Powerful but paralyzed, the case of UN action

GS Paper II

News Excerpt:

According to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) President, the UN Security Council (UNSC) does not reflect today’s realities, is paralysed and unable to discharge its basic function of maintaining international peace and security.


  • The P-5 (UNSC Permanent Members) has been guilty of playing out their inter se political rivalries inside the UNSC, thereby paralyzing the Council and compromising international peace and security. 
    • P-5 standoff has given space for the countries in conflict, especially developing countries in Africa and Asia, to push the P-5 to not treat their issues uni-dimensionally through a colonial or Western lens, but respect their sovereignty and viewpoints. 
    • However, such geopolitical paralysis inside the Council caused by P-5 affects its decision-making ability and credibility. This is where the UNSC stands.
  • For the first time, the West is meeting some serious challenges to a Western worldview being imposed on geopolitical issues of the Global South.

UN’s contribution towards the Israel-Palestine issue:

  • Israel got its statehood with UNGA resolution 181 of 1947 deciding to partition Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, with Jerusalem placed under a special international regime.
  • In 1967, UNSC adopted Resolutions 232 and 338, which are seen as giving a legal basis for a two-state solution based on the principle of “Land for Peace” where Israel withdraws from occupied West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in return for peace, which includes security, recognition, normalcy and peace for the peoples of the two States of Israel and Palestine. 
  • The treatment of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem as ‘illegal’ flows from UNSC resolution 2334 of 2016, with even the US allowing it to be passed. Most of these legal parameters have been decided by the UN earlier. 

The latest manifestation of UNSC paralysis:

  • On 7th October 2023, the Hamas terror attack on Israel took place. The UNSC has done everything, except calling for a ceasefire to stop the killing of Palestinians.
  • Although the UNGA, voted for a ceasefire, with 153 out of 193 member states supporting it — more than what a similar resolution on the Ukraine conflict got — but the UNSC has refused to follow through with it. 
  • The loss of credibility of the UN on recent issues can be attributed to the double-speak and inaction of both P-5 and the Arab World, which are now calling for meetings of the UNSC on the Gaza war, either to pass resolutions or to veto them. 
  • Other Challenges:
    • For a few years, UNSC P-5 countries used the UNSC’s profile to make the ‘right’ noises on the Palestinian cause worldwide. 
    • The issue with major players (the US and the big Gulf players):
      • They sidelined the Palestinian issue and sought to normalize relations between Israel and the Gulf/Arab world at the cost of the Palestinians, disregarding the parameters laid down by the UN. 
      • This was consciously done to make the UN a non-player on this issue. 
    • The UN Secretary-General and other UN organs have pointed out potential violations of international law. The lesson to be drawn is that, at least in the Israel-Palestine issue, the solution is to strengthen the UN. 
    • However, the Ukraine conflict saw a P-5 country going to war. Russia vetoed every resolution against the UNSC while the P-5 was split on the Ukraine conflict, the abstention of many developing countries on the UN votes conveyed a very different message. 

UN and Global South Scenario:

  • The Global South used UNSC and UNGA as platforms to send a message to P-5 and the West that while they are on the side of the UN Charter and for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the fight in Europe has to be resolved politically and not militarily. 
  • The war is being recklessly fuelled by all sides and the unilateral sanctions imposed on Russia are only hurting the Global South inter alia food, energy, finance, and humanitarian assistance. 
  • Hence, the UN has indeed helped developing countries to send a strong geopolitical message, even if the UN stands paralyzed. It is another thing that the West is in no mood to listen to the Global South on the subject of Ukraine.

Way Forward:

  • There is a need to push P-5 to make a more informed and responsible decision on developing country-related issues by reflecting the views of Global South, that countries like India have called for comprehensive UNSC reforms. 
  • India is already the most populous country and the fifth-largest economy in the world and can contribute more towards taking a stand for the Global South. For instance, India brought the African Union into the G-20 during its Presidency last year.
  • Robust reforms are the need of the hour to make the UNSC more representative, credible, and reflective of the reality outside the UNSC's cloistered chambers.

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