The world’s major superpowers often try to work through the United Nations as a way to add a layer of legitimacy and offer a chance for international cooperation. However, inefficiencies of the Security Council has not only made passing a pressing international security issue extremely difficult, but it has also proven that the aforementioned layer of legitimacy that a resolution can provide may often be superfluous.
It’s important to discuss the inefficiencies of international organizations in order to make systematic changes as a means to make them, in general, more efficient; acknowledging its deficiencies does not discount the incredible work the United Nations does as a body, but rather, helps us figure out the next step. The UN Security Council has proven itself to be an invaluable avenue of providing humanitarian aid, international promotion of democracy (such as election monitoring), and peacekeeping operations to the most needing people and has certainly created for itself a place in the world for that role.
However, the Security Council has proven ineffective in setting security issues of controversy – both because of the makeup of the Security Council and because of the general nature of the United Nations.
The United Nations, in its most idilic sense, is a driving force of international cooperation and – as mentioned before – works well around non-controversial issues. But when international dilemmas of peace and security arise, states are often asked to give into some of their core national interests for the sake of cooperation. The United Nations, by nature, seeks to give representation to states from all regions of the world. Given that advocacy of national interests is paramount to state survival, cooperation involving an erosion of power over national interests is not only a difficult thing to achieve, but it’s also not rational policy from a superpower’s standpoint.
By further diversifying the permanent Security Council membership, more diverse national interests are being pitted against each other. Under the current set of rules – where any one permanent member can stifle the passing of a quality resolution through a veto – the clash of interests on controversial security issues almost inevitably will yield a failed resolution proposal.
The dilemma in Syria, for example, provides a theater where four permanent members of the Security Council are forced to defend their national interests and thus the United States, the United Kingdom, and France are pitted against Russia. Bashar al-Assad’s consolidation of power and expansion of autocratic tendencies has created an security problem with Turkey, a NATO member, and is responsible for constant violations of human rights. Russia’s allegiance to the al-Assad regime in Syria complicates problem, as any UN Security Council resolution, whether it seeks to approve a military intervention to protect Syrian civilians or economic and political sanctions alleviate al-Assad’s consolidation of power, would be vetoed by Russia.
The Security Council resolutions that have passed in regards to Syria focus on the cessation of hostility and creating a road map to peace between al-Assad’s regime and opposition forces. In reality, however, the likelihood that peace will be achieved as a result of these resolutions are virtually nonexistent and can be perceived as largely ceremonial resolutions that endorses an idilic yet unattainable resolution. It has become increasingly clear that any true resolution to the Syria dilemma involves a military campaign, something that the Security Council by nature cannot legitimize. As Somini Sengupta poignantly expressed in regards to a similar theme in regards to the Russian aggressions towards Ukraine, “The Ukraine resolution to send investigators did not contain any threat of enforcement, though — nor, crucially, any path to peace. On Wednesday, two days after the measure passed, two Ukrainian jets were shot down.”
In the end, al-Assad needs to relinquish political power, if not removed from power entirely, and a full military intervention is needed to mitigate the Daesh dilemma with marginalizing secondary sociopolitical consequences. Any military intervention in Syria would have to occur by bypassing to the Security Council entirely. Allied forces – the United States, the United Kingdom, and France – joined other Western allies on airstrike campaigns against Daesh and Daesh-sympathizing forces. With the campaign proving ineffective to fundamentally mitigate the situation, an escalation of force will be necessary and the removal of Russian-backed al-Assad would need to be an option on the table.
Reforms that seek to make the Security Council more efficient should revolve around a revolution of the voting mechanisms and the veto power, not about the diversification of the permanent members. Giving the non-permanent members of the council an ability to override a Russian veto, for example, could create a much stronger signal of legitimacy, burden-sharing of resources, and intent for international cooperation – all things David Bosco in Five To Rule Them All expresses as strong points of the Security Council. That ought to be the objective of reforming the Security Council, creating a majority consensus and allow the international community to respond to the most pressing issues of our time and not allowing a minority to hijack an inherently good thing.