Approaching its 75th anniversary, the UN Security Council is not in the best of its health. Many experts believe that the matter is in the composition and rules of procedure of the Council that do not correspond anymore (if they ever did) to the character of, and the challenges facing, the twenty first century world. But is a radical reform of the Security Council really needed? Valdai Club expert Rein Müllerson explains why this may not be the case.
The United Nations was established “to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace” [Art. 1 (1) of the UN Charter]. The principal organ, responsible for carrying out this task, is the Security Council.
During its 75 years of existence the Council, though far from being as effective as hoped and expected in the aftermath of the two world wars that in the life of a generation had “brought untold sorrow to mankind”, has nevertheless made a significant contribution to the implementation of the main purpose of the UN. One category of its rather successful missions, though not expressly stipulated in the Charter, is the UN peacekeeping. In May 1948, the Security Council established UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation) and assigned it to observe and maintain the ceasefire between Israel and its Arab neighbours. UNTSO was followed in January 1949 by UNMOGIP to supervise ceasefire between India and Pakistan in the area of Jammu and Kashmir. Such missions, sometimes jokingly called “Chapter Six and a Half” operations, have probably been the biggest success-story of the United Nations, for which, in 1988, the Organisation was awarded Nobel Peace Prize. From relatively simple observer missions they have gradually evolved into operations with elements of peace-enforcement, nation-building, democracy promotion, human rights protection, and a host of lesser functions. They have acquired not only experience but also significantly more muscle. Such multidimensional peacekeeping operations have not all been successful in all their aspects. Sometimes, concentration on one assignment may undermine the implementation of other tasks, e.g. concentration on bringing to justice human rights violators may hamper peace processes, notwithstanding the maxim that there is no peace without justice.
The Security Council has also made a significant contribution to the resolution of various international and internal disputes and conflictual situations. Its decisions have led to efforts, often successful, in mediation, good offices, or fact-finding. Carried out either by UN Secretaries General or special envoys, such missions have helped prevent or de-escalate conflictual situations not only between but also within states.
More controversial has been the role of the Security Council in the creation, at the beginning of the 1990s, of ad hoc criminal tribunals – for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and for Rwanda (ICTR). The belief that international criminal law and jurisdiction could significantly contribute to the maintenance or restoration of peace and security turned out to be premature. Most of those accused or sentenced, for example, by the ICTY have been seen by their countrymen and women as heroes. Meagre results of the International Criminal Court (ICC), created in the aftermath of these two tribunals, confirm a limited role of criminal jurisdiction in international relations, which by their very nature are primarily political relations.
Approaching its 75th anniversary, the Council is not in the best of its health. And it is not due to the coronavirus or the dislike by President Trump of multilateral diplomacy. Many experts believe that the matter is in the composition and rules of procedure of the Council that do not correspond anymore (if they ever did) to the character of, and the challenges facing, the twenty first century world. In their opinion, a radical overhaul of the SC is long overdue. However, I do not believe that the coronavirus, the idiosyncrasy of the Trump administration or even outdatedness of the rules and composition of the Council, are the main factors that are not allowing this principal UN body to properly fulfil today its tasks.