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UN Security Council Remains as Powerless as Ever

An important question arises as Russia invades Ukraine -- can the UN Charter not be amended to remove erring nations from the Security Council?
UN Security Council Remains as Powerless as Ever

Image Courtesy: AFP

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States representative to the United Nations, said, "Vladimir Putin wants the world to travel back in time. To a time when empires ruled the world. But the rest of the world has moved forward. It is not 1919. It is 2022." Linda spoke about the letter and spirit of the rule-based global order under the United Nations. Still, Russian forces' recent pre-dawn military airstrike into the capital city of Ukraine, Kyiv, has demonstrated that the United Nations centred system of law has failed. 

Russia has violated the UN Charter's restrictions on the use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine; it was Article 2(4) of the Charter's founding principles that nations cannot use force to change borders unilaterally. Russia crossed the red line, erred to the extent it should not have, and ultimately justified the military operations in the name of protecting its own security interests. The entire spotlight is on how Russia has violated territorial integrity, but no one is asking as to why the current system of collective security has failed to maintain international peace and security in the game of great power politics. Many say Putin's timing of the strike was perfect when UN Security Council (UNSC) was having its annual meeting and that not much could have been done.

Russia leveraged this timing to suit its agenda politically, diplomatically, and internationally to send out a message to America and the NATO countries that they should not take Russia lightly. This again brings us to the question of how the great powers with permanent vetoes in the Security Council (i.e. United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China ) can always block formal efforts to respond to their uses of force. 

In 2008, Russia ordered the invasion of Georgia, followed by the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and now Ukraine. One constant that exists and has existed all these years is that the United Nations remains as powerless as before. Not just Russia, one can also recall the Bush administration during the 2003 Iraq war. Even though the United States went to war without the Security Council's authorisation, it sought to build a legal case in its support. Just because the P5 nations drive the agenda of the Security Council, it cannot give them the sanctity to willfully violate. Punitive measures like sanctions, severing diplomatic ties, or delinking trade might just be symbolic when it comes to powerful nations, and these steps might not deter them. 

Why can the UN Charter not be amended to remove erring nations like Russia from the Security Council? If the Security Council has become so ineffective, can there not be an alternative? How about a new concert of democracies that take up the responsibility of maintaining international peace and security and, if need be, can pointedly exclude autocracies like Russia or China? Why are questions not being asked of the United States and its allies' failure to strengthen the international system? It is high time that nations should cease to sit on the fences or walk on the sidelines but come out openly on bringing alternative mechanisms to make the UNSC more robust. The new order should be in a position to send out signals to countries that resort to aggression or keep their populations oppressed, and ensure that such mistakes will lead them to lose their voice in the world councils. The US often pledges to pursue diplomacy till the tanks roll; can we see the same perseverance by the United States when it comes to bringing reforms in the UN? Well, the world is waiting with bated breath.

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