With Russia in the crosshairs, the idea of reforming the UN once again appeals to Washington | War in Ukraine
“The right to veto becomes a right to kill”, denounced Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before the UN.
The reform of the UN and its Security Council is a sea serpent that resurfaces as each United Nations General Assembly approaches.
But these calls are now echoed by a most unlikely ally: the United States, exasperated by Moscow's use of its veto, in the midst of the Ukrainian war.
To ensure that Russia does not block Security Council meetings, Western powers have relied on a series of rules of procedure. To condemn Russia, they turned to the UN General Assembly, where each of the 193 member states has one vote.
But the impotence of the UN in this conflict is notable, and it suffices to go back to the evening of February 23, 2022. In the middle of a meeting of the Security Council, Vladimir Putin had announced to the world that he was launching a “special military operation” in Ukraine. From New York, diplomats continued to read pre-written statements.
In a recent speech, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield came out in favor of sensitive and credible proposals to expand and therefore reform the Security Council, which now has; today five permanent members (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France) and 10 non-permanent.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield at an emergency meeting of the Security Council on March 4, just over a week after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
We must not defend an untenable and outdated status quo, she pleaded. But rather to show flexibility and openness, in the name of greater credibility and legitimacy, affirmed the ambassador.
Any permanent member who uses its right of veto to defend its own actions loses all moral authority and must be held accountable, she also warned.
This type of remarks make Beijing and Moscow smile, which refer to the time of Bush Jr., when the United States did not hesitate to circumvent the Security Council to invade Iraq.
For Naledi Pandor, the foreign minister of South Africa – a country that has long sought a seat on the Security Council – it is hypocritical to criticize the concept of the veto only because of Russia's use of it today.
Some of us have long called for the General Assembly to be able to play a greater role, but have never been supported. But suddenly, today, yes? she recently launched in front of a think tank in Washington. This is where international law starts to become meaningless.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield acknowledged that the United States was not always the first to respect its own principles, but pointed out that since 2009 Washington had only used its veto four times, compared to 26 times for Russia.
For Richard Gowan, analyst at the International Crisis Group, the concerns of the United States around the dysfunctions of the Security Council are sincere.
< p class="e-p">But it's also a clever way to point the finger at China and Russia. Because we all know that Russia and China are the countries most reluctant to reform the Council, he argues.
The strongest impetus for Security Council reform dates back to the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II, when Brazil, Germany, India and Japan jointly tabled their candidacies for a permanent seat.
China was then fiercely opposed to the allocation of a seat to another Asian power from the East.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres advocating for a peaceful solution at the Security Council.
Japanese ambitions have long been supported by Washington. During a visit to India, former President Barack Obama expressed general support for a New Delhi bid. But beyond wishful thinking, very few initiatives have so far been launched to bring these candidacies to fruition.
According to Richard Gowan, a clear call from Joe Biden in favor of an overhaul of the Council would instantly reinvigorate reform efforts. But, he tempers, my feeling is that the Americans do not necessarily have a specific goal in their approach.
They do this to test the waters, to challenge the Chinese and the Russians. That could run out of steam, he warns.
Diplomacists also doubt that Security Council reform can take place as long as Russia and the China will see their interests threatened.
Among those who support Ukraine against Russian aggression, it is a recurring theme, notes John Herbst, a former American diplomat now at the Atlantic Council. But I think the chances of that happening are very, very slim.