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Impending Failure: The United Nations Security Council

Updated: May 11

The United Nations (UN) is one of the many legacies of the Second World War; amongst many international lawyers it is considered one of greatest policy achievements of the modern era, yet the average person likely has no idea what it does. That is likely because it is not really doing much at all. This all comes back to five ambassadors, whose symbolic seats have been at the table since the beginning, the permanent five members (P5) of the Security Council.

Ingrained in the UN Charter, are five permanent seats at the Security Council table, the only legislative body of the UN. France, the USA, the UK, China, and Russia sit in these seats year after year, watching as the other ten members change. The total group of fifteen are charged with a monumental task: upholding international peace and security.

Logically, this idea works perfectly well, but unfortunately adding the political interests of these P5 states into the mix has caused an onslaught of problems. Add on top of that the right of P5 member states to veto almost any form of Security Council resolution, and you have an international crisis waiting to happen.

The United Nations is in this regard the creator of its own problems, the UN is the child of the League Nations, an organisation born out of the First World War seen as failing to prevent the second. In the run up to WWII, powerful states began to pull out of the League at an alarming rate, leading to a further breakdown in international relations. Thereby, when drawing up the Charter of the UN, the founding members were careful to put in place articles that would prevent this from ever happening again. 

They placed the P5 at the centre of the Security Council, giving them their veto power and permanent seats to keep them permanently engaged with the idea of the UN. They tasked the Security Council with its core purpose of upholding international peace and security, giving it legislative powers to ensure the purpose was carried out. They placed the victors of WWII at the top of the food chain. All of this, in my view, created a recipe for disaster.

Anyone now hearing Russia mentioned as ‘upholders of international peace and security’ would likely scoff. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is currently owns around 5,580 nuclear weapons (the greatest arsenal of any country in the world), it plans to spend nearly 30% of its government budget on defence in 2024, Putin just won an election with 87% of the vote after his greatest critic mysteriously died in prison, and they are entering into a third year of a full scale invasion of their creation in Ukraine. Russia is many things, but it is currently nowhere near a lover of international peace.

The USA falls in not too far behind. It is the country with the second largest nuclear weapons arsenal, the CIA was still waterboarding prisoners until 2003, they have military bases in a minimum of 80 countries, and their defence budget is almost 20% of government expenditure.

Likewise, China has been sending children to boarding schools to bring them away from Islam and to teach them to have faith in China and the Communist Party, they’re exceptionally cagey about their true defence budget, and they’re one of Russia’s greatest allies.

The UK and France have also had a restless relationship with international peace, as two of the world’s biggest colonial powers, much of their international relations is built on shaky ground.

These are the states which control the United Nations, built to be a symbol of peace, unity, and an upholder of human rights.To nobody’s surprise, their inaction over global conflicts has been borderline non-stop, especially in the last twenty years.

  • Four resolutions since 2014 to call for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine — Russian Veto.

  • Seventeen resolutions since March 1997 attempting to create or begin to build a two state solution in Israel & Palestine — US Veto.

  • Three resolutions to call for a ceasefire in Gaza — US Veto.

  • A resolution to refer the ongoing situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court — Russian & Chinese Veto.

Clearly their own international political agendas are interfering with the role as facilitators of world peace and security. But what is even more unfortunate is that any path to reform looks nigh-on-impossible.

Any changes to the UN Charter are subject to a P5 veto, and with Russia, China and the US’ stance on change ranging from tenuous to a flat no, it seems unlikely. There is a glimmer of hope, France has its own proposal of veto reform and the UK has shown openness to the proposal of veto and Security Council reform. But with Russia issuing a blanket denial of any changes to the Security Council, the idea of change is being kicked further and further down the road.

Unfortunately, the countries with a responsibility to protect peace and security, may end up being the ones who destroy it in complicity. Furthermore, they may end up on a path to causing the failure of the UN itself.

Image: Patrick Gruban


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