In this essay, I will argue that the structure of the United Nations’ General Assembly and Security Council prevents the organisation from overcoming conflict and, in some instances, actually cultivates conflict. For the purpose of this essay, conflict is defined as any argument or disagreement, including acts of war. The United Nations (UN) was founded in 1945 when its charter was adopted by 50 of the founding member states. Today there are 192 member states in the UN. The United Nations has two main bodies, the General Assembly and the Security Council.
The General Assembly can be described as the closest thing to a world parliament, in which each member state has a vote1. The General Assembly discusses, investigates and makes recommendations on all factors within the scope of the UN Charter; however, none of its decisions are binding. The Security Council is responsible for maintaining international peace and security. It consists of 15 members, led by five permanent members (the P5): the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Russia, China and France. The 10 non-permanent members are elected for a two-year term.
Decisions made by the Security Council are binding to all members of the UN, and may include the mobilisation of military force. It is also important to acknowledge that the P5 have a veto power in the Security Council, meaning they can individually stop any action decided upon by the Council. One of the most important articles from the United Nations Charter is Article 43, which encompasses the responsibility of every member to contribute to 1 UNITED NATIONS PUBLICATIONS.
HTTP://WWW. UN. ORG/CYBERSCHOOLBUS/UNINTRO/UNINTRO. ASP [1/10/13] the maintenance of International Peace, however the structure of the Security Council, specifically its desire to create or maintain political alliances, often means help is not provided in an appropriate time, if even at all. Between 1999 and 2006, the UN ran a series of peace keeping operations in East Timor, and although these are seen as some of the UN’s most successful missions, there are aspects which both failed to help overcome, and played an active role in, the conflict.
East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and the East Timorese suffered heavily at the hands of Indonesia. Reporter for Carnegie Council, Ajiza Magno,2 and Diplomatic Editor for the Age, Daniel Flitton3, argue that the UN and Australia were unwilling to support East Timor for fear of ruining relations with Indonesia. Although Australia had an obligation to provide support to East Timor, who lost both peace and security with the invasion by Indonesia, they supported Indonesia’s reign of terror. Australia was the only country to recognise Indonesia’s control of East Timor in return for access to East Timor’s natural resources4. In 1999 East Timor held a referendum on their independence, in which a majority voted for self-governance.
This caused a massive fluctuation of violence within the country. At this time, the UN Security Council spent three weeks arguing whether or not to send a peacekeeping mission to East 2 Ajiza Magno, The Successes and Failures of UN Intervention in East Timor, Carnegie Council for Ethics in INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS JANUARY 6 2001, http://www. carnegiecouncil. org/publications/archive/dialogue/2_05/articles/883. html, [12 October 2013] 3 DANIEL FLITTON, ‘AUSTRALIA’S SHAME OVER EAST TIMOR’, THE AGE, JULY 15 2008, HTTP://WWW. THEAGE. COM. AU/FEDERAL-POLITICS/AUSTRALIAS-SHAME-OVER-EAST-TIMOR-20080714-3F1P. HTML, [12 OCTOBER 2013].
4 BETH WILSON, ‘HOW AUSTRALIA BETRAYED THEN “SAVED” EAST TIMOR’, ONYA MAGAZINE, HTTP://WWW.ONYAMAGAZINE. COM/AUSTRALIAN-AFFAIRS/HISTORY/HOW-AUSTRALIA-BETRAYED-THEN-SAVED- EAST-TIMOR/ [12 OCTOBER 2013] Timor5, even though it would be considered well in line with the UN Charter – Article 43. Towards the end of 1999 the UN Security Council Resolution 1264 of 1999 authorised a ‘multinational force under a unified command structure… to restore peace and security in East Timor’6. However, even this was done with the approval of the Indonesian Government UN policies resulted in a complete lack of action to prevent or stop conflict in East Timor for 24 years of Indonesian occupation.
Under the mandate of the UN Charter the Security Council had an obligation to support East Timor from the moment it was invaded by Indonesia but did not, and so the organization failed to help overcome conflict. The structure of the Security Council also resulted in failure, as it wasted time in dispute over the decision to support East Timor in their bid for independence. The UN sanctions and legitimises the use of military action under the designation of peacekeeping and consent of the Charter.
In this respect, the structure and the policies of the Security Council cultivate conflict: ‘…both the US and the UK, in justifying the resort to force and explaining the need for military action, have continued to rely heavily on UN Security Council resolutions…7’ There has been no situation that makes this more obvious then the US war on Iraq. 5 KATHERINE GREEN, ‘FAILED HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION IN EAST TIMOR’, E-INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, HTTP://WWW. E-IR. INFO/2012/04/06/FAILED-HUMANITARIAN-INTERVENTION-IN-EAST-TIMOR/ [12 OCTOBER 2013] 6 SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION 1264 (1999), HTTP://DACCESS-DDS-NY. UN. ORG/DOC/UNDOC/GEN/N99/264/81/PDF/N9926481. PDF? OPENELEMENT [12th October 2013]7.
MATS BERDAL, ‘THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL: INEFFECTIVE BUT INDISPENSABLE’, SURVIVAL, VOL. 45, NO. 2, 2003, P. 8 On 20 March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, claiming the country was in possession of weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to international safety. An Iraqi rebellion group rose up in opposition to US occupation and thus began 8 years of armed conflict in Iraq. It has been argued that the US invasion of Iraq was not compliant with international laws.
Members of the Australian Labour Party at the time maintained that reasons for entering Iraq complied with neither exceptions to the ban on the use of force8. However, Margaret Thatcher argued ‘…the United Nations and its allies could go to war under Article 51 of the UN Charter without seeking explicit authorisation from the Security Council. 9’ The Iraq war ended in December of 2011, and looking back now it is obvious there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Many argue that the US invaded Iraq as a retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US10, or in order to control Middle Eastern oil supplies11.
John Van Oudenaren, director of the World Digital Library, claims that the then US President George Bush’s government used the UN Charter as a pretext to legitimise a war against Saddam Hussein12, the totalitarian dictator of Iraq. American troops withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2011, but their actions there lead to continuing conflict. Insurgent attacks have increased in number 8 ALEX J BELLAMY, ‘INTERNATIONAL LAW AND THE WAR WITH IRAQ’ FEATURE — LEGALITY OF THE USE OF FORCE AGAINST IRAQ, HTTP://WWW. LAW. UNIMELB. EDU. AU/FILES/DMFILE/DOWNLOADD4651. PDF [13TH OCTOBER 2012].
9 JOHN VAN OUDENAREN, ‘EFFECTIVENESS AND INEFFECTIVENESS OF THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL IN THE LAST TWENTY YEARS: A US PERSPECTIVE’ INSTITUTO AFFARI INTERNAZIONALI, VOLUME 30, NUMBER 9, NOVEMBER 2009, P. 5 [13 OCTOBER 2013] 10 HANS BLIX, ‘IRAQ WAR WAS A TERRIBLE MISTAKE AND VIOLATION OF U. N. CHARTER’, CNN, MARCH 19, 2013, HTTP://EDITION. CNN. COM/2013/03/18/OPINION/IRAQ-WAR-HANS-BLIX/INDEX. HTML, [13 OCTOBER 2013] 11 KENNETH DAVIDSON, ‘THE REAL REASON AMERICA IS INVADING IRAQ’, THE AGE, MARCH 20, 2003HTTP://WWW. THEAGE. COM. AU/ARTICLES/2003/03/19/1047749824415.
HTML, [13 OCTOBER 2013] 12 JOHN VAN OUDENAREN, ‘EFFECTIVENESS AND INEFFECTIVENESS OF THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL IN THE LAST TWENTY YEARS: A US PERSPECTIVE’ INSTITUTO AFFARI INTERNAZIONALI, VOLUME 30, NUMBER 9, NOVEMBER 2009, P. 5 [13 OCTOBER 2013] since the US departure13 and insurgent groups continue to assault the new Iraq Government. The structure of the UN Security Council, specifically Article 43 of the Charter, cultivates conflict by justifying and legitimising the invasion of other countries, such as Iraq.
The actions of the US under the mandate of the UN Charter lead to an eight year war, and problems which continue to cause violence in Iraq to this day. Both the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly provide a platform for conflict between member states, often preventing humanitarian actions from being taken if those actions interfere with personal agendas. In many instances Russia and the United States have argued through UN forums. In a 2003 article, author Mats Berdal outlines several conflicts of interest among member states, claiming ‘…power politics – within and outside the organisation – is alive and well…14’.
In the last few years there have been many clashes between Russia and other members of the UN, the most recent of which have been over Syria. Syria is one of the five countries that have not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention that outlaws the production, ownership and use of chemical weapons.
According to a 2013 report in the New York Times, Syria claimed to have a stockpile of chemical weapons that it was using as a safeguard against attack from other countries15. Since then there have been reports that Syria has used chemical weapons against its own people. Russia and the United States have clashed on the methods they believe should be used to 13 Al Arabiya With Agencies, ‘As bombs hit Baghdad, Iraq says about 69, 263 people killed BETWEEN 2004 AND 2011’, AL ARABIA NEWS, FEBRUARY 29, 2012, http://english. alarabiya.net/articles/2012/02/29/197696. html, [13 October 2013] 14MATS BERDAL, ‘THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL:
INEFFECTIVE BUT INDISPENSABLE’, SURVIVAL, VOL. 45, NO. 2, 2003, P. 9 15 NEIL MACFARQUHAR AND ERIC SCHMITT, ‘SYRIA THREATENS CHEMICAL ATTACK ON FOREIGN FORCE’, NEW YORK TIMES, 23 JULY 2013, HTTP://WWW. NYTIMES. COM/2012/07/24/WORLD/MIDDLEEAST/CHEMICAL-WEAPONS-WONT-BE-USED-IN-RE BELLION-SYRIA-SAYS. HTML? _R=0 [14 OCTOBER 2013] handle the situation. US President Barrack Obama stated he was willing to invade Syria over their use of chemical weapons, however both China and Russia said they would oppose this action16.
Russia’s protective nature of Syria can be explained by looking at the relationship between the two countries: In 2005 a Russian company signed an agreement allowing the exploration and development of new oil deposits in Syria, in addition to this, Syria also organised to purchase mass amounts of weapons from Russia17. Syria is a very profitable nation to Russia, and thus Russia opposes UN policies that would in any way harm the country. The permanent five members of the Security Council have a veto power, which allows them to prevent any unwanted resolution from being passed.
This veto power, coupled with personal agendas of the P5 mean many countries are unable to receive help from the United Nation. Since 2001 there have been 18 resolutions vetoed within the Security Council, with the majority of US voting directed against resolutions focused in the Middle East18. In regards to the crises in Syria, both Russia and China vetoed resolutions that would allow for UN assistance in the conflict19. Personal interests and politics of the members of the Security Council and the General Assembly often renders the UN ineffective, unable to help overcome conflict because an agreement cannot be reached.
16 ALISSA DE CARBONNEL, ‘RUSSIA SAYS OPPOSES ANY RESOLUTION THREATENING FORCE AGAINST SYRIA’ REUTERS 22 SEPTMEBER 2013, HTTP://WWW. REUTERS. COM/ARTICLE/2013/09/22/US-SYRIA-CRISIS-RUSSIA-IDUSBRE98L04V20130922, [14 OCTOBER 2013] 17 MARK N KATZ, ‘PUTIN’S FOREIGN POLICY TOWARDS SYRIA’, 2006, HTTP://DIGILIB. GMU. EDU:8080/XMLUI/BITSTREAM/HANDLE/1920/3024/PUTIN%20SYRIA %20MERIA. PDF? SEQUENCE=1, [14 OCTOBER 2013] 18 ‘UNITED NATIONS RESEARCH GUIDES AND RESOURCES, ‘SECURITY COUNCIL – VETO LIST’, UNITED NATIONS, HTTP://WWW. UN. ORG/DEPTS/DHL/RESGUIDE/SCACT_VETO_EN. SHTML, [15 OCTOBER 2013].
19 Carla Stea, ‘Third Russian-Chinese Veto Blocks the Road to World War III’, Global RESEARCH, 2 AUGUST 2012, HTTP://WWW. GLOBALRESEARCH. CA/THIRD-RUSSIAN-CHINESE-VETO-BLOCKS-THE-ROAD-TO-WORLD-WAR-III/32 165, [15 OCTOBER 2013] Overall the Security Council and General Assembly have little power to help overcome conflict. In some instances, assistance never becomes more than an idea presented to the Security Council. East Timor suffered for years under the illegitimate control of the Indonesian whilst the UN failed to provide assistance. Moreover, help is often denied to a country because of conflicts of interest within the UN, as shown in the numerous times Russia vetoed action against ally countries.
Often Security Council resolutions designed to help overcome conflict end up cultivating more, or completely new, struggles and arguments. Most obvious of which occurred in the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, in which America interpreted UN resolutions in a light that would allow US armies to declare war on Suddam Hussein’s regime. The United Nations is almost completely ineffective; unable to help overcome conflict in most situations and cultivating warfare and arguments in others.