Switzerland and the S-5 Get Smaller: Failed UN Security Council Reform


Unbeknownst to most of the world with France's new president, Facebook's IPO, the G8 meeting in Washington and the NATO summit, last Wednesday Switzerland, Costa Rica, Jordan, Singapore and Liechtenstein also made some headlines. Actually, it was not what they did but what they didn't do. The Small 5 - as opposed to the big P5 permanent members of the UN Security Council France, Britain, China, Russia and the U.S. - decided last Wednesday to withdraw a draft resolution which proposed to reform the working methods of the Security Council.

The five permanent members have been dominating the United Nations since the end of World War II, with a slight hiccup involving who represents China. Their veto power or threat of veto power has allowed little action in Syria, for example, in the face of egregious human rights violations as well as threats to international peace and security. Two major reforms of the Security Council have been envisioned. The first is to enlarge the Council to better conform to geopolitical changes. Countries such as Germany, Japan, India, Brazil and Nigeria have been mentioned. Just as the G-7 became the G-8 and then the G-20, many states have been calling for enlarging the permanent membership. For the moment, no concrete action has been taken.

The second reform has been less ambitious. Former Swiss Ambassador to the United Nations Peter Maurer and colleagues from like-minded countries have tried to reform and democratize the workings of the Council. For example, they have asked that Council members not use their veto in cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. If a veto is used, they proposed that a written explanation justify its use. They have asked that the Council be more transparent in its deliberations and work more closely with the General Assembly, where all recognized countries in the world are represented. The draft resolution also calls for more information from the Council concerning peace missions, especially to those countries directly concerned by the missions.

Alas, pressure from the permanent members caused the S-5 to withdraw the draft resolution. As Colum Lynch reported in Foreign Policy, "It also appeared likely to diminish the U.N. General Assembly's authority, already limited, to make even non-binding recommendations to the Security Council". Switzerland has often been said to punch above its weight in international affairs. In this case, the major powers have made it abundantly clear that small is small, and that lightweights such as the S-5 should not even consider entering the heavyweight division of the Security Council, even in a non-binding draft resolution.

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