Volodymyr Zelensky’s Challenge to the UN Security Council

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday called on the UN Security Council to reform or dissolve it, pointing to its failure to keep the peace. With five permanent members with veto power, including Russia, this system dating back to the Second World War is now showing its limits. description.

Volodymyr Zelensky did not mince words on Tuesday, April 5, for his first address to the UN Security Council since the start of Russia’s invasion of his country. The Ukrainian president, dressed in his now trademark military uniform, stressed the inability of the major world body to fulfill its mission of maintaining international peace and security.

“You can exclude Russia as the aggressor behind the war, so that it doesn’t get in the way of decisions about its own aggression,” said Volodymyr Zelensky. “Or, if there is no alternative, the next option is to dismiss you outright.”

Volodymyr Zelensky made this speech the day after tomorrow his published visit to Boutchain which he accused Russian troops of committing “war crimes” and “genocide” when they occupied this city in northwestern Kyiv.

Addressing the 15-member UN executive body, he called for Russia’s expulsion from the Security Council and reform of the UN system, so that “a veto does not mean the right to die”. Before warning: “If this continues, countries will only be able to rely on the strength of their own forces to ensure their security, and no longer on international law, on international institutions,” and “the United Nations will have nothing more than to shut down.”

Once again, the war in Ukraine has exposed the imperfections of the world’s main security body, with the five permanent members – China, the United States, France, Britain and Russia – having the power to block voting on the resolution. In addition, there has been much debate around the United Nations system and proposed reforms since its creation, after the Second World War.

Expand the circle of permanent members

The veto power – which is the origin of most of the current difficulties of the Security Council – was imposed at the San Francisco conference in 1945, which would lay the foundations of the United Nations by creating a successor to the League of Nations (LON), which proved unsuccessful. powerless to prevent World War II.

In discussions with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, then US President Franklin D. Roosevelt argued that the veto power should be limited to the number of countries with the necessary manpower for military expeditions. According to Roosevelt, consensus – easier to find with a limited group of countries – should allow the new Security Council to address the problems experienced by the League of Nations.

“But two years after the formation of the United Nations, the Cold War began, and that was the end of the consensus that Roosevelt was trying to build with Stalin at that time”, explains in France 24 Yves Doutriaux, former French deputy ambassador to the United Nations.

The end of the Cold War did not, however, allow obstacles to be overcome. Since 2010, Russia, often associated with China, has used its veto power 23 times, mainly in the Syrian conflict. Compared to the same period, the United States only used it four times, mainly on the “Palestinian question”. Britain and France have not exercised their veto power since 1989.

In addition to the issue of veto power, developing countries 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 2009the five permanent members were originally represented40% of the world’s population, compared to only 29% now.

Among the reform proposals, we find calls for expansion of the Council to include the most populous countries in the world – India, Brazil or even Indonesia – or to include one or more African countries – Nigeria, Ethiopia or Egypt.

The difficulty of the “global alliance” that “secures the free world”

However, the war in Ukraine has shown that many Security Council nominees have not joined the “global alliance that unites democracies” and “secures the free world”, as Michael Beckley and Hal Brands explain. in an article for the American magazine Foreign Affairs.

Many of them did not share in condemning Russia’s aggression and violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty. They also did not respond to calls by the US and the European Union for sanctions against Moscow.

Some 35 countries, including India and South Africa, abstained on March 3 in a UN General Assembly vote condemning the invasion of Ukraine. While the resolution was passed by a 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 explain, to some extent, most of this abstention. Russia has also capitalized on anti-Western sentiment in several countries in Africa, South Asia and Latin America, targeting countries such as India, Pakistan, Mali and the Central African Republic with a disinformation campaign.

No consensus, no reform

India position, for example, ambiguous regarding the invasion of Ukraine. New Delhi has repeatedly refrained from condemning it, but its unease with Russia’s actions was evident in its strong statement at the United Nations calling for “respect for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” – without naming Moscow.

>> Read also: War in Ukraine: India Stuck Close to Russia

For India and other countries, this balancing act is based not only on reliance on Russian weapons, but also on the diplomatic debt Moscow owes its past support to the Security Council on issues relating to New Delhi’s regional and foreign policy interests.

In the UN diplomatic tradition, the member states of the General Assembly generally associate themselves with one of the permanent members of the Security Council. The latter would veto any resolution leveled against them in exchange for diplomatic, economic or security advantages.

Although most permanent members officially declare themselves in favor of expansion, in practice the movement is stymied behind the scenes by veto-wielders, as well as by geopolitical rivalry.

“The Security Council was deliberately blocked, because the UN was built this way,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW). “Security Council reform has been on the agenda for a long time, but it’s going nowhere unless the five members still agree. But there is no consensus on this topic.”

UN agencies active despite Security Council ‘stuck’

However, the HRW chief warned against excessive criticism that would make the UN system a failed system. “The Security Council may be deadlocked, but other UN agencies have managed to act within their limits”, explains Kenneth Roth. 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).

In a sign of its activities, the United Nations General Assembly voted on Thursday, April 7, to suspend Russia from the HRC for “flagrant and systematic violations and violations of human rights” in Ukraine. About 93 votes voted in favor of the suspension, 24 countries voted against and 58 abstained – including India.

New Delhi, however, hardened its position and explicitly condemned, earlier in the week, “reports of killings of civilians in Boutcha” and supported the call for an independent investigation – also requested by Ukraine.

Moscow has, for its part, warned certain members of the UN General Assembly that an abstention or a positive vote on the resolution would be considered. an “unfriendly stance” 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 over the Security Council with its veto power, but the actions of most UN member states, as well as individual governments, ensure that while not all members are equal in the UN system, they respect the principles of equality and justice.

Article translated from English by Jean-Luc Mounier. The original can be read here.

Atwater Adkins

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