The Positives And Negatives Of The Un International Law Essay

Throughout the sixty-five year history of the United Nations (UN) there have been numerous organizational successes and failures. The primary aim of the UN was to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." [1] In that respect, the organization has been a success since it effectively prevented a third world war. Even though the UN has essentially achieved its primary purpose, the organization is not without its failings. One of the most criticised aspects of the organization has been the UN Security Council. The Security Council is one of the six principle organs of the United Nations. It is the branch of the UN that is charged with the important task of maintaining peace and security throughout the world. Permanent membership in the Security Council is made up of the five victorious powers of World War II – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In addition to permanent membership there are also ten elected temporary members that serve two year terms. There are two main areas of criticism surrounding the Security Council: The exclusivity of membership - including the motivations of these nations in international affairs, and the veto power that was granted to the five permanent members. In addition to discussing the criticisms levied against the Security Council, I will also present the ideas surrounding the reform of the UN Security Council and the inherent difficulties that are present in that endeavour. I intend to argue that the administrative structure of the Security Council has rendered the UN increasingly irrelevant and that any serious reform to the composition of the Security Council is highly unlikely.

Critics argue that the Security Council is too exclusive; its members aiming only to achieve their own strategic objectives to the detriment of all non-permanent members. There are numerous instances when the members of the Security Council have shown that their true motivation lies in protecting either their own national interests or the interests of their allies. In 1990, the UN Security Council was quick to condemn the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait during the Gulf War and voted immediately for economic sanctions to be imposed on Iraq. The Security Council even voted for a resolution allowing for a naval blockade in an attempt to enforce the sanctions. In addition to economic sanctions, the Security Council intervened militarily by mobilising a coalition army with the stated goal of expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The United Nations and the United States publicly stated that the basis of intervention was to protect the territorial sovereignty of Kuwait and to punish Iraq for their history of human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime of Saddam Hussein. [2] If one is to believe that the United Nations Security Council truly acted out of altruism during the Gulf War, then one is left questioning why the UN response to the Rwandan genocide - just four years later in 1994 – received such a different response.

During the Rwandan genocide in 1994 there was no quick condemnation from the Security Council and even as the fighting escalated, the UN and the international community largely deserted the impoverished nation. [3] Even though it was the UN that faced the brunt of the criticism, Canadian General Romeo Dallaire - commander of UN peacekeepers in Rwanda in 1994 - in an interview with the BBC stated that the real culprits were the sovereign nations that made up the Security Council; they simply did not have the political will to intervene and get embroiled in such a complex mission. [4] Even though the topic of the UN in Rwanda may be used to illustrate the failings of UN peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention as a whole, for the purposes of this essay, I only want to draw attention to the idea that the permanent members of the UN Security Council often act out of geopolitical strategic importance rather than altruistic ideals; even the task of humanitarian intervention is rife with geopolitical manoeuvring. The members were quick to support “humanitarian" efforts in protecting oil producing Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, but showed little interest in defending those same principles when it involved an impoverished Rwanda.

Another aspect of the Security Council that negatively impacts the effectiveness of the UN is the fact that the five permanent members hold a veto power. Due to the intergovernmental aspect of the UN, a veto by a single nation has the ability to halt an entire process. The veto power also leads some experts to view the UN Security Council as undemocratic. They argue that it can not serve the interests of the global community so long as the five founding allies hold a veto power. There have been times when a resolution designed to contain a country was vetoed by the very country the resolution was intended to contain, as was the case with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. [5] It is true that the veto power was essential to the creation of the UN in 1945 because had it not been granted, one could argue that the UN would not have survived through its often tense early years. The veto power allowed the five victorious powers to feel that they would be able to safeguard their own national interests while at the same time working towards achieving the collective interests of the entire world. [6] However, the granting of that veto power also had the potential to create an utterly dysfunctional intergovernmental organization. During the cold war, debate at the UN Security Council often came to an impasse. The Security Council’s intended purpose of achieving peace and security was not being fulfilled and the very countries that were supposed to be promoting good relations as members of the Security Council were instead contributing to the very breakdown of peace with their conflict over power and influence in the developing world. During the Cold War, the UN Security Council was utterly dysfunctional and the UN was on the brink of failure. It took the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to breathe new life into the floundering organization.

The UN Security Council and Reform:

In terms of reform it has been suggested that the UN should expand the permanent membership of the Security Council to facilitate a more democratic process. The problem inherent with that suggestion is that that is an initiative that would have to be undertaken by the member-states themselves. The Secretary General does not possess authority over that type of structural change. Up until now, the 189 member-states have not shown the political will to incorporate more countries into the Security Council on a permanent basis. Even if all the member states committed themselves to reform, it would be very difficult for 189 members to agree on Security Council membership expansion. Each nation would be approaching it from its own geopolitical strategic standpoint. Politics is often viewed as a zero-sum game and no country would be willing to offer the power of veto to another country when doing so may prove detrimental to its own national interests.

It has also been said that permanent membership was granted based on nuclear capabilities and that a country like India, which boasts its own nuclear arsenal – not to mention the world’s largest democracy - ought to be included as a permanent member. However any attempt to add India would certainly be met with opposition from Pakistan. Such is the difficulty when trying to bring about reform of the Security Council. Because the UN is an international organization made up of nation states, it is difficult to arrive at a single consensus as each nation-state seeks to represent their own national interests.

The UN Security Council is an antiquated institution that was formed by the victorious nations of WWII over sixty-five years ago. It does not represent the interests of the people living within the member countries, let alone the interests of the citizens of non-member countries. The exclusivity of the Security Council along with the veto power that the permanent members possess has greatly inhibited the functionality of the UN. The Security Council was essentially a mockery all throughout the Cold War with little tangible progress being made towards peace and security. Even experts calling for reform realize that the prospects for change are slim at best. Countries have simply not shown the initiative or the political will necessary to bring about serious reform. And unfortunately nothing will ever change until countries sincerely begin to focus on cooperation rather than competition.