The UN Security Council takes action – Statement

A general impression has been established that the war in Ukraine has led the UN into an existential crisis and that the UN Security Council is paralyzed.

This is not true. On the contrary, the Security Council has shown resilience, flexibility and maneuverability in the midst of an international crisis of dimensions that includes the veto power Russia and the country’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

Catwalk for international politics

The UN Security Council falls short in stopping the war in Ukraine, but more because the conditions on the ground are not present than because Russia is blocking proposals with the use of a veto.

Nevertheless, the Security Council has played an important role, through a function that is often underestimated. This function is about the Security Council as a meeting place, or as one catwalk for international politics.

I have previously described this catwalk concept in the book Palaces of Hope – the anthropology of global organizations and it’s about the importance of the Security Council holding the world’s attention.

The only place Russia and Ukraine now meet to talk about the war is in the Security Council.

As the Ukrainian UN Ambassador told me when I met him at the Ukrainian UN delegation in early June:

«Even if the Security Council cannot pass any meaningful decision on Ukraine when it comes to stopping the war. It is still very important because it is the only global plattform where the war is discussed regularly. It is also that Russia is publicly exposed and isolated in the Security Council.» Most meetings of the Security Council are open to the public and are broadcast in the media.

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Since the invasion on February 24, the Security Council has held more than 20 meetings on the war. In these meetings, which maintain the political pressure on Russia, Ukraine is invited as an affected party.

Russia is also present in all the meetings, despite receiving strong criticism of the hostilities in Ukraine, with the exception of China and a group of non-Western elected members, who see themselves benefiting from taking a middle position. Everything that is said in these meetings is documented and will be important when the war is over.

Important here and now

In addition, the Security Council has managed to find smart solutions. Russia blocked the first draft resolution condemning the war of aggression. But in continuation of this, Norway and a group of Council members took the initiative that the Security Council, through a procedural vote, should move the consideration of this issue to the UN General Assembly.

The procedural decision needed nine votes and could not be vetoed. Thus, the resolution was moved to the General Assembly, where all 193 UN member states have an equal vote.

A large majority of UN member states condemned Russia’s war of aggression, 141 countries voted in favor, while only four countries supported Russia: Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Eritrea.

Then one can always point out that several large and populous countries voted abstaining, but it still does not change the political realities that only four countries supported Russia. And most importantly, Russia received a clear message from around the world: stop the war!

The transfer of the matter to the General Assembly pressured all countries in the world to take a stand on the war and to make their positions visible here and now, but this was also documented for posterity.

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The co-operation between the Security Council and the General Assembly creates great awareness of the war and what the countries of the world think and strengthens the catwalk function.

As the Irish UN Ambassador recently stated in a speech to the General Assembly on June 8:

«This is an important moment of accountability, the General Assembly has been enabled to speak when the Security Council has been silenced.» But it is the Security Council that created this opportunity.

More uncomfortable to veto

In April this year, we received another important innovation that strengthens the same relationship and function.

For 18 years, Liechtenstein has tried to bind the five permanent members of the Security Council to come to the General Assembly and explain themselves if they veto it. An attempt was made to adopt the proposal no later than two years ago, but was voted down.

So, in the midst of what many have described as an existential crisis for the UN and the Security Council, the UN manages to get through a decision that makes it more uncomfortable to use the right of veto. It is both an innovation and a step in the right direction.

As early as June 8, this new arrangement was used when Russia and China had to explain to the General Assembly why they vetoed the introduction of stricter sanctions against North Korea.

China’s and Russia’s speeches were followed by a long line of speeches from other UN countries, which in turn led to increased international attention to what had happened in the Security Council.

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The catwalk concept is not about the UN being one «catwalk for dictators»as the Russian chess player Kasparov says.

It is rather the opposite. It highlights Russia’s loneliness here and now.

The eyes of the world are on a regime that has few friends in the international arena. On the catwalk for international politics, meetings, discussions and speeches are forced that are documented for posterity and broadcast to anyone who may be interested.

If you only measure the Security Council according to which resolutions it is unable to adopt, you will quickly be able to dismiss the council as helpless and perhaps in an existential crisis.

But as I said, the Security Council has many other important functions that even the Ukrainian UN Ambassador highlights as very important. And is there anyone who can say with weight about whether the Security Council is useful or helpless right now, then it must be him.

The Security Council has also adopted approximately as many resolutions this year as at the same time last year, and it also shows that the war in Ukraine has not left the Council paralyzed or helpless.

In the media floodlights on Ukraine, other conflicts are overshadowed. But the Security Council does not forget these conflicts, nor has it ceased to act as a decision-maker in these cases.

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