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Forget Reforming The UNSC – OpEd

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One of the vivid indications of the existence of power politics within global institutions, which seek to establish justice and peace worldwide, is the political privileges of particular states due to their global standing. The Status quo of the world order which was created after the end of World War Il, with the distinguished determination of maintaining peace around the globe through the United Nations and its various organs.

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The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and its permanent five members enjoy special privileges in this world order. It was purely power politics that, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the pioneers of the order assembled to balance their powers while avoiding any further bloody war and limiting the power-political ambitions of unilaterally acting powerful states.

The UNSC ‘s system of enforcement is collective only by name; the dictates of power politics have been incorporated into the very provisions regulating the Council’s exercise of its basic mandate. According to the rules of Article 27 of the Charter, the five permanent members – the victorious powers of World War Il – are effectively immune from any compulsory measures under Chapter VIl of the Charter in cases of acts of aggression committed by them. Due to the wording of Paragraph 3 of Article 27, they may use their special voting privilege also in cases where they are party to a dispute.

The idea of the creation of the concept of “unanimity” among the permanent members of the UNSC, which is indirectly stipulated in Section 27 of the UN Charter, can be viewed from two perspectives; maintaining consensus among the strongest states, thereby avoiding confrontations among themselves; and ensuring individual member states that nothing can be done without their full cooperation. The first perspective has hampered the very purpose for which the UNSC was created, as these states always have varying ambitions on issues that concern global peace, while the second perspective confirms that a collective action can be humiliatingly cast off by a single state.

This mechanism has not only failed to achieve the ultimate purpose of the UNSC but also created a political imbalance in the global political order as the fate of other states is dependent on the decisions made by these five permanent members.

Due to the power-political nature of the world order, circumventing existing rules of the world order is prevalent in the contemporary world order. For instance, NATO bombed Kosovo in 1999 by avoiding UN rules established for Collective Security. “To avoid a situation in which the Security Council explicitly rejected an authorization to use force, no further resolution was circulated by the NATO members in the Council. Russia, however, made the mistake of presenting a resolution condemning the campaign. The move backfired as twelve of the fifteen Security Council members voted against it, demonstrating strong, if indirect, support for the campaign. Thus, NATO’s war in Kosovo was initiated without explicit UN Security Council authorization, although the military action was endorsed by NATO, the UN Secretary General, and a large part of the international community” (Soderberg 2008:76).

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As a prelude for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States attempted to have at least the majority of UNSC supporting the use of military force, if not including permanent members approval, so that “a resolution passed even with a weak majority would carry the needed authority to go to war” (Soderberg 2008:182). As the United States was engaged in strong lobbying for nine votes at UNSC, Secretary General Kofi Annan said that “’The members of the Security Council now face a great choice, if they fail to agree on a common position and action is taken without the authority of the Security Council, the legitimacy and support for any such action will be seriously impaired” (NYT, 2003). However, the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter.

Kissinger writes that the hopes for a rule-based world order seemed vindicated when NATO invaded Afghanistan, stipulating Article 51 of the North Atlantic Treaty (2014:318). However, the invasion of Iraq without the required resolution from UNSC should have diminished the relevance of the UNSC in solving security crises faced by members of the world community.

Since the establishment of the UNSC, the world has changed dramatically, thereby giving rise to new players and various consciousnesses of ideologies in global platform. These new actors demand a fair share in world politics. Kissinger considers this a challenge to the status quo since the regions that played a minimal role in the rule’s original formulation question their validity in their present form (2014:02).

Recently, the call for reforming the mechanism of the UNSC has loomed on the scene. For approximately twenty-five years, an increasing number of countries, such as Germany, Japan, South Africa, Canada, Brazil and Turkey, have insisted on a reform of the Security Council. Several movements were established for this; some called for the expansion of the permanent seats, such as the G4 nations, of which Germany and Japan are members. While the “Uniting for Consensus” (UfC) movement, of which countries such as Italy, Spain, Argentina and Turkey are members, opposes the call to expand the Security Council with new permanent seats, and instead suggests a principle of rotation for the Council’s membership and a rejection of the “veto” privilege of certain states (Ayvaz 2019).

However, such a reform is impossible if even a single state of the permanent club refuses to accept it. Tangled in such a situation, the question will be, is reforming still an option on the table?

Given the current geopolitical rivalries and great power politics at work in various parts of the world, I do not believe that we can expect such a dramatic shift in one of the most powerful mechanisms of the current world order. However, the light of hope can be seen on the horizon, as with the shift in global economic and political power, and with the rise of new regional players, emergence of another mechanism to outdate the UNSC can be expected. Such a mechanism will exhibit the changing status quo and will accommodate the harmonized functioning of the new balance of power, thereby pushing the UNSC off the stage of global power politics, leaving it as a wreckage of the twenty-first century following the path of Treaty of Versailles, League of Nations, Bretton Wood monetary system, and even United Nations in some cases.

References:

Barringer, F. (2003, March 11). THREATS AND RESPONSES: UNITED NATIONS; Annan says U.s. will violate charter if it acts without approval. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/11/world/threats-responses-united- nations-annan-says-us-will-violate-charter-if-it-acts.html

Erkut Ayvaz (2019, September 27). Calls to reform the UN security council are getting louder. Politics Today. https://politicstoday.org/calls-to-reform-the-un-security- council-are-getting-louder/

Kissinger, H. (2014). World Order. Penguin Press.

Soderberg, N. (2008). The superpower myth: The use and misuse of American might. John Wiley & Sons.

*Ibrahim Nahushal is a master degree student in International Relations and Cultural Diplomacy at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin.

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