UNITED NATIONS, Oct 7 2016 (IPS) – When the UN Security Council last week discussed the “deliberate” attacks on medical facilities in war-ravaged Syria and Yemen, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implicitly criticized some of the warring nations lamenting that “even a slaughterhouse is more humane” than the ongoing indiscriminate killings of civilians in the two devastating conflicts.
The attacks on hospitals, he warned, were “war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law”.
But Joanne Liu, International President of Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), singled out “four of the five permanent members of the Security Council” for the continued atrocities and lambasted them for their role in the attacks against medical facilities.
“The conduct of war today knows no limits,” she regretted, pointing out that the failure of the Security Council “reflects a lack of political will among member states fighting in coalitions and those who enable them.”
The unidentified four “enablers” – the United States, Britain, France and Russia – are either directly or indirectly involved in the ongoing military conflicts either as participants or as key arms suppliers.
A recently-released 264-page book titled “Perilous Interventions” also takes a highly critical look at the Security Council whose military interventions have led, in some cases, to “chaos, destruction and destabilization” –specifically in the volatile Middle East—and helped create the Islamic State (IS), “arguably the most formidable extremist organization in history.”
Authored by Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, the former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, the book lists all the mistakes made in the case of Libya and Syria, along with what happened in Yemen and Ukraine.
“This disastrous history,” Puri said in an interview with IPS “will repeat itself unless we learn from past mistakes and make the required corrections.”
Asked whether the Security Council has outlived its usefulness, judging by the unmitigated failures of Western-led military interventions— either directly or indirectly — in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and Yemen, Puri said: “The use of force, in the interventions you have cited, was authorised by the Security Council only in the case of Libya (Resolution 1973).”
In the case of Afghanistan, he said, the “coalition of the willing did not even bother to approach the Council.”
In the case of Iraq, a sceptical Council refused to be persuaded, said Puri, who twice presided over Security Council meetings during 2011-2102.
Ukraine and Yemen, he noted, were “unilateral action with a helpless and ineffective Council being either manipulated or ignored.”
“The problem is, if you didn’t have the Council, you would have unilateral action only. The answer, therefore, is not to disband the Council but seek improvement in its functioning,” said Puri.
Asked if the proposed reform of the Security Council – still grounded after more than 10 years of negotiations – will help change the political landscape, Puri said an expanded Council will not suffice.
After all, the new members in an expanded Council will, in all likelihood, not have a veto.
Those who have the urge to use force should introspect about the consequences of their actions. Also, the veto should not be used in situations that potentially involve mass atrocities, he added.
“Security Council expansion and reform, by the way is not a lost cause. All it requires is for a group of countries to submit a framework resolution. Serious negotiations will follow,” he argued.
At a press briefing last September, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, was asked about his country’s stance on Council reform.
He told reporters he did not see, in the near future, any historic compromise being reached on the issue of admitting new permanent members.
“The Russian Federation did not support the French proposal on limiting veto use, as it was not a “workable scheme”; mass atrocity situations would be determined by the 15 Council members or the Secretary-General.”
“This is a political world,” and allowing the General Assembly to weigh in would only infringe on the Council’s purview, he warned.
But Puri told IPS that a veto restraint agreement is the need of the hour.
“I am confident that if it is packaged in terms of a voluntary restraint agreement, along the lines of the French proposal, no amendment let alone a Charter amendment would be required.”
Asked about Security Council decisions being dictated to by big power national interests, Puri told IPS the five permanent members ever so often place their own narrow national interest above considerations of peace and security.
“Some of them do so more blatantly than others. The Council is an intensely political institution”.
Asked about Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recent complaint that decisions by “consensus” lead to one or two member states exercising undue power over UN decision making, Puri said: “This SG’s time is over. Let us hope the incoming SG will assert leadership and prove it to ensure democratic functioning in the UN.”
“If consensus is interpreted in terms of unanimity, that will become the basis for the doctrine of inaction. In that case, we can kiss goodbye to the UN itself,” he declared.