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Reform or die!

The UNSC is increasingly Sclerotic and must be reformed or the UN will collapse into irrelevance, much as the League of Nations failed in its day

June 18


London , United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland - 18 Jun 2018 - Ghassan Matar

As good a place as any to witness the slow decline of the post-second world war global “order” is the UN security council – if they would let you in, which they won’t. Don’t bother with that rarefied organ’s “public” meetings. None of its real diplomatic business is conducted in the open.

In a reflection of the state of the world, the security council, which is charged with the maintenance of international peace, is busier than ever. Years ago, the council met for a few hours once or twice a week.

These days it meets all day, often at night and weekends too. Overworked diplomats discuss an ever-lengthening agenda of crises, from North Korea to Libya. The long list of meetings and committees may demonstrate the council’s energy in addressing the manifold factors behind modern conflict but it also reflects the council’s failure: it doesn’t take a diplomat to see that insecurity is spreading.

Then there’s the semiotics. Once limiting itself to crisp, pointed decisions (such as its demands for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories), its resolutions have grown ever longer and less intelligible.

The council has designed five or six (no one can say with certainty) different categories of its public statements. There used to be one. Heads of UN missions tell me they cannot understand the confused mandates the council has given their peacekeepers. Governments I have advised say they have no idea of the meaning of resolutions directed at them.

There are many reasons behind the UN’s inability to stop the devastating war in Syria, but it’s not good enough merely to blame Russia, as western diplomats tend to do. The disturbing truth is that the world’s primary institution to deal with war is not working.

The basic problem is that the council’s founding premise of a world ordered by states no longer holds. After the September 11th attacks, the nature of political violence and global insecurity had been altered forever. But the council’s arrogant presumption that governments decide and the rest abide has not changed. The failure of governments and their multilateral institutions is epic.

What seemed then like episodic and geographically limited threats have now morphed into permanent war, insecurity and extremist violence on almost every continent. Unfortunately, most of the debate about reform at the UN misses the point. The United Nations had begun its peacekeeping missions in 1948 and ensued outcomes with varying degrees of successes and failures over the years.

The failure of the UN to find a solution to the Palestinian & Syrian crisis is an example of the organisation’s failure to keep its promise of ensuring peace and stability across nations. There is nothing very specific about this conflict when compared to other conflicts where engineering a UN solution has not been very difficult.

However, the Palestinian and Syrian conflict stands to reflect the worst crisis and the complete failure of the UN to bring peace and ensure stability, foreshadowing the end of the legitimacy of the United Nations. There are several reasons for this failure.

The most important one is the working of the members of the organisation to protect their national interest rather than the interests of the people of the nations, who are increasingly becoming citizens of a globalised world. The Syrian conflict has moved from being a civil war to an internationalised civil war with big world powers supporting, both directly and indirectly, various factions involved.

Despite all these, there has been a relentless effort on the part of some branches of the United Nations like the UN Human Rights Commission, World Health Organisation to provide life-saving aid and relief. Nevertheless, these efforts are being severely undermined by the workings of UN Security Council.

The UNSC is currently working, not only in forwarding the divided interests of its permanent members but also against the very principles upheld by its Humanitarian Organs. The international powers often engage in false piety when they call for the need of UN action.

The US proxy war in Syria by supporting the rebels, and the Russian interference on behalf of President Bashar Al Assad, clearly shows how rhetorical the UN is, often a hypocrite in terms of its words and actions.

There are several other reasons that could have undermined the working of the United Nations with its earlier vigour and optimism. These are the changing world dynamics, with regional power blocks questioning the hierarchy of the organisation itself and thereby demanding more representative quota in UNSC; the lack of military and trained personnel on behalf of the organisation to enforce its resolutions; the rise of China and the new assertion of power by Russia. Founded in San Francisco on October 24, 1945, the UN opened with endless promise.

As proclaimed in its lofty preamble, the original 51 member states committed themselves to saving "succeeding generations from the scourge of war ... [reaffirmed] ... faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights ... of nation's large and small ... to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from ... international law [could] be maintained ... to ensure... that armed force [would] not be used, save in the common interest."

With all too comfortable ease, 73 years later, these passionate words of humanity have once again proven themselves to be little more than idle chatter in which the powerful not only craft the tone of the debate, but set about to ensure its content reflects their unique and predatory vision of the rule of law. In what has become a political art form of pain and punishment, with repeated rerun a handful of powers have used their veto to ensure that the Security Council (UNSC), the UN's most empowered organ, is long on vent, but short on action.

In first place stands Russia/Soviet Union which has used its veto 112 times and in second place stands the United States. It has exercised its veto power some 80 times to date. Since 1982, the grand protector of Israel has vetoed 36 UNSC resolutions critical of it, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other UNSC members. In its most basic form, the veto power ensures that permanent members of the UNSC can, as they choose, prevent any collective UN action whether a diplomatic or armed response to an international crisis, thus sacrificing the will of the world community to their own narrow geopolitical programme.

UN inaction, or sanctioned violence, has long betrayed any meaningful effort to serve as the world's neutral arbiter to ensure equal and just application of international law and the pursuit of world peace. While examples of meaningless, indeed failed, political debate abound, one, in particular, exposes the UN as little more than an excuse for yearly September get-togethers of world leaders.

No state has offended, with such brazen regularity and uniform betrayal, the core principles of the UN than has Israel, established on stolen Palestinian land. Since literally its first day, when the UN announced to the world that Palestine was relegated to history and Israel crafted as a Middle East extension of Europe, this state has flouted international law in its march of ethnic cleansing.

With mayhem its mantra even before its artificial declaration of statehood, Israel's Zionist framers never blinked at the use of unbridled terror to obtain their goal. Thebombing of the King David Hotel, in 1946, by the Irgun, a UK-designated terrorist organisation, took the life of 91 mostly civilians.

While this massacre and the assassination of UN mediator Folke Bernadotte, in Jerusalem in 1948, by the group Lehi, momentarily captured the eye of the world, little was known about the decade of horror that both Palestinians and British had lived at the hands of Zionist militias.

During this period, Palestinians and British police and military personnel were injured or assassinated by explosives, snipers or lynching. Jewish terrorists attacked infrastructure, en masse, as they robbed banks and bombed military and police installations, government offices, and ships. They sabotaged railways, bridges, and oil installations using booby traps, ambushes and vehicle blasts with the kind of cold detached execution that the world would once again see just this past month not from the Irgun, but from its heir - the Israeli military.

The demise of the security council can also be traced back to the infamous Colin Powell statement where he used the once trusted platform to peddle lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Ever since Powell uttered those lies, the security council lost its legitimacy and has since then limped on, constantly mired in deadlock and irrelevance.

As much criticism as Powell has gotten for this — he calls it “painful” and says, “I get mad when bloggers accuse me of lying” — it hasn’t been close to what he deserves. That’s because there’s no question that Powell was consciously lying: he fabricated “evidence” and ignored repeated warnings that what he was saying was false. We know this because of some good reporting and what’s seeped into the public record via one of the congressional investigations of pre-war Iraq intelligence.

By lying to the world using the security council to endorse US objectives into toppling Saddam Hussein, the United States irreversibly damaged the entire organization and in particular the Security Council. This was repeated in Libya and Syria which The United Nations was born in the hope that survived a world war, the hope of a world moving toward justice, escaping old patterns of conflict and fear.

The current structure of the UNSC reflects the result of the end of the World War II and of the Cold War.

So how should the United nations be reformed?

 Personally, I support the idea of abolishing the outdated security council and using the general assembly as the main mechanism to resolve conflicts.

By engaging the entire world community in voting for action, and giving a voice to the sentiments of the members of the UN General Assembly the UN would be more inclusive and less prone to be used as a tool for selfish interests. Without the veto, countries proposing resolutions would have to engage in serious diplomacy and would find it hard to use the UN to pursue their own agendas to the detriment of others.

However, the chances of the permanent 5 voting to end their veto is very slim; which brings us to the reforms at the UNSC. There have been many discussions revolving around the stale questions of new permanent members of the security council or restrictions on the use of the veto.

Rather than expanding the UNSC, which would simply make it more ineffective, it should be reorganized to be represent the realities of the world rather than the extension of a colonial past. A fair and function UNSC would see the permanent seats held by blocks rather than individual countries. the United Kingdom and France losing their permanent seat and being replaced with a single European voice. The African Union would also gain a permanent seat to represent the half a billion African people in the world.

The Russian and Chinese permanent seats would be replaced by either the SCO or the BRICS. In either case, this seat would represent over 2 billion people. The United States would cede its seat to the OAS which would cover the Americas and the Arab League would represent the Arab States. Smaller states who are not part of a block would get a voice through the non-permanent status of the UNSC.

Both are desirable but neither will happen soon – or fix the deeper problem. If we’re not careful, the UN will collapse into irrelevance, much as the League of Nations failed in its day.