It is a question that keeps coming back to NUjij: why is Russia still on the UN Security Council, despite the invasion of Ukraine? NU.nl explains.
The Security Council (VR) has five permanent members, all of whom have veto power. That is to say: if one of those countries says ‘no’ to a decision, better known as a resolution, then the whole party is cancelled.
Permanent members of the UN Security Council
United States United Kingdom China Russia France
The UN was conceived in 1945 by the great powers that had won World War II. Those countries (the above five, with the Soviet Union instead of Russia) each claimed a permanent seat on the Security Council. They informed the smaller countries that their exceptional status (including veto power) was not in question. You just swallow it, because otherwise there will be no UN, was the message.
There is no official legal path to removing a country from the Security Council or taking away its veto power. The charter of the United Nations (the agreement at the base of the organization) does not stipulate anything about this.
In theory, a country can be expelled from the UN if it ‘persistently violates’ the principles of the charter. The General Assembly (all member states together) can hold a vote on this, but only if the Security Council recommends it. And Russia has a veto vote there.
The UN Charter could also be amended, but then two-thirds of the countries in the General Assembly and all five permanent members of the Security Council must agree. In short, Russia has a veto vote.
The Ukrainians are still trying to question Russian membership. Their main argument revolves around the Soviet Union. When it fell apart, Russia declared that it was the legal successor and would therefore continue the Soviet Union’s UN and VR membership. Other countries did not object to this at the time.
Ukraine now says: that was an improvised solution, a goat path – and therefore invalid. It points out that the Soviet Union was never removed from the list of permanent VR members in the UN charter. Since the General Assembly has never voted on Russia’s admission, according to the Ukrainians, the country is not even a UN member.
It’s not that simple, say many legal experts. Russia has now had thirty years of UN history as the successor to the Soviet Union. Previously, no one made a problem of this, not even Ukraine.
In fact, Ukraine itself was never formally admitted to the UN, instead continuing membership in the ‘Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’. You could argue that that state ceased to exist when Ukraine became independent.
Moreover, it has more often happened that the bulk of a disintegrating state has been treated as a successor in the UN. For example, when Egypt took over the seat of the United Arab Republic (a union with Syria that ended in 1971).
Even if it were legally simple to remove Russia from the Security Council or limit its veto power, power politics would be involved. The other permanent members of the Security Council have little interest in weakening their own position. That could cause problems for China, for example, when it comes to Taiwan. Or the US, if it wants to give Israel a hand over its head. And can it actually be sold that France is on the council, but Germany is not?
Ultimately, the UN is not a democratic world government, but a diplomatic talking club. It can be used to set up concrete international actions, such as a peacekeeping force, but in practice this only happens if the major powers do not give in to this. Countries are primarily members of the UN to promote their own interests.
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