With Russia in the crosshairs, the idea of ​​reforming the UN once again appeals to the United States

The reform of the UN and its Security Council is a sea serpent that resurfaces at the approach of each United Nations General Assembly. But these calls are today relayed by a most improbable ally: the United States, exasperated by Moscow’s use of its veto, in the midst of the Ukrainian war.

To ensure that Russia does not block Security Council meetings, Western powers have relied on a series of rules of procedure. To condemn Russia, they turned to the UN General Assembly, where each of the 193 member states has one vote.

But the impotence of the UN in this conflict is notable, and it suffices to go back to the evening of February 23, 2022: when in the middle of a meeting of the Security Council, Vladimir Putin announced to the whole world that he threw a “special military operation” in Ukraine. And that from New York, diplomats continued to read pre-written statements.

“Status quo untenable”

In a recent speech, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield came out in favor of “sensitive and credible proposals” to expand and therefore reform the Security Council, which today has 5 permanent members (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France) and 10 non-permanent.

“We must not defend an untenable and outdated status quo”she pleaded. “But rather show flexibility and openness, in the name of greater credibility and legitimacy”said the ambassador.

“Any permanent member who uses his right of veto to defend his own actions loses all moral authority and must be held accountable”, she also warned. This type of remarks make Beijing and Moscow smile, which refer to the time of Bush junior, when the United States did not hesitate to circumvent the Security Council to invade Iraq.

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For Naledi Pandor, the foreign minister of South Africa — a country that has long sought a seat on the Security Council — it is hypocritical to criticize the concept of the veto solely because of its use Russia today.

“Some of us have long called for the General Assembly to play a greater role, but have never been supported. But suddenly, today, yes? »she recently launched in front of a think tank in Washington. “This is where international law begins to mean nothing. »

Linda Thomas-Greenfield acknowledged that the United States was not always the first to respect its own principles, but pointed out that since 2009, Washington had used its veto only four times, compared to 26 times for Russia.

For Richard Gowan, analyst at the International Crisis Group, the concerns of the United States around the ” malfunctions of the Security Council are sincere. “But it’s also a clever way to point the finger at China and Russia. Because we all know that Russia and China are the countries most reluctant to reform the Council,” he argues.

The strongest push for Security Council reform dates back to the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, when Brazil, Germany, India and Japan jointly submitted their candidacies for a permanent seat. .

China then fiercely opposed giving a seat to another East Asian power.

Shortness of breath?

Japanese ambitions have long been supported by Washington. During a visit to India, former President Barack Obama expressed general support for a New Delhi bid. But past the wishful thinking, very few initiatives have so far been launched for these applications to succeed.

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According to Richard Gowan, a clear call from Joe Biden for an overhaul of the Council would instantly jump-start reform efforts. But, he tempers, “my feeling is that the Americans do not necessarily have a specific goal in their approach”.

“They are doing this to test the waters, to challenge the Chinese and the Russians. It could run out of steam.” he warns. Specialists in diplomacy also doubt that a reform of the Security Council can take place as long as Russia and China see their interests threatened.

“Among those who support Ukraine against Russian aggression, this is a recurring topic”points out John Herbst, a former American diplomat now at the Atlantic Council. “But I think the chances of that happening are very, very slim. »