Ever since the United Nations was established in 1945, it has been a powerful institution in the fight for peace, social progress, and economic development. After all the challenges the UN has faced and the conflicts it has helped solve, it is considered to be one of the most prestigious intergovernmental organizations. But is it feasible for an organization composed of 193 member states to truly be “united?”
To tackle this question, it might be necessary to go back to the day when everything started: October 27th, 1945, the day the United Nations was established. After the second World War, the international community scrambled for peace, cohesion and unity – all of which the United Nations was striving to provide. The name “United Nations,” coined by United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt, was first used in the Declaration of United Nations on January 1st, 1942. During the Second World War, representatives of twenty-six nations pledged to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan).
Today, the United Nations is an institution made up of 193 member states, striving for the improvement of international relations and the betterment of life on Earth. Main organs of the UN include the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, and the UN Secretariat – all of which were established in 1945 concurrently to the foundation of the United Nations itself. Furthermore, each of the 193 member states is automatically a member of the General Assembly.
In all of these organs, unity should play a central role. After taking a closer look, however, one might discover that the United Nations is not quite as united as it seems to be.
Though the UN is trying to develop a power of unity and cohesion to tackle the world’s most important issues, it will clearly never be able to meet the expectations and wishes of every country. The member states will always try to pursue their own political ideas and use their power in favor of their own advantage, regardless of whether or not their actions benefit the global community. One might argue that the UN’s biggest downfall is its diversity; each of the 193 member states attempts to maximize their given power in the General Assembly and ends up achieving little to no progress on a global scale.
Perhaps the most crucial proof of this is the unabashed allocation of veto power given solely to the five “permanent” members of the United Nations Security Council – China, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and France.
This veto power, embedded in article 27 of the UN Charter, enables these five nations to prevent the adoption of any “substantive” resolution, as well as decide which resolutions are being labeled as “substantive.”
From Article 27 of the UN Charter:
- Each member of the Security Council shall have one vote.
- Decisions of the Security Council on procedural matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members.
- Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.
Although the veto power is not explicitly mentioned in Article 27, it is this article of the UN Charter in which the power of veto arises. The fact that decisions on “substantive” resolutions of the UNSC require the concurring votes of the permanent members means that any of the five has the power to prevent the adoption of UN resolutions on any “substantive” matter.
Given UNSC veto power, five nations representing a small percentage of the world’s population are given the power to determine the character of the Security Council’s decisions. From a broader perspective, this veto power can be seen as de facto control over the whole Security Council is widely considered the most undemocratic aspect of the UN.
The United States, for example, used its veto on Israel’s behalf in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forty-two times to protect Israel from several UN resolutions. For instance, on February 18th, 2011, when a Security Council resolution on condemning Israeli settlements in West Bank was proposed, the United States immediately vetoed it.
Also, in February of 2011, Russia and China vetoed a resolution condemning a crackdown on anti-government protests in Syria and calling on Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian president, to step aside. By deciding to make use of their veto power to block this resolution, Russia and China sparked outrage across the world. To justify Russia’s unpopular decision, Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN, said that the resolution “sent an unbalanced signal to the Syrian parties.”
The joint actions of Russia and China sparked worldwide criticism of the United Nations. Many claimed that these decisions were not made with the world in mind and, therefore, were strictly and unequivocally against the mission and philosophy of the UN.
In fact, the distribution of UNSC veto power presents a challenge not only for the Security Council, but for the UN as a whole. It prevents the United Nations from inducing urgently needed intervention in ongoing political and social conflicts, working against human rights violations, and disallowing the establishment of injustice and corruption in areas all over the world. Finally, it prevents the United Nations from being truly deserving of the title “united.”
As Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States, once stated, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” The United Nations divided against itself cannot stand either. Only with a foundation of equality and a balance of power within the UNSC will the United Nations be able to make one step closer to the coveted label of “united.”