” He cites, for example, the General Assembly vote condemning the invasion of Ukraine, as well as the activities of bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the United Nations Human Rights Council (CDH).
As evidence of its activism, the United Nations General Assembly voted on Thursday, 7 April to suspend Russia’s membership of the Human Rights Council due to “flagrant and systematic violations of human rights” in Ukraine. Some 93 votes supported this suspension, 24 countries voted against it and 58 abstained – including India.
But New Delhi hardened its position and explicitly condemned at the beginning of the week, “Reports of the killing of civilians in Boutsha”. It supported calls for an independent investigation – as requested by Ukraine.
Moscow, for its part, has warned some members of the UN General Assembly that an abstention or an affirmative vote on the resolution would be considered an “unfriendly gesture” with consequences for bilateral relations. After the vote, a Kremlin spokesman warned that Russia would continue to “defend its interests by all legal means.”
Russia may have control of the Security Council through its veto, but the actions of most UN member states, as well as individual governments, ensure that while not all members of the UN system are equal, they respect the principles of equality and justice.
Article translated from English by Jean-Luc Meunier. The original version can be read here.