United Nations and the role of Sovereignty of Member States

United Nations created in 1945 following the conflict against Axis powers in World War Two plays a vital role in securing peace in complex situations which affect the lives of millions of people today. However the situations in Iraq, Syria, Gaza and Ukraine has highlighted fundamental problems within the organisation as it seeks to resolve situations and conflicts. An examination of the organisation’s history will briefly highlight the problems the United Nations faces today in their fundamental role as peace maker.

The United Nations was formed at a specific time after a global conflict which has fundamentally changed the international political process.   The original forty-five members who had been invited to attend the 1945 San Francisco Conference were countries that had declared war on Germany and Japan. President Truman’s speech which guided the original principle of the United Nations has in hindsight highlighted the essential flaw with the UN itself. President Truman said that ‘We all have to recognise – no matter how great our strength that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please. No one nation, no regional group, can or should expect, any special privilege which harms any other nation. If any nation would keep security for itself, it must be ready and willing to share security with all. That is the price which each nation will have to pay for world peace. Unless we are all willing to pay that price, organisation for world peace can accomplish its purpose’

The ambition of world peace is something that could not have been achieved then or now. This is simply because the underlying principle behind the international system is that states are sovereign. Sovereignty is the right of state to govern itself which was formed in a series of treaties 1648 Peace of Westphalia. These series of treaties between May and October 1648 formed a new political system which forms the foundation of the political system today. The Peace of Westphalia became known as Westphalian Sovereignty and became a fundamental concept of international law.

The Peace of Westphalia came after thirty years of war in Europe caused by Empires, Kingdoms, Catholic and Protestant fighting each other. The treaties drew up political territorial boundaries and the right to determine matters internally such as their choice of religion. Westphalian Sovereignty meant that there was recognition of exclusive sovereignty for a state of the rule of their people. The concept of Westphalian Sovereignty has not changed today but organisations such as the United Nations and the European Union bring dilemmas to the concept of state sovereignty formed in 1648. Fundamentally the United Nations and European United Nations are examples of international organisations which do not have the authority similar to that of a Sovereign State which has the power to make decisions according to their territory.

The UN Charter itself has developed from treaties during the war against the Axis powers and not from regional conflicts which are present today .The Charter of the United Nations reflects different times and organisation that was designed after a war on a global scale not seen in modern times. Conflicts today often involve members of the United Nations and the internal politics of the organisation causes situations to develop and escalate. The UN Charter guides an organisation that relies on international co-operation for different types of warfare today which is not engulfed in a global conflict.

The speech made by the American President, Truman on the 26th June 1945 summaries the significant nature of the charter and acts as an important symbol for the importance of the United Nations. The United Nations however is not capable of fulfilling of the ambition of world peace laid out in Truman’s speech in 1945 because of different nature of conflicts today and the fact that there hasn’t been a world war since World War Two. Arguably the United Nations has failed in its first purpose as there are conflicts around the world toady which have led to thousands of deaths and millions of people being displaced. Peace means freedom from disturbance or a state or period in which there is no war or a war which has ended.

The Charter of the United Nations originates from a series and conferences in Moscow, Tehran, Yalta, Postdam and San Francesco. These conferences attempted to design an international organisation based around one principle, ’the sovereign equality of all peace-loving states’. What resulted was a United Nations Charter which acted as a guide to the UN in dealing with situations throughout the world. However the principles of the Charter actually undermine the organisation itself in its attempt to respond effectively to situations.

The first principle in Article 1 of the United Nations Charter says its role is ‘to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace’. The first principle highlights the critical problem of the United Nations. The UN sees its role as maintaining international peace and security but in actual fact it is the internal procedures which cause the organisation not to fulfil its original purpose of maintaining international peace. The principles listed in Article 1 showcase the principal flaw of the organisation and the fundamental role that Westphalian Sovereignty plays today in international politics.

Internal procedures prohibit effective responses to situations because the United Nations relies on international co-operation and the response of collective measures to prevent or remove threats to peace. This reliance of collective measures is highlighted once again in the third purpose in the first article of the United Nations Charter. The third purpose is ‘to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language’.

However, since the ratification of the Charter in 1945 the organisation has had crises which have produced division inside the United Nations because of the failure of international co-operation. The United Nations Security Council is evidence of this failure specifically the use of veto in the Council. The Council is made up five permanent members; the United Kingdom, United States, USSR (now the Russian Federation), China and France with ten non-permanent members elected for two year terms. The veto by permanent members of the Council is in essence an example of states protecting their own interests in an international arena.

The early years of the United Nations saw the veto being used by USSR to block the membership of states from the entering the organisation including Austria, Finland, Republic of Korea, Portugal, Nepal and Ireland. The situation in the Middle East has been vetoed by the United States on countless occasions since 1945 escalating the conflict in the region. The United States has used their veto on the Palestinian question in 2011 which is forty-first time their veto has been cast. The situation in Gaza has escalated once again with thousands of people dying and thousands being displaced.

The crisis in Syria has also seen the use of veto used by Russia and China in protection of their regional interests. The situation in Ukraine and the involvement in Russia highlights the developing problem of the United Nations, the emphasis of international co-operation. The role of international organisations such is the United Nations is fundamental in international politics but state interest is something that has and will play a crucial role in determining the use of the veto in the United Nations Security Council. The Security Council has ‘primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security to the Security Council, which may meet whenever peace is threatened’. However this responsibility is only achieved with co-operation and when state interests are in agreement.

With regional conflicts deepening and the threat of terrorism developing; the concept of achieving of world peace through international co-operation is a difficult prospect for the UN Security Council to achieve. The United Nations will have to adapt and reform to be able to effectively deal with regional situations which has the potential to divide the international community. Conflicts in Gaza, Syria and in Ukraine is evidence of the clash between state sovereignty and the response of international co-operation.

To sum up, reforming the approach of the UN seems to be the answer for the UNSC problems but that in itself is likely to cause debate and division with a result of issues being unresolved and people suffering as a result.

By Patrick Harris

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, North America

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One Comment on “United Nations and the role of Sovereignty of Member States”

  1. September 11, 2014 at 1:35 am #

    The UN has great potential which will only become realized through the wisest democratic reform(s).

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