The year 2014 saw an escalation of conflicts around the world. ISIS, an Islamist terror group began to seize large swathes of land in Syria and Iraq. In Eastern Europe, pro-Russian militias have also been fighting Ukrainian government forces since the fall of the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. In Africa countries like Nigeria and Libya have seen a sharp rise in violent actions perpetrated by terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda and Boko Haram. In all these conflicts around the world, the international community through the Security Council of the United Nations has remained passive. In this article I argue that the setup of the Security Council inhibits the maintenance and mediation of global security, and it thus needs reform.
The UN Security Council comprises of five permanent members who are entrusted with the roles of maintaining global peace and security. The five permanent members of the Security Council are United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia and France. There are also 10 non-permanent members who are elected by all the members in the UN General Assembly.
Draft resolutions are drawn up by any member of the Security council and if agreed by all the members, the resolution is formally proposed to the council. Each member has one vote, and for a resolution to pass through, a majority of 9 votes are needed. However, all five permanent members have veto powers and if one or more of the members vetoes a resolution, it cannot be passed. This means that ongoing international threats to peace and the security of the world rely on the five permanent members’s decisions and assessments on security matters.
Over the years since the 2nd World War, the 5 available vetoes have gradually been misused in the face of global violence, which is a setback for the UN and world peace. Since 1946, a total of 234 vetoes have been exercised with 101 vetoes by the Soviet Union (1946-1991) and the Russian Federation (1992-2014). The United States has also since exercised a large share of vetoes with a total of 79 vetoes. Most of the 234 vetoes exercised by the permanent members of the Security Council, have largely been used to advance interests between the P5 countries instead of combating world peace. The biggest culprits are Russia and the United States who have for years misused the veto power such that pertinent security issues are not being tabled for the benefit of world peace. Andrei Gromyko who was the Soviet Union’s Foreign Minister between 1957 and 1985, misused the veto to the point that he was nicknamed “Mr Nyet”. Mr Gromyko usually used the veto unnecessarily that tabled resolutions were expunged because of partisan politics that have over the years, eroded the role of the Security Council’s effectiveness in the face of global conflicts. The United States has also currently surpassed Russia’s misuse of vetoes with a large number used to protect the interests of the Israeli government.
Perhaps the most recent spat between powerful countries of the Security Council is that of the ongoing Syrian civil war. France drafted a resolution to investigate alleged war crimes between both factions in Syria, of which Russia and China vetoed. The permanent members of the Security Council seem to have deviated from the primary reasons as to why the UN was set up, and due to their negligence in security issues, the death toll in Syria now exceeds more than 210,000.
President Jacob Zuma of South Africa at the UN annual General Assembly called for the reform of the Security Council,
“The veto powers and the exclusion of regions such as Africa in the Security Council are some of the critical matters which cannot be ignored in the quest for transformation.”
Indeed there is need to reform the security council’s structural setup by being more representative of all the countries that are member states of the UN. Kenneth Waltz’s realism theory of international politics claims that states at the international level where anarchy prevails, are in constant search to have the upperhand in the balance of power to ensure state preservation. This can explain as to why the P5 countries fail to act on security matters, because state interests are always at stake all the time. As it stands, the P5 countries have monopolised the use of force for their interests and in the end, the states that have no seat in the Security Council are at a disadvantage. States without a seat at the council have no control over global security matters, in an anarchical international system that thrives on state preservation.
The veto system is thus responsible for the recent deadlocks in conflicts because it only takes one veto to stop interventions in conflicts, which ultimately can cause the unnecessary destruction of infrastructure and loss to human life. In a world of 196 countries, it is rather underhanded that one veto can derail possible solutions to global conflicts, which can only be solved through the mutual cooperation of countries. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly President also argued,
“I believe the use of the veto is undemocratic in any circumstance, but that is how it [the Security Council] has been structured since 1945,” Kuteesa said. “Either all countries have the veto or we eliminate the veto.”
All in all, the P5 countries in the Security Council have a fragmented relationship which has transpired throughout the years of the constant vetoing of resolutions. Without some sort of democratic reforms to the Security Council, the world will continue to suffer the effects of conflicts which affect human life in all aspects. It is therefore imperative that the international community works together to reform the UN’s Security Council, to work better to combat the current threats to global peace and security.
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