Thursday, 10 August 2023 07:51

Requiem for the UN Security Council: Towards a UN Charter Review Conference

A Security Council meeting in progress. Credit: United Nations

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Aug 10 (IPS) — The world’s institutions are ill-prepared and poorly designed to effectively address global challenges such as major power conflicts, pandemics, the climate catastrophe, refugee crises, violent extremism, illicit profiteering from natural resources, and the regulation of artificial intelligence systems.

In particular, the United Nations, which was created to address the problems of the world in 1945, is no longer fit for purpose. The multilateral organization has outlived its usefulness; there is an urgent need to design a global institution that is reflective of the twenty-first century.

The UN was created with a recognition of the limitations of the League of Nations in mind. In particular, the League was unable to prevent the conquest of Europe by Nazi Germany and the Japanese invasion of China.

History is repeating itself in the form of the powerful Permanent Five (P5) members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) repeatedly ignoring the legal provisions of the UN Charter and weakening the legitimacy of this international institution, by invading countries in contravention of international law.

The dysfunctionality of the UNSC was exposed once more on February 24, 2022, when Russia was simultaneously chairing the Presidency of the Council and launching an illegal invasion of Ukraine. This war is impeding global stability. Ukrainians suffer the most from this conflict, which also inflicts great damage to Global South countries’ economies and human security.

Yet, other major conflicts are also looming, for example between the United States and China over Taiwan, and it is unlikely that the planet can endure another full-blown major-power war.

A confrontation between two nuclear weapons-bearing permanent members of the UNSC would leave us all in an extremely precarious state of affairs, but there are currently no effective mechanisms to constrain the UNSC’s permanent members’ actions.

The founders of the UN recognized that the moment would arrive when it became imperative to transform the organization, and they included a practical mechanism to review the body’s Charter.

According to Article 109 (1), a UN Charter Review Conference should have been convened 10 years after the signing of the document. Today, it could be initiated by a majority vote of the members of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and by a vote of any seven members of the UNSC, according to Article 109 (3).

This provision means that the P5 members cannot veto any proposed UN Charter Review Conference. In practice, a dozen or more UN member states drawn from different continents would need to create a “Coalition of the Willing” within the UNGA, which would have to draft a Resolution to trigger and launch a UN Charter Review Conference.

Such a Review Conference could, through the collective decision of the members of the UNGA, identify the key issues that need to be addressed, including reform of the UNSC. The Review Conference could also adopt a recommendation to substantially alter the UN Charter and introduce completely new provisions, including even a change in the name of the institution.

More than 60 percent of the issues discussed by the UNSC are focused on Africa, yet the continent does not have any representation among the P5 members of the Council.

Given the fact that the P5 can veto all manner of decisions before the Council, it is a travesty of justice at its most basic level that African countries can only participate in key deliberations and decision-making processes as non-permanent members of the Council.

UNSC negotiations and decision-making processes are, in effect, the highest manifestation of unfairness in the international system. If achieving fairness in negotiations among states is the preferred route to global legitimacy, then a fundamental transformation of the UNSC and the elimination of the veto for the P5 is a necessary pre-requisite action.

Tim Murithi is Head of the Peacebuilding Interventions Programme, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, and Professor of African Studies, University of Free State and Stellenbosch University, South Africa, @tmurithi12

Source Stimson Center Washington DC

IPS UN Bureau