The Impotence of the United Nations Security Council

As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to spiral out of control, the best the United Nations Security Council has been able to come up with so far is a failed resolution that demonstrates once again the impotence of that body when it comes to matters of global peace and security.

An Arab-backed resolution, sponsored by Qatar and accusing Israel of using disproportionate force, demanded an immediate halt to Israeli military operations, called for the cessation of rocket attacks against the Jewish state, and demanded prisoner releases from all parties to the current conflict. But after much debate and multiple drafts that were repeatedly reworded to try and accommodate all parties, the United States felt compelled to use its veto power to block the draft from being adopted.

It is this veto power that is at the heart of the Security Council’s inability to ever accomplish anything of real substance when confronted with global crises that pit the interests of the five permanent members against one another.

Realist theory argues that states are ultimately concerned with the balance of power in the world, and that nations behave in ways that will enhance their relative power at any given point in time. One would be hard pressed to find a greater example of this theory in action than in the meetings of the United Nations Security Council. Time and again the Security Council has adopted watered down resolutions that are meaningless, except for providing the Secretary-General an opportunity to stand at the podium and claim that the countries of the world are working together to further peace and security for all nations.

Saddam Hussein ignored or violated multiple Security Council resolutions over the twelve years between Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. He did so because he always believed that France and Russia, both with economic ties to Iraq, would block any attempt by the United States and Britain to enforce those resolutions militarily. He did not believe that the Anglo-American alliance would act without the consent of the United Nations, and he knew that consent would never materialize.

North Korea and Iran are currently posturing on the world stage, in part because they know the United States is heavily engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in part because they know that anything that comes out of the United Nations will be meaningless and unenforceable. The odds of getting China and Russia to authorize real punitive measures against North Korea and Iran are virtually nonexistent, and those countries know it. China’s watered down version of the resolution offered by Japan for action against North Korea, and the failed resolution concerning the ongoing Arab-Israeli fight are just the latest in the sad history of the United Nations Security Council.

What is urgently needed is a fundamental overhaul of the Security Council. By allowing any of the five permanent members to individually veto any resolution presented before them, the United Nations is relegating the remaining two-thirds of the Council to irrelevance, except for procedural matters and resolutions that have the concurrence of the permanent five members. The Security Council itself should be abolished, with every member state in the United Nations allowed to vote on security matters in the General Assembly, with a two-thirds affirmative vote required for an action to be adopted.

Each of the UNSC’s five permanent members acts according to what is in their own best interests, despite the hopes of those who believe that the United Nations can be a vehicle for world peace and security. The power to veto any resolution that does not enhance a permanent member’s standing on the world stage guarantees that the Security Council will remain impotent when confronted with global security matters, unless the United Nations undertakes fundamental reforms that will foster cooperation between nations and reduce the likelihood of obstruction. Until that happens, the deliberations of the Security Council will continue to be an exercise in futility.

Greg Reeson is an Army Officer and freelance writer living in Fort Lee, VA. His writings have appeared in The New Media Journal, The Land of the Free, The Veteran’s Voice, The American Daily, The American Chronicle, Associated Content, and Opinion

More of his writings can be found at

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