As the Russian military forces barge into the Ukrainian territories, the entire world anxiously awaits the actions taken by the United Nations. The UN Security Council (UNSC), which has the maintenance of world security as its fundamental mandate, yet again finds itself in an embarrassing spot. The restricted nature of its membership and the whimsical power of veto has once more tied the hands of the UNSC. The problematic rule of five supreme members (China, Russia, France, United States and the United Kindom), who have in their hands the ultimate decision-making authority, was highlighted by India and other G4 countries (Japan, Germany and Brazil) as early as in 2005. However, the discussions have not yet shifted to text-based formal negotiations and ‘informal’ intergovernmental negotiations is still the norm on this topic.
The Threat from Powerful Few
The current security crisis has taken the entire world off-guard as it was still reeling from the after-effects of the pandemic and the escalation of activities at such a quick pace was not anticipated by many countries. The Russian government brought back the horrors of ‘self-defence’ clause found in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The often wrongfully conceived notions of ‘self-defence’ are used by the powerful West to their own advantages. This clause has put an easy weapon in the hands of few countries who self-proclaim and legalise its use against the sovereign authority of other countries. This time it is the Russian government crying threat to its territory due to the inclination of Ukraine towards NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation).
The Case for Change
The present scenario is quite axiomatic to show Russian confidence in the weakening power of the UNSC as Russia launched its military operation during the term of its own UNSC presidency. This is a clear indication that the powerful West has no consideration for the principals and objectives of the United Nations as enumerated in Article 1 and Article 2 of its Charter. The UN Charter is seen here to lose its normative character and reduced to a mere paper tiger. The fact the Russia chooses to bombard Ukraine, being the UNSC president, has made a mockery of the entire organisation.
In this situation, it was not difficult to foresee the treatment of a UNSC resolution, which did result in a dead-end with Russia utilising its veto power. The only option that remains now is a softer tool of UN General Assembly resolution against Russian actions. Thus, the UNSC has evidently failed to control unauthorised use of force against a member State and all this can be blamed majorly on the inherent biasness in its composition and the unjustified use of veto.
The case for overhauling the membership arrangement of the UNSC has been a topic of debate for quite some time. The Indian government has been asking for the expansion of permanent membership under the G4 label since 2005. Their demand was to increase the present membership from 15 to 25 members which includes addition of 6 new permanent members. There was also a proposal from African Union which demanded more seats (both permanent and non-permanent) for the African countries to balance the representation in the UNSC. Another proposal came from a group of 12 countries, called as the Coffee Club, who did not want to disturb the permanent membership but wanted the non-permanent seats to go up from 10 to 20. These efforts did lead to adoption of intergovernmental negotiation process on the reform of the Security Council but the same has remained a verbal matter and translated in a formal text-based negotiation till now.
In 2021, the member States reiterated their worries on the one-sided representation in the UNSC and called for more transparency in the decision-making process. The logic and rationality of keeping veto power with only five States also came to be challenged. The members expressed their worries on the unobstructed use of veto and the imbalance resulting from it. Abdulla Shahid, President of UNGA 76th Session, also stressed on the need to reform the Security Council membership as per the needs of the 21st century.
However, the interesting point to be noted is that most of the countries who demand a change in the UNSC membership seek continuance and alteration of the veto power but not its complete abolition. Therefore, it is now well-established that veto is a much-needed evil but what remains to be decided is the nature and scope of its use.
The Russia-Ukraine war has brought to fore the realities of inequality and highlighted the concentration of power in the hands of few. The faith that members have in United Nations gets a reality check in such critical circumstances and brings us back to the basic question of its legitimacy and accountability. An organisation which is non-representative and biased fails to fulfil the requirements of democratic decision-making, and loses the trust of its members. The UNSC’s consistent failures in securing the weaker States from the wrath of the influential West has completely damaged its reputation. The only way in which it can fulfil its primary objective of security maintenance is by being more representative and by urgently incorporating the consensual guidelines for the use of veto.
About the Author
Ms. Apoorva Tomar is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in the area of private international law and working as an Assistant Professor in School of Law, Alliance University. Her area of interest includes international relations, international law, child rights and international family law.