Table of Contents
THE CONTEXT: The call for reforming the UNSC has been active for many years which resurrected when the President of Türkiye opined that UNSC has ceased to be the guarantor of world security, while culminating into a political battleground of its five permanent members. Also, the UN’s Secretary-General asserted that addressing issues of present times requires UN institutions to adapt to the changing times. The following article aims to assess the need for reforms in UNSC so as to address the demands of the changing global order of the 21st century, from UPSC perspective.
THE UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the principal organs of the United Nations (UN), established to maintain international peace and security. It plays a critical role in addressing global conflicts, crises, and threats to international peace.
- Composition: The UNSC is composed of 15 member states, with five permanent members (P5) and ten non-permanent members. The P5, (United States, Russia, China, France & UK) also known as the “Great Powers,” have veto power, which allows them to block any substantive resolution, making their decisions particularly influential.
- Membership Rotation: Non-permanent members are elected for two-year terms, with five seats opening up each year. This rotation ensures that different regions of the world are represented over time.
Criteria for Membership: To become a member of the UNSC, a country must meet the following criteria:
- UN Membership: A nation must first be a member of the United Nations to be eligible for UNSC membership.
- Election: Non-permanent members are elected by the UN General Assembly through a two-thirds majority vote. The geographical distribution of seats is a key consideration, ensuring fair representation across regions.
- Rotation: Members serve two-year terms and can be re-elected, but there is a limit on consecutive terms. This rotation helps maintain diversity and a balance of interests.
Mandate and Functions: The UNSC’s mandate and functions are outlined in Chapter VI and Chapter VII of the UN Charter:
- Maintenance of International Peace and Security: The primary mandate of the UNSC is to address threats to international peace and security. It does so through various means, including conflict resolution, peacekeeping, and the authorization of the use of force when necessary.
- Conflict Resolution: The UNSC actively seeks to resolve international conflicts through diplomatic means, negotiation, and the promotion of peaceful settlements.
- Peacekeeping: It authorizes and oversees UN peacekeeping missions, which involve the deployment of military and civilian personnel to regions experiencing conflict to help maintain or restore peace.
- Imposition of Sanctions: The UNSC can impose economic and diplomatic sanctions against states that threaten international peace and security. These measures are intended to pressure nations into compliance with international norms.
- Authorization of Use of Force: In cases of imminent threats to international peace, the UNSC can authorize the use of force, which may include military intervention, to restore or maintain peace. This is a controversial but necessary function to respond to some crises.
- Supervision of Armistices and Agreements: The UNSC monitors and supervises armistices and agreements to ensure compliance by the parties involved.
- Protection of Civilians and Humanitarian Action: The UNSC plays a role in protecting civilians in conflict zones and promoting humanitarian assistance.
- Recommendations on General Principles of Cooperation: The UNSC can make recommendations on principles of cooperation and the peaceful settlement of international disputes.
RECENT CASES OF INVOKING VETO
1. Israel-Palestine issue (2023)
- The United States vetoed a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution that would have called for “humanitarian pauses” to deliver life-saving aid to millions in Gaza.
- Brazil, as president of the Security Council for October, 2023, responded to a call by Council members to forge a united response to the crisis and forwarded the draft resolution on October 18, 2023.
- While 12 of the Council’s 15 members voted in favour of the Brazilian-led text, the United States voted against, while Russia, and the United Kingdom abstained. As the US spokespersons, the resolution prepared by Brazil did not do enough to underscore Israel’s right to self-defense. The US has typically exercised its Security Council veto to shield Israel from critical resolutions.
- A ‘no’ vote from any one of the five permanent members of the Council stops action on any measure put before it.
- Following this, Russia has asked for the 193-member U.N. General Assembly to be convened for an emergency special session on the conflict. It could decide to put a draft resolution to a vote there, where no countries hold veto power. General Assembly resolutions are non-binding but carry political weight.
2. Ukraine crisis (2014-present): Russia’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has resulted in multiple UNSC resolutions being vetoed or blocked by Russia. This has hindered international efforts to resolve the crisis and maintain Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Regarding its 2022 Ukraine invasion, Russia again used its veto powers to block a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution condemning its invasion of Ukraine and demanding an immediate withdrawal of its troops.
3. Rohingya Crisis (2017-present): China, a permanent member, has used its veto power to block resolutions aimed at addressing the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. This has prevented the UNSC from taking effective action to hold the Myanmar government accountable for human rights abuses against the Rohingya people.
THE UNSC’S ROLE IN PROVIDING SECURITY AND PEACE IN THE WORLD
Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping
- The UNSC authorized the deployment of peacekeeping missions, such as the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), which has helped maintain the ceasefire and reduce tensions between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots since 1964.
- These missions aim to prevent and resolve conflicts and protect civilians in conflict zones.
Sanctions and Diplomacy
- In response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the UNSC imposed sanctions on North Korea, targeting its economy and restricting its access to resources.
- These measures are designed to pressure North Korea to come to the negotiating table and engage in diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
Preventing Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
- The UNSC’s adoption of Resolution 1540 in 2004 emphasizes the need to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
- It requires all member states to implement measures to prevent non-state actors from acquiring WMDs, thereby reducing the risk of their use and contributing to global security.
- In 2011, the UNSC authorized a no-fly zone and military intervention in Libya (Resolution 1973) to protect civilians from the Gaddafi regime’s violence during the Arab Spring uprisings. This intervention aimed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
- The UNSC has played a vital role in global efforts to combat terrorism. It has passed resolutions targeting terrorist organizations, individuals, and the financing of terrorism, such as resolutions related to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS), thereby helping to reduce the threat of international terrorism.
- The UNSC often engages in diplomatic efforts to mediate conflicts and broker peace agreements. For instance, the UNSC has supported peace talks in Syria and Yemen, attempting to bring warring parties to the negotiating table and facilitating peace settlements.
Protecting Human Rights
- The UNSC has a responsibility to address situations where human rights abuses or atrocities are occurring. For instance, it established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute individuals responsible for war crimes and genocide.
- The UNSC oversees the implementation and enforcement of various non-proliferation treaties, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). By monitoring compliance and addressing violations, the UNSC helps prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
ISSUES SURROUNDING THE UNSC:
Permanent Membership & limited inclusivity
- The composition of the UNSC with five permanent members (P5) – the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom – holding veto power has been a longstanding source of criticism.
- The geopolitical rivalry among the permanent members has sometimes hindered the Council from effectively addressing global issues. For instance, the United States has been historically shielding Israel from UNSC actions, Russia has been eloping itself from collective action regarding aggression in Cremean Peninsula while China has been willfully vetoing actions against terror hubs in Pakistan.
- The UNSC does not adequately represent the geopolitical realities of the 21st century, with no permanent seats for countries from Africa, Latin America, or most of Asia. This leads to concerns about the underrepresentation of regions and nations.
- Veto is the most undemocratic element of the UN, as well as the main cause of inaction on war crimes and crimes against humanity, as it effectively prevents UN action against the permanent members and their allies.
- Amnesty International claimed that the five permanent members had used their veto to promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians.
Ineffectiveness and Gridlock
- The UNSC has been criticized for its inability to prevent conflicts or resolve long-standing disputes, often due to political divisions among its members. For instance, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has seen numerous UNSC resolutions and negotiations, but a long-term solution has not been achieved, leading to frustration and continued conflict.
Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
- The concept of the “Responsibility to Protect” is often discussed in the context of the UNSC. It posits that the international community has a responsibility to intervene when a state is unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens from mass atrocities. However, the UNSC’s application of R2P has been inconsistent and subject to political considerations.
Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping
- The UNSC plays a central role in authorizing peacekeeping missions, but these missions often face challenges such as resource constraints, inadequate mandates, and complex political dynamics.
- The UNSC can impose economic and other sanctions on countries, but these sanctions can be contentious and sometimes harm civilian populations. For instance, sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s had severe humanitarian consequences, impacting the civilian population more than the government. This raised questions about the ethical implications of sanctions.
Use of Force
- The UNSC has the authority to authorize military force for the maintenance or restoration of international peace and security. The debates over the use of force, such as the 2003 Iraq War, have raised questions about the UNSC’s legitimacy in approving military action.
Unable to tackle contemporary issues
- The UNSC has been called upon to address the security implications of climate change and environmental degradation. The council’s role in mitigating these issues remains a subject of debate. While the UNSC has discussed climate change as a security issue, concrete actions and resolutions addressing climate-related security threats have been limited.
- The UNSC has been criticized for not addressing the global challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic effectively. Some argue that the council’s inability to take coordinated action has hindered international efforts to combat the virus.
Transparency and Accountability
- The UNSC often operates behind closed doors, which can lead to criticisms of a lack of transparency and accountability in its decision-making processes.
- The usual UN rules don’t apply to the UNSC deliberations and no records are kept of its meetings. Additionally, there is no “text” of the meeting to discuss, amend or object.
OBSTACLES FOR INDIA’S ENTRY AS A PERMANENT UNSC MEMBER
- China has been a consistent opponent of India’s bid for permanent membership in the UNSC. China’s concerns include India’s growing influence in the region and historical border disputes. As a P5 member, China’s veto can significantly affect any proposed reforms.
- Historical conflicts and rivalries can influence the stance of some countries. For example, Pakistan has been a vocal opponent of India’s UNSC bid due to the long-standing Kashmir dispute and other issues. Pakistan argues that India’s entry would disrupt regional security dynamics, making the UNSC more contentious.
- This has also garnered opposition from the ‘coffee club’ (an informal 40-member group to oppose expansion of UNSC permanent membership). China has serious objections to Japan being there in the Security Council. Italy trying to compete with Germany in Europe for a place in the Security Council. Argentia does not agree with the fact that Brazil should represent South America in the UNSC as a permanent representative.
- The UN reform process, which includes discussions on UNSC expansion, has faced a stalemate, primarily because member states have different visions of what a reformed UNSC should look like.
- The UN General Assembly’s Inter-Governmental Negotiations (IGN) on UNSC reform have made limited progress over many years due to the divergent positions of member states on issues like the number of new permanent members and the use of veto power.
Lack of Unity Among G4 Nations
- India is part of the G4 group (along with Brazil, Germany, and Japan), which seeks permanent UNSC membership. However, these countries have not always presented a unified front, and differences in priorities or approaches can weaken their collective efforts.
- Also, these groups face opposition from other states and blocs, such as the Uniting for Consensus group, which opposes adding new permanent members.
- Expanding the UNSC’s permanent membership involves addressing complex logistical and operational issues, such as the allocation of veto power, equitable representation, and effective decision-making.
- The question of how to allocate veto power to new permanent members, if any, remains a contentious issue. Any formula for distributing veto power must be agreeable to current P5 members and potential new entrants.
WHY INDIA IS A DESERVING CANDIDATE FOR A PERMANENT UNSC SEAT?
- India’s claim for permanent representation at the global level is grounded in several significant factors. First, India’s vast population, constituting around 18% of the world’s total, underscores the need for its enduring presence on the world stage.
- Secondly, India’s economic importance is unmistakable, with its recent ascension to the rank of the fifth-largest economy by nominal GDP and the third-largest by GDP (PPP). This robust economic standing demonstrates its considerable influence in the global arena.
- Thirdly, India’s military capabilities have been steadily rising. It currently holds the fourth position in the Global Firepower Index, trailing only the United States, Russia, and China, and surpassing even some of the P5 nations like the UK and France. Additionally, India’s advancements in fields such as space exploration underline its expanding prowess. India’s acquired status of a Nuclear Weapons State (NWS) in May 1998 also makes India a natural claimant as a permanent member similar to the existing permanent members who are all Nuclear Weapon States.
- Fourthly, India has consistently made substantial contributions to UN peacekeeping missions. While there has been a recent decline in troop numbers, India has maintained a strong tradition of active involvement in peacekeeping endeavors worldwide.
- Lastly, India has a strong commitment to international principles. It has a historical track record of advocating for fundamental principles like respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference, equality, and peaceful coexistence. Its leadership in the Non-Aligned Movement and its staunch support for disarmament, including the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, underscore its dedication to promoting global peace and security.
Achieving reform of the UNSC to accommodate India as a permanent member will require continued negotiation, diplomacy, and a willingness to address the concerns and interests of various stakeholders.
WHETHER THE WORLD SHOULD CONSIDER AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL (UNSC)?
The question of whether the world should consider an alternative to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is a complex and debated topic. While the UNSC has played a central role in global security and diplomacy since its establishment, it does face various challenges and criticisms, as discussed earlier. Whether an alternative should be pursued depends on several factors and considerations:
- Reform Within the UNSC: One option is to continue pushing for reforms within the UNSC. The need for a more representative and accountable UNSC is widely acknowledged. If meaningful reforms can be achieved, it may address many of the current criticisms and enhance the UNSC’s effectiveness.
- Strengthening Other UN Organs: The UN has other organs, such as the General Assembly and specialized agencies, that could be empowered to take on a more substantial role in addressing global issues. This approach could involve delegating some of the UNSC’s functions to other bodies.
- Regional Organizations: In some cases, regional organizations have taken on security and peacekeeping roles, such as the African Union and the European Union. Depending on the situation, these organizations can address regional conflicts more effectively than a global body like the UNSC.
- New Multilateral Forums: The establishment of new multilateral forums or organizations to address specific global challenges is another option. For example, the G20 has been used to address economic and financial issues.
- Ad Hoc Coalitions: Ad hoc coalitions of willing states, like the one formed during the Gulf War in 1990-1991, have been used to address specific crises when UNSC consensus is elusive.
- Digital Diplomacy and Civil Society: The digital age has allowed for greater communication and coordination among civil society groups, NGOs, and citizens. Digital diplomacy and advocacy play a role in shaping international politics and can serve as a complementary tool to traditional diplomacy.
- Hybrid Approaches: A combination of the above options may be the most realistic approach. The international system is complex, and addressing global issues often requires a multifaceted approach that leverages multiple organizations, mechanisms, and actors.
It’s important to note that the UNSC remains a critical global institution, and its role in international security and diplomacy is not easily replaceable. Any alternative or reform effort should carefully consider the complexities and geopolitical realities of the current international system.
Ultimately, the feasibility and desirability of alternatives to the UNSC depend on the specific issue at hand, the willingness of major powers to cooperate, and the level of support and consensus among UN member states. International diplomacy is an evolving process, and discussions about the structure and function of global governance institutions are ongoing.
REFORMING THE UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL:
A PATH FORWARD FOR GLOBAL STABILITY:
Expansion of Permanent Membership
- The foremost challenge is to make the UNSC more representative of the contemporary world order. The addition of new permanent members is essential, especially for the G4 nations due to their economic, strategic and military credentials. By expanding permanent membership, we can bridge the gap between the UNSC’s current composition and the realities of the 21st century.
Equitable Allocation of Veto Power
- The allocation of veto power among new permanent members must be carefully negotiated. A rotating veto system, where new permanent members earn the right to veto over time, could be a viable solution. This approach ensures a gradual transition of power and prevents an abrupt shift in global dynamics.
Greater Transparency and Accountability
- The UNSC must enhance its transparency and accountability mechanisms. The establishment of a formalized process for reviewing UNSC decisions, with more extensive explanations for veto use, can mitigate concerns about abuse of power.
Strengthening Regional Organizations
- Regional organizations, such as the African Union and the European Union, play a pivotal role in addressing regional security issues. The importance of working collaboratively with these entities to tackle crises within their respective domains. This approach enables the UNSC to focus on broader global security concerns.
Prudent Use of Sanctions
- While sanctions are essential tools for the UNSC, they must be employed judiciously. There must be stricter oversight mechanisms to assess the humanitarian impact of sanctions. It is crucial to strike a balance between targeting rogue regimes and minimizing harm to civilian populations.
Promoting Conflict Resolution and Diplomacy
- The UNSC should prioritize diplomatic efforts and conflict resolution over military intervention whenever feasible. The UNSC should invest more in mediation, peacekeeping, and preventive diplomacy to avert crises before they escalate.
Strong Civil Society Engagement
- Civil society plays an increasingly vital role in shaping international politics. There must be active steps for involving NGOs, think tanks, and grassroots movements in UNSC deliberations. Their perspectives can provide insights and solutions that traditional diplomacy may overlook.
Strengthening Cybersecurity and Counterterrorism Measures
- In the digital age, the UNSC must address emerging security threats. There must be establishment of a dedicated UNSC committee on cybersecurity and counterterrorism to tackle these evolving challenges.
THE CONCLUSION: Reforming the UNSC is a complex and delicate endeavor, but it is necessary to address the pressing global issues of our time. It requires diplomatic skill, collaboration, and compromise among member states. By expanding representation, increasing transparency, and promoting conflict resolution, the UNSC can become a more effective guardian of global peace and security in the 21st century. The time for reform is now.
Q.1 “The composition of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) no longer aligns with the realities of the shifting geopolitical landscape and the aspirations for a more equitable multipolar world.” Do you agree? Give relevant arguments in the light of recent developments.
Q.2 India’s economic, strategic and military credentials provide a strong candidature for its inclusion as a permanent UNSC member. Examine.
Veto power, in the context of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), is the authority granted to the five permanent members of the UNSC to reject or invalidate any “substantive” resolution.
This power is established in Article 27 of the United Nations Charter, which outlines the following principles:
- Every UNSC member has a single vote.
- Decisions related to procedural matters require a positive vote from at least nine members.
- Decisions on all other matters necessitate a positive vote from at least nine members, with the additional condition that it must include the concurring votes of the permanent members.
- In practical terms, this means that any of the permanent members can veto or block the adoption of a draft resolution by casting a negative vote. It’s important to note that if a permanent member abstains or is not present during the vote, it will not obstruct the passage of the resolution.
- While the specific term “power of veto” is not explicitly used in the UN Charter, Article 27 effectively mandates the requirement for unanimous agreement among the great powers, which is why this principle is often referred to as “great power unanimity,” and the act of using this power is commonly known as the “great power veto.”
Do vetoes work in emergency sessions in the General Assembly?
- Vetoes cannot be applied during emergency special sessions in the General Assembly.
- The resolution that allowed emergency special sessions to come into existence is known as the ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution.
- The General Assembly, when not in session, can convene an emergency special session at the request of the Security Council or of a majority of its own members.