Worthwhile French Initiative

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius has a bold proposal for Security Council reform. In short, he wants to suspend the p5 right to veto in the event of mass atrocities. Here’s the meat of his proposal, which originally appeared as an op-ed in Le Monde today.

The suggestion is that the five permanent members of the Security Council themselves could voluntarily regulate their right to veto. The Charter would not be amended and the change would be implemented through a mutual commitment from the permanent members. In concrete terms, if the Security Council were required to make a decision with regard to a mass crime, the permanent members would agree to suspend their right to veto. The criteria for implementation would be simple: at the request of at least fifty Member States, the UN Secretary-General would be called upon to determine the nature of the crime. Once he had delivered his opinion, the code of conduct would immediately apply. To be realistically applicable, this code would exclude cases where the vital national interests of a permanent member of the Council were at stake.

I am aware that objections of all kinds can be made to this proposal. Let me counter them with a powerful argument: a change such as this, so simple to implement, would allow us to preserve the fundamental credibility of the Security Council, which should be a pillar of peace and stability. It would convey the will of the international community to make the protection of human life a true priority. It would restore the power of discussion and constructive negotiation. It would avoid States becoming prisoners of their own principled positions.

I’m sold. I think we can fairly assume that the UK would go along with this too. That leaves three P5 members left to convince: USA, Russia and China. They might be a tougher sale.  The USA in would be in a bind over its longstanding support for Israel, and its belief that Israel may be unfairly targeted next time it mounts an incursion in Gaza. Russia, too, would probably be wary of this proposal to the extent that it is being invoked in direct response to Russia’s protection of Syria over the past two years. China would probably go along with this proposal if and only if all the other 4 members sign on board first.

The rest of the UN Membership would probably be downright giddy at taking some power away from the Security Council and moving it to the General Assembly.  The Secretariat would likely too support this effort behind the scenes–disunity at the Council in the face of mass atrocity undermines the credibility of the UN as a whole.

It’s a fabulous idea, Mr. Fabius! Now comes the hard part of convincing your colleagues to go along with it.