UNSC: A history of ceaseless silence & lack of humanitarian intervention


MOST nations and critics have called for the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) to undergo reform in an inclusive manner, describing the current Council as backward and reflecting the post-Cold War era status quo. The Security Council consists of five permanent members – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – with veto power, with some arguing for its enlargement to accommodate more members as the current Security Council does not reflect the geopolitical reality of this era. It can be argued that there has not been an incident of regional conflict since World War II, alluding to its effectiveness. However, considering recent conflicts around the world, the Security Council has failed in its mandate to maintain global peace.

The failures of the Security Council are highlighted by the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Russia and China vetoed any military action to intervene in the conflict with President Assad and the rebels, who are mostly armed by the United States due to their vested and strategic interests in getting rid of Assad’s regime. There have been “red lines” drawn by the Security Council but all that remains is inaction even though there were claims that Assad’s government may have used chemical weapons. This has severely hampered the ability of the coalition forces to fight the Daesh (so-called) terrorist organization in their self-claimed capital of Al-Raqqa in Syria as the humanitarian crisis continues to be graver. In Eastern Europe, Russia has also not faced any significant consequences outside of sanctions after its annexation of Crimea. The military incursion into Ukraine was met with minimal action against Russia even though it breached international law, showing that the Security Council was ineffective in ensuring the sovereignty of another nation.

Outside of the military ineffectiveness of the Council, there lies the problem of bypasses that the permanent members apply, setting precedents that weaken the Council. The United States’ refusal to recognize the International Criminal Court (ICC) deters the Security Council from enforcing the rulings of this court. Furthermore, the United States blocks any resolutions that may compromise Israel’s position with its neighbors, especially Palestine, establishing a lack of accountability on the part of Israel on its dealings with its neighbors highlighted by the continued construction of settlements in West Bank and Golan Heights. These settlements are nevertheless considered illegal as they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention but inaction continues.

The case of the ineffectiveness of the UNSC through its lack of representation of geopolitical realities post-World War II is seen through the rise of China as a global power. They have a permanent seat at the Security Council, the third largest contributor to the UN budget, second largest contributor to peacekeeping operations and collaborates with the UN in regional issues. It can exercise its veto power with ease and its use of this power has escalated over the last decade, highlighting a pattern that China aligns with Russia.

There are no contingencies or amendments to the UN Charter that regulate its power or even to view continents of Asia or Europe as over represented. One distinguished UN diplomat acknowledged that every country would like to push their own interests through the UN. There are little or no safeguards to ensure that as nations reach the threshold of influence, economically and in their military, and are allowed into the Security Council, the bounds of what they can advocate for can be limited. This further highlights the deep flaws in addressing the complexities in global politics other than its current basis of military power, financial strength and regional influence.

The Security Council, as described, acts as a way of individual nations to promote interests in a global stage. This can also lead to disproportionate support and over engagement of approved and unapproved UN missions respectively by Council members. It is exemplified by the participation of Russia and NATO in UN operations over the years. Between 1960 and 1980 and in nine missions, Russia provided finances and peacekeeping forces for only two missions that supported its interests. On the other hand, NATO operations, as per the US perspective, set the precedent that NATO has the right to use force if it is in the interests of its members without the Council’s authority. The former limits its use of its resources to help in missions it may not support while the latter establishes its own mandate in peacekeeping operations. The factions forming within the Security Council make it ineffective and at times overreaching.

The power imbalance and ineffective power structure that exists in the Security Council are at the heart of its ineffectiveness but there is a lack of robustness in its response to conflicts that are not within the interests of permanent members and there lies the difficulty in ensuring its members adhere to international law. In addition, there is an element of secrecy and lack of transparency on how the Security Council operates as the permanent members are allowed autonomy in its deliberation, leaving other members alienated. Far-reaching and inclusive reforms are required to lift the Security Council from the institutional inadequacy that it has become in the 21st century.

Mohannad Jabrah

The writer is a student of the Dar Al-Fikr Schools, Jeddah.