Can we really exclude Russia from the UN Security Council, as Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanded?

Could Russia be banished from the nations as the aggressor denounced by most western countries? Already economically sanctioned, its diplomats dismissed from several countries, the UN General Assembly is now considering their possible suspension from the Human Rights Council this Thursday. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy even proposed on Tuesday to exclude “Russia as an aggressor and initiator of the war” from the UN Security Council “so that it does not block decisions about its own aggression.

An almost logical demand for a body that should be the guarantor of peace. But that comes up against the status of Russia, a permanent member and holder of a veto right in this Security Council since 1946. “It’s a system technically organized around the victors of World War II,” notes d Jean de Gliniasty, former French ambassador to Moscow. And whose reform seems impossible. “The statutes would have to be changed, which requires the consent of the members,” explains the diplomat. However, Russia would immediately exercise its right of veto.

An impossible reform

The UN did not wait for the war in Ukraine to try to reform this body. In 1995, then-Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt estimated that “unless it is fundamentally reformed, the Security Council will become illegitimate.” Beginning the following year, with the support of France, the possibility of giving permanent seats to the 1945 losers, Germany and Japan, and at least one African nation was raised. A proposal that has remained dead letter, like that of François Hollande to add Brazil and India. “It’s a sea serpent,” clipped historian Anne de Tinguy, a researcher at Sciences Po’s Center for International Research (CERI), also recalling the French desire to “restrict the scope of the veto power.”

“You have to be clear, the veto was created to ensure that the big nations can defend their interests,” admits Jean de Gliniasty. Building on the “realism” of Roosevelt and Truman at the end of the war, who had learned the lessons of the failure of the League of Nations, “dead because the small nations had the same status as the big ones,” the Security Council is now in the picture frozen at the Yalta Conference.

Recording of the use of the right of veto

The permanent seat gives Russia “an aura and influence greater than its true power,” adds Anne de Tinguy. The Russians have also used their veto 29 times since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a record. Moscow has thus ensured that the UN is kept out of its intervention in Syria (which led to the rejection of his candidacy for the Human Rights Council the following year) and shows that Ukraine is part of “its backyard”. For example, on February 25, Russia defied a resolution deploring Ukraine’s “aggression” and calling for the withdrawal of its troops, while being the only nation to vote “no.”

With this right of veto, Vladimir Putin also avoids a referral from the Security Council to the International Criminal Court because of the “war crimes” he is accused of, as well as a possible deployment of blue helmets. “A ceasefire is already needed,” squeaks the Inalco university professor, who laments that “Russia is preventing the Security Council from playing its role.”

The Equilibrium Paradox

The historian even sees a paradox in this and emphasizes that Russia is “very attached to its seat” and would therefore have a great interest in “the UN fulfilling its responsibility in the area of ​​peace and security”. Instead, the Security Council was “powerless” and the negotiations were not “put under the auspices of the UN,” which she believed could play a “leading role.” But that absence is perhaps the best evidence of the balance the United Nations must constantly strive for. “As the only universal organization, it is obliged to take realistic power relations into account,” analyzes Jean de Gliniasty.

Because the other paradox is that given the global impact of their decisions, “it is important that the great powers are not called into question,” he adds. Even if it means looking the other way to avoid ultimate danger? Excluding a major nation, or seeing the door slam, would actually risk creating “territorial UNs” that no longer really need to care about world peace. The opportunity for Anne de Tinguy to recall that “Russia is a nuclear state”, otherwise “the reaction would have been different”.

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