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IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse

“Big Five” Crushes “Small Five” Over Veto Powers

UNITED NATIONS, May 25 2012 (IPS) - At the height of the Cold War, a Peruvian diplomat, Dr. Victor Andres Belaunde, publicly expressed scepticism about the ability of small countries to survive the diplomatic might of the big powers in the world body.

The United Nations, he was quoted as saying as far back as the 1960s, is an institution “where there is always something that disappears”.

“When two small powers have a dispute,” he observed, “the dispute disappears. And when a great power and a small power are in conflict, the small power disappears.”

That’s presumably what happened last week when five of the U.N.’s smallest member states, describing themselves as the “small five” (S5), challenged the five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, over the misuse of their veto powers.

Hours before it was to be debated and voted in the 193-member General Assembly, the resolution unceremoniously disappeared from the hallowed precincts of the United Nations – and probably from the face of the earth.

As former New York Times Bureau Chief Kathleen Teltsch recounts in her 1970 “Crosscurrents at Turtle Bay”, the Peruvian diplomat went one step further when he added: “When two great powers have a dispute, the United Nations disappears.”

Mercifully, both the United Nations and the S-5 – Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland – survived the ordeal last week and lived to tell the tale.

The aborted resolution, couched in delicate diplomatic jargon, “recommended” that the P5 members of the Security Council consider “refraining from using their vetoes on action aimed at preventing or ending genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

But right from the beginning, the P5 clearly signaled that the General Assembly has no business offering such recommendations to the Security Council.

William Pace, executive director of the World Federalist Movement- Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP), told IPS that even though the S5 were compelled to withdraw their historic resolution, non- governmental organisations (NGOs) hope this is just the opening chapter to the General Assembly – after 67 years – beginning to work with the Security Council to address the U.N.’s massive need to improve the organisation’s ability to maintain international peace and security.

“The dysfunctional pillars of the Cold War Security Council must be remolded, and by the Council agreeing to the provision not to use the veto to block action on major war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity would be an indispensable beginning,” he said.

Pace said it was “outrageous” that the issue of a recommendation is being opposed.

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS the withdrawal of the resolution shows the P5 still run things in the world body.

“But they are coming under increasing challenge, their credibility is weakening, and their moral failure is becoming increasingly obvious to an ever larger majority of the international community,” he said.

The importance of this resolution is that it implicitly challenges not just the Chinese and Russian vetoes regarding repression in Syria, and the Chinese vetoes regarding genocide in Sudan, but U.S. vetoes and related policies to block U.N. action regarding Israeli war crimes as well, said Zunes who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

“These small countries pushing this resolution recognise that violations of international humanitarian law are inexcusable regardless of any of the P5s relations with the offending government.”

He said it is particularly timely not only because of the ongoing repression in Syria, but the nearly-unanimous vote of the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month which stated it is the official policy of the United States to veto any one-sided U.N. Security Council resolutions critical of Israel.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Third World diplomat told IPS the S5 withdrew the draft resolution last Wednesday – the very day on which action was planned, after they came under intense pressure from the P5, both in New York and in the capitals.

The Office of Legal Affairs (OLA), he pointed out, also complicated matters by putting out the opinion that the resolution needed a two- thirds majority before it could be adopted, implying it involved the reform of the Security Council.

“The OLA was probably doing the bidding of the P5 – and it is interesting that China circulated the OLA text to all member states even before it was made public indicating the P5 had advance notice of OLA’s opinion,” he said.

“This has stymied all momentum behind the reform of the Security Council. It has also undermined the effectiveness of the Council,” he said.

By blocking the slightest of reforms, the P5 might have won the battle for now, but in the long run they might have done untold damage to the credibility of the Security Council.

“We might increasingly see many countries bypassing the Council or refusing to comply with its decisions,” the diplomat said.

Pace told IPS that besides the P5 opposition, the S5 could not convince enough governments to separate the Charter amendment issues of Security Council expansion from the issue of reforming the working methods and procedures of the Council.

This is also constrained by the 1993 General Assembly resolution requiring any decision should have a two-thirds majority of all member states of the U.N., or 129 countries.

“A key goal, I believe, is to separate non-Charter amendment issues from the 1993 restrictions. This can be done by a majority decision of the General Assembly,” Pace said.

While the issue of expansion of the Council is extremely important, said Pace, these will require years, probably decades, to resolve, and the other reforms of the Council must be addressed immediately, by both the General Assembly and the Council.

The S5, he pointed out, was not challenging the legitimacy of the veto, but the misuse of the veto, which is responsible for millions upon millions of deaths.

Criticising the overwhelming silence in most of the mainstream media, Pace said, “The fact that Inter Press Service (IPS), and only a few other media in the world covered the S5 resolution, is a frightening comment on the status of international relations journalism.”


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