Paralysis over action in Syria fuels calls for reform of moribund UN Security Council

 

Staring delegates at the General Assembly in the face this week is a crisis at the heart of the UN system, namely the sclerosis besetting the 15-member Security Council as demonstrated vividly by its inability to respond so far to the civil war in Syria. Not a few among them are taking notice.

It has been three decades since the UN first asked whether rules set at its founding that gave five powers the right of veto – Russia, China, France, Britain and the United States – are tenable. Reform efforts have repeatedly been stymied precisely by those same countries set on protecting their special prerogative.

If the end of the Cold War brought hopes of an end to the pattern of the US and Russia using the body to rehearse their geopolitical rivalries, they have now faded. On Syria, it has been back to the same-old. Draft resolutions targeting the regime were vetoed three times by Russia with quiet backing from China. Now the chamber is struggling even to endorse the US-Russia accord of mid-September to rid Syria of chemical weapons.

“You have a situation where those who possess the power of veto talk more war than peace,” President Jacob Zuma of South Africa complained to journalists here. “You have a minority that has the last word and unfortunately is no longer helping. It is actually becoming part of the problem.” 

Addressing the Assembly, President Zuma pushed again for reform that would at least see the number of permanent members and non-permanent members expanded. “We cannot remain beholden indefinitely to the will of an unrepresentative minority on most important issues of international peace and security,” he said. 

India’s UN ambassador, Asoke Mukerji, whose country is also among those lining up for a permanent seat, agreed. “I think the frustration is being felt now by the international community because they find that the Security Council is completely paralysed. It does not respond in time to crises,” he said on the fringes of the meeting. Turkey’s President, Abdullah Gul, bluntly called the inaction over Syria a “disgrace” in his speech.

Squabbles over enforcement of the Geneva deal on chemical weapons meant that a promise to pass a resolution before the start of this week’s Assembly was never met and it is not even clear whether one will emerge before most of the leaders have gone home by this weekend.  At the heart of the dispute: Russian apprehension that, by casting it in the context of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, the US, Britain and France will interpret it as a green light for military action should Syria fall short of its obligations.

Laurent Fabius, France’s Foreign Minister, appeared to indicate a willingness of the Western powers to make clear in whatever text is proposed that no such thing will be meant by it. “We should take exactly what was foreseen in Geneva,” Mr Fabius said.

Yet even if a Syria resolution enshrining the Geneva accord emerges, the wider issue of the Security Council will remain on the table. India, South Africa and other rivals for permanent seats are likely to push for a proposal of its expansion to be ready for a summit of world leaders in 2015 to mark the UN’s 75th anniversary.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral