UN Security Council shirks duties in Syria
When I read that the UN Security Council will not support any action to protect the people of Syria from their monstrous dictator, Bashar al-Assad, I can only come to the conclusion that the UN is unable to do its No. 1 task: to prevent or stop violence of the sort we see every day on our TV screens.
The great majority of members of the Security Council voted for a resolution that would have at least attempted to protect civilians in Syria. However, each of the five permanent members has a veto, and unfortunately the two least democratic permanent members, Russia and China, exercised their veto power.
It is probably impossible to amend the UN Charter to bring it into the 21st century. In the wake of World War II, the biggest winners of the war were given these precious seats in the Security Council–the U.S., U.K., and France in addition to Russia (then the U.S.S.R.) and China (pre-Communist). It is obvious that the U.S. and China are now the most powerful nations on earth. However, the next three are not quite so clear.
For example, Germany is the biggest economy in the E.U. and is clearly calling the shots with regard to the Greek ‘problem.’ India is the world’s most populous democracy. If the Security Council’s permanent members should be from all the major areas of the world, then what about Brazil and South Africa?
Whatever the reasons for setting up the Security Council in 1945, the structure is outdated and does not function. The two most serious violators of human rights among the permanent members are now essentially giving permission to the tyrant of Damascus to kill indiscriminately.
What is the world to do? After all, most of the world has wrung its hands several times since 1945 to say that it will never again allow large scale human slaughter. Then there were the Killing Fields of Cambodia and the genocide in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia and the continuing slaughter in Sudan. And, alas, I have not even mentioned the place with the most killings since World War II, the Congo.
The ‘decent’ people of the world claim the moral high ground, but we have allowed countless millions to be slaughtered and starved by barbarians of almost indescribable evil. How can we sit by and watch on our televisions and not care enough to demand that the civilized nations act to protect our fellow human beings?
In the last decade, a new approach has been created called the Responsibility to Protect (R2P or RtoP). Last fall I attended a speech in Prague given by one of R2P’s strongest adherents, former Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gareth Evans.
The argument is that nations have the responsibility to protect those over whom they exercise sovereignty.
When governments will not or cannot do so, the rest of the world must take that responsibility. Action can take many forms, with military action as a last resort.
Evans gave an example of a powerful nation crushing a minority in its territory. Military action would not be justified because of the likelihood of it beginning a much larger conflagration. However, severe economic sanctions might work.
In the U.S., we need to talk about R2P. While our political leaders debate condoms (I am not suggesting that this is completely frivolous) and who is a real or counterfeit conservative, Syrians and citizens of Sudan and South Sudan and Somalia are being killed. When are we going to have a serious discussion about how we and other nations use our power in the world for good rather than only for profit?
John McCain in 2008 raised the possibility of forming some sort of group of responsible democracies to take action in cases where the U.N. is paralyzed by the veto of one permanent member.
I think this is a good idea. Such a group needs to be fairly informal and must embrace all of the major stable democracies and nations in all parts of the world. It will not take disagreement out of international affairs. It will not always to lead to swift and effective action.
However, it is clear from the list of inhumane actions I presented above, a list that could unfortunately be doubled or tripled, that the U.N. as it exists today is hamstrung by a charter that made some sense in 1945 but little sense today. And through good and not so good Secretaries General, the U.N. has become less effective not only because of the veto but also through its inefficient bureaucracy.
In addition to problems with permanent members, the means of selecting rotating members for two-year terms is seriously flawed. Just last year, Nigeria, a nation with a virtual civil war within its borders, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, a nation without a functioning constitution, had seats on the Security Council.
In 2009, one of the Security Council members was Libya. Need I say more to argue that this institution is not up to the task of protecting the seven billion
of us who inhabit the planet from unconscionable violence.
Let’s think about Senator McCain’s idea. Let’s talk about R2P more than about whether a CEO got too big a bonus or whether Eli Manning is better than Tom Brady. Let’s reflect upon what is valuable about the U.N. (many things, I think) and where it fails.
Let’s press members of Congress to spend more time discussing R2P and less time figuring out whom to name a post office after or how high a wall to build on our southern border.
We cannot count on our elected officials to do the important things unless we hold their feet to the fire. So, let’s at least grab a toe and pull it at least in the direction of a flame!