When the United Nations was created back in 1945, it was supposed to succeed where the League of Nations had failed. While there has been some success since the war of wars, there have also been countless failures. In part because of inaction (Sudan), apathy (Rwanda) and the inability to enforce international law (USA, Israel, Palestine).
Last week we saw another failure; Russia and China came together in a twin veto to shoot down a UN Security Council resolution that would have backed an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside. The goal was to grant legitimacy to an Arab League plan aimed at ending almost a year of bloodshed which started with an anti-Assad uprising.
The failure of the Security Council does not come as a surprise given that Syria is a close ally and key weapons importer of the veto-wielding Russians. Time and time again, we’ve seen the five permanent members of the Security Council use their veto power to protect their own interests regardless of the human or monetary cost.
The permanent five which include Great Britain, China, France, Russia (Soviet Union) and the United States have enjoyed their absolute power since the end of World War II. Together the P-5 have used a veto 263 times since 1946 with Russia leading the way with 127. It is important to note, however, that the Soviet Union issued 119 of the 127, mostly in the first decade of the UN’s existence.
While the notion of having the Permanent members yield veto power was originally a Soviet insistence, having lived through the last thirty years you’d have thought it was an American invention. The Americans first used a veto back in 1970, but since 1984 they have vetoed UN Security Council resolutions more than the other four nations combined.
Of the 80 resolutions the US has vetoed, more than half were related to the Middle East with a majority of those going toward protecting Israel. The other three nations; China, France and Great Britain rarely use their veto power and when they do, it is usually in conjunction with another.
These five permanent council members just happen to be the five biggest nuclear powers in the world. They also just happen to be five of the six biggest arms dealing nations on earth. Essentially, those responsible for keeping the world secure are in the business of selling guns and WMDs for profit. Furthermore, they are in a position to block any resolution that would hinder those profits (or any other) regardless of the consequences.
There has been talk of some UN reform, especially in the last ten years or so, but with little result. The United Nations Security Council cannot continue to function as though the Cold War never ended, it must be reformed to reflect the changes the world has seen in the last 65 years.
One idea passed around a few years back was to expand the Council by another five permanent members, likely including Germany, Japan, Brazil, India and perhaps a member of the Arab League and/or African Union. Germany and Japan, both on the losing side of World War II, contribute the second and third most money to the United Nations, while Brazil and India both contribute the most peacekeeping troops.
The inclusion of these states (the G4 as they are called) seem like a no-brainer given their contributions, but it would do very little to fix the underlying problem of the Council, that being inaction. In fact, if these new members were to inherit the same powers as the original five, things would get dramatically worse.
If I had my say on how to go about reform, I would probably start with funding. Instead of allowing nations to contribute what they think will gain them influence, I would have each nation contribute the same percentage of their GDP whatever that might be.
Second, I would strip the P-5 of their veto power. It would be harder for them to look after their own interests and other nations would find it harder to hide behind them for protection. Quite frankly, I’m not above dismantling the Security Council completely in favour of having the general assembly vote on security resolutions. It’s a big world after all; every country should have a voice.