UN reform is unlikely, but it is possible to put Russia in its place

UN reform is unlikely, but it is possible to put Russia in its place

A fundamental reform of the UN will be necessary in the event of Russia's military defeat, and now we can only expect some limited changes, nothing more

The need to reform the UN has been discussed for a long time. According to diplomats, this issue arose "literally on the second day after its establishment." 78 years later, we hear it again. However, the visions of reforming this organization are different. For example, U.S. President Joe Biden proposes to include new permanent members in the Security Council, such as India, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and South Africa. A similar proposal was also made by German Foreign Minister Annalena Burbock, EU High Representative Josep Borrell, and even Russia. Putin's "voice" Peskov said the day before that "this conversation needs to be started, but it requires the consensus of all participants, so very difficult and possibly lengthy negotiations are expected."

Let's assume that the number of permanent members of the Security Council will increase, but what will this actually do, what will happen to the veto power, which is constantly abused by the Russian Federation, the organizer of the genocide in Europe, which cynically spits on all treaties and agreements, and even openly threatens nuclear strikes and blackmails the whole world with hunger? Speaking at the UN Security Council on September 20, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky voiced his proposal on this matter, i.e., what to do with the veto and more. What are we talking about? Finally, how realistic are the prospects for reforming the UN and its main security body?

Three steps to reform the UN: what is known about Zelensky's initiative

The President of Ukraine called on the international community to take three important steps in reforming the UN: veto, accountability to the nations of the world, and a system of preventing aggression through early action.

Here is a closer look at each of them.

Step 1 - veto.

"If the war cannot be stopped because all efforts are blocked by the veto of the aggressor or those who indulge the aggressor, it is necessary to bring this issue to the General Assembly," the Head of State emphasized.

Provided that two-thirds of the votes reflect the will of nations from Asia, Africa, Europe, both Americas, and the Pacific - a global qualified majority - the veto, according to Zelensky, should be overcome, and such a General Assembly resolution should be binding on all member states.

Step 2 - new permanent members of the Security Council.

Zelensky: "The Security Council should permanently include the African Union, Latin America, and the Pacific states. Asia deserves a broader permanent representation, because Japan, India, or the Islamic world should not be left out. We should also take into account the changes that have taken place in Europe. In particular, Germany has become one of the key global guarantors of peace and security. Berlin deserves a place among the permanent members of the Security Council."

In addition, the President proposes to expand participation and access to the work of the Security Council and its subsidiary bodies for all members of the General Assembly that are not recognized as aggressors. At the same time, any participation of a member state of the Security Council should be suspended for the period when such a country is engaged in aggression against another nation in violation of the UN Charter.

Step 3 is a system of aggression prevention through early response to actions against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states.

Zelensky: "The nations of the world should agree on a mechanism for responding to aggression to protect others, which everyone would want for their own security. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown what such a mechanism can be. Among other things, powerful sanctions against the aggressor. And not only at the stage when Bucha has already taken place, but also at the stage when the invasion army is being assembled."

The diplomats with whom Ukrinform spoke generally praised the president's initiative. That is, as a basis - quite well, but it needs some more clarification, detail and development.

Instead, our interlocutors call the proposals of Biden, Burbank, and Borrell "an insufficient step" - one that will actually change little.

"The logic of the representatives of the leading states of the democratic world is clear. They want to take the crane in the sky and get a tit in their hands, and take the path of least resistance, namely, to achieve a mathematical and geographical expansion of the Security Council, considering it very important for reforming the UN. But the problem is that this will not lead to the creation of any new effective mechanism for preventing wars/armed aggressions or stopping them. Therefore, although their initiatives can be seen as one of the steps towards reforming this organization, unfortunately, they will not solve the problems of those states that suffer from aggression, including ours," diplomat Vadym Triukhan commented to Ukrinform.

Volodymyr Ohryzko, Ukraine's Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2007-2009, made a similar comment: "Regarding the proposals of Biden, Burbock, Borrell and others, I will be undiplomatically direct: they are absolutely unable to change anything in essence. The question is not the number of delegations gathered at the table, but what exactly they can do together. And if the veto principle remains, and it seems that none of the Five is going to give it up, the only consequence of increasing the number of permanent members of the Security Council will simply be an increase in the duration of the Security Council meeting. But without any result".

Therefore, the diplomat believes that all this is more about political statements.

"It's about demonstrating that we are all for the same thing, we are ready to listen to the West and the East, the South and the North. However, keeping the current decision-making mechanism in place, it is absolutely clear that this 'bird' will not fly anywhere," he added.

At the same time, Zelensky's initiative, according to experts, looks more structured.

"Regarding Zelensky's 'three steps'... These proposals were not made off the cuff, but were prepared by experts, and they are indeed appropriate and necessary. After all, these proposals are not just about "let's just expand the Security Council," as suggested by Biden or Burbank," says Mr. Ohryzko. - "However, there is a small but very significant problem here: unfortunately, under the current structure of the Security Council and the UN itself, any proposals, even the best ones, crash like the Titanic against an iceberg and sink to the bottom because they cannot be implemented.

"Undoubtedly, this is a very good initiative. But it needs serious clarification, detailing and development," adds Vadym Triukhan, analyzing each point in detail.

As for the first step, he says, the idea of introducing a mechanism to override the veto is not new, but it is correct.

For example, a veto can be overridden by a resolution of the United for Peace General Assembly, the same way a presidential veto can be overridden by the parliament. This resolution was first used in the 1950s, during the Korean War. What is its essence? It stipulates that if the Security Council, due to the lack of unanimity among its five permanent members, cannot resolve an issue necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security, this issue is submitted to the General Assembly, where it is adopted by 2/3 of the votes.

By the way, on March 2, 2022, the United for Peace resolution, which states that Russia is required to immediately end the war in Ukraine and withdraw all its troops from its territory, was approved by 141 votes at the General Assembly, which is even more than two-thirds. However, Russia stubbornly ignores this resolution...

"Zelensky's idea to override the veto does not include a coercive mechanism, and this is important," emphasizes Vadym Triukhan. - "Take, for example, the recent case of the European Union. On the one hand, EU member states have to implement decisions made at the EU level, and on the other hand, they easily ignore them, such as Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia ignoring the grain issue. These countries throw a gauntlet in the face of the European Commission in particular and the European Union in general. It will be the same with overriding the veto."

Theoretically, our president's idea can be supported at the UN, especially by those states that do not have the status of permanent members of the Security Council, that is, almost all of them. However, without a coercive mechanism...

"This will be of little practical use. In the case of the Russian Federation, it will not work, because the Russian Federation constantly calls white black. The Russian Federation will not stop spitting in the international community's face, saying that it is "God's dew." That is why we need coercion," the diplomat emphasizes once again. - "For example, within the UN, it could be automatic political (deprivation of voting rights, participation in UN bodies, etc.) and economic (ban on exports/imports from/to the country) sanctions."

As for the second step, there are many positive aspects, such as the inclusion of Germany and Japan in the Security Council, and the suspension of a member state's participation in the Security Council for aggression against another nation. At the same time, the expert draws attention to a not entirely well thought-out point related to the representation of the African Union, Latin America, and the Pacific states in the Security Council.

"While the African Union can still be said to be a more or less organized community of states, the same cannot be said of the Pacific Ocean states, and ultimately of Latin America. So who will be represented by them, what is the mechanism of election, what is their competence, and so on? There are many questions here, all of which need to be worked out in more detail and brought up for discussion by the states in question," emphasizes Mr. Triukhan.

And the third step...

"It may well be realized. Because even from the point of view of populism, which the Russians and Chinese love to abuse, they can easily make a kind of "gesture of goodwill." But here, too, everything should first be discussed in detail, worked out, and only then come up with a draft consolidated resolution at the level of the UN General Assembly. In general, Zelenskyy's "three steps" as a basis is something to work with, and it is much better than what the Americans and Germans offer," the diplomat emphasized.

What are the prospects for reforming the UN and the Security Council, given the destructive role of Russia and China, and what will happen to the veto?

Volodymyr Khandohiy, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine, President of the Ukrainian Foreign Policy Association, notes: "Everyone agrees that the Security Council should be expanded. But the question immediately arises: "Who?" And discussions begin. Each of these countries has opponents in the UN. India will be opposed by Pakistan, Japan has complicated relations with China, and Brazil's candidacy may cause disputes between Argentina and Mexico. In addition, there is no agreement among the permanent five whether to grant new members the same rights as the old ones."

If even such an issue as the expansion of the Security Council can be problematic, what about the veto?

"The prospects for reforming the UN, in particular its key body, the Security Council, seem very illusory at the moment. Russia and China will block any initiatives put forward by those states in which they see their opponents or enemies, for example, the United States and its NATO allies," Vadym Triukhan says.

As for the veto... This issue is actually a key one.

"It is not the increase in the number of members of the Security Council or even the mechanism of overriding the veto, but the presence or absence of the veto right of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. This is what we need to emphasize," the diplomat says. - "As soon as the right of one state to block the decisions of the entire Security Council is eliminated, the effectiveness of this body in particular and the UN in general will be increased many times over.

But now there is no consensus or even a qualified majority of UN members who would be willing to vote for such a decision.

"Not only Russia and China will block it, but most likely other permanent members of the UN Security Council will not be interested in depriving them of their veto. Because their deepest interests are affected. Plus, there is a danger of making decisions that will harm the national interests of their allies and partners. For example, the United States has vetoed a huge number of anti-Israeli UN Security Council resolutions," Vadym Triukhan reminds.

Volodymyr Ohryzko agrees with him: "The abolition of the veto... Yes, it will hit Russia, but it will also hit other members of the Security Council. They are unlikely to want to lose such a serious lever in their hands. Therefore, some purely cosmetic changes may take place, but there is no need to talk about anything serious. The situation resembles a deadlock. Are there any ways out of it? Yes, there are. One of them is to re-found this organization and create another one on its basis. But this is a question of political creativity and political will of global players."

Many people are currently against the elimination of the UN, because this organization still plays a minimal role in terms of coordination, international communication, representation of its own interests and attempts to somehow connect these interests with other states.

"Therefore, most likely, the issue of reforming the UN will be possible after Russia's defeat and its collapse. It should again be an organization that advocates peace and prevents conflicts. However, this is a matter of a distant future," said political scientist Vitaliy Kulyk.

By the way, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also believes that there is no way to change the UN Charter at this time. Even though there is a lot of fermentation about the fact that something has gone wrong and the UN needs to be changed.

"Let's be honest, all international formats, starting with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, were created as a result of major military conflicts, global crises, and everything that was happening in Europe at that time was a global crisis. The Peace of Westphalia, the Congress of Vienna, the League of Nations, the United Nations. Therefore, there is a fermentation process, it is happening, there are different opinions, calls, experts write long and clever articles, but, in fact, the conditions for UN reform will be created only after the political map of the world is redrawn in terms of the political influence of certain players," the Foreign Minister said.

Simply put, after Ukraine and our partners win this war, the chances of reforming the UN will increase significantly.

But what about before that? Is it really impossible to do anything about Russia in this organization? Not quite...

It turned the veto into the right to die: Russia can be "smoked out" of the Security Council

In 1939, the League of Nations, the prototype of the United Nations, had already expelled the USSR from its ranks. This decision was made because of the Soviet Union's attack on Finland. As for Russia, it has so far been expelled only from the UN Human Rights Council.

Is there anything else that can be done with the aggressor within the current UN, in particular, with its membership and veto power in the Security Council? According to experts, there are at least three options.

Option #1. To achieve the deprivation of Russia's voting rights in the UN Security Council as an aggressor state. This procedure has been used many times, according to Article 27(3) of the UN Charter. Although the last time was quite a while ago, more than 60 years ago. However, this provision has not been canceled.

"There are certain loopholes in the charter. One of the ways, the most realistic, is simply to freeze Russia's right to vote in the Security Council on issues related to the war in Ukraine. The UN Charter contains an excellent Article 27(3), which states that the permanent members of the Security Council should abstain from voting on questions relating to the participation of a State in a particular conflict. This means that today the Russian Federation should abstain from voting on the war in Ukraine," commented Marianna Fakhurdinova, analyst at the New Europe Center.

According to her, Ukrainian officials, including representatives to the UN and, at one time, Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, said that it was indeed possible to use the tool of this particular article to freeze Russia's voting and veto power in the Security Council. Why did Ukraine not take practical action before? Because for a long time it was difficult for us to prove that Russia was a party to the dispute with Ukraine.

"On the one hand, it is obvious to us as citizens that Russia has committed aggression. But, on the other hand, we need to prove legally that Russia is a party to the dispute. If it was difficult to prove this in 2014, today it is easier. In particular, the General Assembly resolution 2022, which was adopted at the beginning of the full-scale invasion, contains a clear statement that Russia has committed aggression against Ukraine and both countries are parties to the conflict. The official document has officially fixed names," says Ms. Fakhurdinova.

"On the other hand, we can say that a dispute exists because Ukraine has already filed two lawsuits against Russia in the International Court of Justice in 2017 and 2022. And in the 2017 case, the court officially recognized that the dispute exists.

"So, at the legal level, Article 27(3) can be used to remove Russia from the vote," the New Europe Center analyst added.

Option #2. To implement the initiative put forward by the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN regarding the illegality of Russia's staying in the status of a permanent member of the UN Security Council as the alleged sole successor of the USSR.

"Expelling Russia from the Security Council is a priority for us and would be a great victory. Such a scenario is possible, but it is more fantastic than depriving Russia of its voting rights. There is a way to expel Russia from the Security Council, and the Ukrainian side is constantly talking about it. In particular, Serhiy Kyslytsya emphasized that Russia is not a member of the Security Council, because the Soviet Union is a permanent member. The main idea here is that Russia became the successor of the USSR illegally, that is, not according to UN procedures," says Marianna Fakhurdinova.

"No official document was adopted. There was just a letter from Boris Yeltsin informing the UN Secretary General that Russia would continue to be a member of the UN and the Security Council with the conditional support of the CIS countries. That is, keep this in mind and take it for granted.

"India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the countries of the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Burundi, etc. have gone through the formal procedure of "re-accession" in their time," adds Oleksandr Matsuka, a diplomat, former UN official, and head of the UN Security Council Secretariat in 2012-2016.

And Russia became a UN member and a permanent member of the Security Council bypassing the established legal procedures and decisions of the Organization and the only state that has not signed the UN Charter or ratified it. Therefore, the legitimacy of its seat in the Security Council and UN membership is extremely questionable.

"In fact, Moscow has successfully exploited the fears, primarily of Western countries, about the consequences of the collapse of the USSR and jumped into the compartment car of the international train, where it is still traveling," the diplomat emphasizes.

Option #3. Raise the issue of suspending (freezing) Russia's membership in the UN as an aggressor state that commits war crimes and genocide in Ukraine through the UN General Assembly.

Such a precedent was set in 1974 with regard to South Africa.

What is known about it?

Before the opening of the regular session of the General Assembly (it happens every year in September, like now), all UN member states submit a letter of credentials to the General Committee of the General Assembly.

"This committee prepares its conclusions and presents them to the President of the General Assembly. So, in 1974, the General Assembly did not recognize the credentials of the Republic of South Africa. At that time, the apartheid regime was established in South Africa, which was condemned by the General Assembly. And a resolution was passed on South Africa, which called for limiting any contacts with this regime," says Oleksandr Matsuka.

Simply put, in 1974, the General Assembly did not recognize South Africa's credentials for the next session. And it continued to do so for the next 20 years, until the fall of the racist regime. That is, South Africa, while formally remaining a member of the UN, was deprived of the opportunity to participate in the work of the UN in one way or another.

So, there is a precedent and it can be repeated in relation to Russia. We have to break this rock, because, as the classic wrote, we are destined to break the rock.

Myroslav Liskovych, Kyiv

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