Saturday, April 14, 2018

Twelve Russian Vetoes and the Failure of the UN Security Council

by Nomad

An Exchange of Vetoes

On Tuesday of this week,  April 10, Russia used its veto power at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to block the adoption of a resolution to condemn last week’s deadly gas attack in Syria and push Moscow’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to cooperate with international inquiries into the incident.

After Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution, the Russian ambassador offered a counter-proposal, similar to the Western-backed resolution but with a few critical differences.   
Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, that the Kremlin supported an “objective investigation” into the use of chemical weapons in Syria. 
"The Kremlin backs an objective investigation into this situation to provide trustworthy data, and so that we don’t rely on rumors and fake media reports. We believe that this information on such awful consequences of using chemical weapons in [Syria’s] Douma is not based on real data.”
Fake News, in other words.

As an ally of the regime in Syria, it was only fair to ask if Russia really have any right to decide what is a fake media report and what is trustworthy data?
To put the icing on the credibility cake, immediately after the veto, Russian government officials came out with their own extremely unlikely scenario, claiming that it was the UK that had orchestrated the attack as a false flag.

United States UN ambassador Nikki Haley expressed her deep frustration, calling the Russian proposal "deeply problematic" and deemed it as yet another attempt by Russia "to compromise the credibility of the international investigation."

She pointed out that the UN members were being expected to trust that the same government that "says everything about the Douma attack was fake will work in good faith with investigators.
Russia would, she said, measure the objectivity of the investigation based on who was chosen to head it and the results. 

This time it was the US that gave the resolution killing veto. This exchange of vetoes not only represented a failure for the UN, it also set the stage for Western intervention in Syria in the form of a missile attack on Syria early Saturday morning.

The 12th Russian Veto 

The Russian veto was not a surprise to anybody at the UN. In fact, it was the 12th time that Russia had used its privilege as a Security Council member to shoot down resolutions regarding Syria.
In four of those vetos, Russia blocked draft resolutions seeking to establish investigations of chemical weapons use in Syria’s seven-year war. A fifth veto was used to prevent a Western bid to impose sanctions over chemical weapons use. 

This is one of the main reasons why the conflict has continued for the last seven years. It's also why this civil war has taken around half a million lives. The conflict has, in addition, destabilized neighboring nations, like Turkey, as floods of refugees swarmed over the border.
Had the Security Council been dedicated to its mission and properly structured, things could have turned out very differently.

Through its use of the veto, Russia has made any attempt to find a peaceful solution in Syria next to impossible. Due to its misplaced loyalty to Assad, Russia has turned its back on Syrian civilians, leaving them to face the horrors of chemical attacks and barrel-bombings on their own.

Following the latest veto, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko boldly called for reform of the UNSC. In an interview with Ukrainian TV channels, Poroshenko said that UN "requires immediate reform: to deprive the aggressor state of its veto right."
In his opinion, Russia- under its current regime- has lost its credibility and should, therefore have its veto power revoked.

It isn't the first time in the UN's history that there've been calls for reforms to made to the UNSC. It's easy to see why.

The Security Council and the Chance for Reform 

The series of Russian vetoes highlights one of the flaws with the UN Charter, especially Chapter 5 regarding the formation of the UNSC. The Council primarily mission is supposed to be the maintenance of international peace and security but its very structure has made that very difficult.
This has raised legitimate questions about the role and the fairness of the UNSC.

First, a bit of clarification is required.
The UN Charter of 1945 first established the list of permanent UNSC members. The permanent members consist of  China (formerly the Republic of China), Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

So, how were those countries chosen above all others in the General Assembly you might ask?
Those five nations were all Allied members during WWII. To put it another way, they were the victors of the defeat of Nazism. Yet, at the time the list was composed, the Cold War had not yet begun.

The selection of permanent member states was not meant to represent countries with the largest militaries, the largest economic power or even the largest population.
History- past imperial powers, for instance- was also not a criterion. If it had, countries like Spain or Turkey could have found themselves on the Council.

In total, there are 15  UN member states that serve on the UNSC. In addition to the five permanent members, there are ten non-permanent members elected every two years by the General Assembly. 
However, only the five permanent members have the power of veto. That power enables them to prevent the adoption of any "substantive" draft Council resolution, regardless of its level of international support. Fourteen members of the UNSC could agree on a resolution, but if only one permanent member vetos the resolution, resolution is blocked.

So, it's fair to ask, how can the mission of the Security Council ever be achieved when all it takes is one permanent member- who may have particular geopolitical interests - to vanquish single-handedly any prospect for peace?

It's surprising to learn that there is no means of removing a permanent security council member. There are procedures for selecting the non-permanent members, but no procedures for changing the list of permanent members.
Such a reform would require an amendment to the UN Charter.

So what are the chances of that? Any proposed amendment to the UN Charter would require a two-thirds of the General Assembly. That, by itself, would present a formidable challenge.
But that would also require- brace yourself-  a unanimous agreement of all permanent members of the Security Council.

It's pretty safe to say that Russian ambassadors would do about any attempt to remove Russia's right of veto. 
They would veto it.

History Holds Little Hope

In UN history, there's been only one precedent for the removal of a permanent member. That member was the Republic of China and it occurred under some extraordinary (and controversial) circumstances.  
When the government of the Republic of China fled to Taiwan at the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War, it continued to be treated by the UN as the legitimate government of China until 1971, retaining a seat in both the General Assembly and the Security Council. In 1971 the UN recognized the People's Republic of China as the only legitimate government of China. With that, the Republic of China lost its membership in UN entirely, and the PRC assumed those seats.
That decision to recognize Communist China as the only legitimate representative of the Chinese people radically changed the balance of power. It also left a Western ally- Taiwan- dangling in the cold. 

So is the Ukranian president's call for UNSC reform dead in the water? Very likely. That's because Russia has, in effect, found a way to barricade itself inside the UNSC and there's not much that can be done about it.

It would probably be easier to oust Russia as a member of the UN than to remove it from the Security Council. The UN Charter established that membership  “is open to all peace-loving States that accept the obligations contained in the United Nations Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able to carry out these obligations.” 

But removing Russia from the UN isn't going to happen either and nobody thinks that would be a wise idea. History gives us a good idea us what happens next.

In 1933, Nazi Germany pulled out of the League of Nations, citing its rejection for calls for disarmament. As he prepared for the conquest of Europe, Hitler was unhindered by world criticism, free do as he liked.

The Blood of Children

Before condemning Russia's abuse of its UNSC privileges, perhaps the West- the US, in particular- needs to reflect on its own behavior in the world assembly. Part of the problem for the failure of the peace-keeping mission of the Security Council lies with past actions by the United States. 

In some ways, Russia is only following the same pattern of resolution vetoes that the US developed to protect its own ally in the region, Israel. Time after time, the US, motivated by its unquestioning loyalty to Israel, had vetoed UN resolutions aimed at Israel's actions in Palestine.   

Few reasonable people could ever side with Russia in its defense of a monster like Assad. It is morally inexcusable. Politically, the advantages of sticking with Assad are difficult to comprehend.

Yet, when the UN ambassador for the US, Nikki Haley says that the hands of the Russian government are "covered in the blood of Syrian children," and that Putin's administration "cannot be shamed by pictures of its victims," it is important to remember also the spilled blood of Palestinian children.