A Mandatory Abstention for Russia?

One major obstacle to resolving the conflict between Georgia and Russia in the disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is, of course, the fact that one of the parties involved happens to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council. As such, Russia wields veto power over any resolution proposed in that body, and thus far, efforts at coming to a resolution have been hamstrung by Russia’s insistence on underlining Georgian aggression. This does not mean that both parties are not at fault — simply that Russia’s position on the Security Council may give its intransigence greater salience here.

Just because Russia sits on the Council, however, does not necessarily mean that a dynamic of paralysis is set in stone, however. The ever-valuable Security Council Report calls to our attention this interesting tidbit — Article 27 (3) to be precise — from the UN Charter:

“Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to the dispute shall abstain from voting.” [emphasis mine]

Basically, this means that there is an out for such a scenario in which a Security Council member’s neutrality is compromised by its involvement in a dispute (think of a juror recusing him/herself in a case in which he/she knows the defendant personally). While this provision has been invoked rarely in the UN’s history, and is not likely to see the light of day in this case, it is nonetheless an interesting way of looking at — and perhaps even surmounting — such seemingly intractable situations.