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Saudi Arabia turns down Security Council seat

Saudi Arabia speaks at GA, following being elected to the council (Photo: UN Photo/Ryan Brown)

In a move that astounded UN observers by its surprisingly strong moral foundations, but lacking immediate logic, Saudi Arabia turned down its non- permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Considering Riyadh has been fighting for some influence in the council for years now, it left many commentators baffled by this decision taken last Saturday, October 19th.

The Saudi foreign ministry expressed its frustration with the Security Council for the lack of decisive action being taken to counteract the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia backed this statement up by referring to the inability of the council to provide any lasting solution to the Palestinian problem, which has been dragged out over 65 years. The conflict, Saudi officials said, was complicated by the fact that the Palestinian question has allowed many more armed engagements to develop in its wake, such as the Lebanese Civil War, and the Yom Kippur War. Both of them had wider reaching consequences for the whole of the Arab world that have perhaps not even been fully realised yet.

The Saudi demands are simple: a complete set of reforms in the Security Council in order to make the body more responsive to conflict situations. Whether this protest will change anything is yet to be seen, but if the intensity of the response matches the magnitude of the protest, reform may be on its way. There are just 10 rotating seats on the Security Council, and they are always hotly contested. Turning down such an influential position in an act of dissent should certainly get the undivided attention of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Russia was quick to criticise the move, citing the extreme delicacy of armed conflicts, especially those of civil war. The federation made a point that is often overlooked when lives of innocent civilians are at risk.

Post-Cold War, the UN has authorised interventions in various theatres of civil war. In 1991, the Somali government collapsed in a spectacular and bloody style. The country, once one of the richest in Africa, fell into a rut of violence, chaos and famine. Despite the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM I and II) and the Unified Task Force (UNITAF), the “peacemaking” operations have failed. After the Battle of Mogadishu and the resulting deaths of 18 US marines, international consensus found Somalia beyond all hope. The individual militias being simply untameable, the withdrawal commenced even earlier than initially hoped for.

The Second Sudanese Civil War erupted in 1983, and ended in 2005 formally with the UN peacekeeping mission “UN Mission in Sudan” (UNMIS), which was sent to enforce a ceasefire between the two warring parties. Although a comparative success in effectively ending the war has been attained, the conflict is still ongoing, and in 2005, war was petering out anyway. It took the UN 22 years to eventually decide on an intervention; and that only in the dying moments of war.

In all, the UN has always tried to facilitate the ending of civil wars. However, the Security Council very rarely took decisive action in the heat of a young conflict. The exception was Somalia, and that did not end well. UNMIH in Haiti, MINURCA in Central African Republic, UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone, MONUC in the Democratic Republic are all cases of UN peacekeeping forces. But the emphasis is on “peacekeeping”, not “peace-making”. They were mainly involved in the maintaining of demilitarised zones, disarming the warring parties, distributing humanitarian aid and overseeing ceasefires.

The difference with Syria is the fact that the country has collapsed into a state of a religiously charged, lawless war. A situation which poses huge, possibly intransigent problems when attempting any sort of international “peace-making” operation. Add to that the religious aspect, the lack of international consensus and the collective history of similar endeavours, it is no wonder that the Security Council reached a two-and-a-half year deadlock on the issue.

The frustration of the Saudi Arabian foreign ministry is certainly understandable, however so are the length of deliberations in the Security Council. Whether reforms are imminent or not, war is not an easy game.

Reaction of the Saudi Arabian representative following being elected to the council (Photo: Picture credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

Reaction of the Saudi Arabian representative following being elected to the council (Photo: Picture credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

Par Joshua Paul

Octobre 22nd, 2013 @ 23:28

Dans: UNAN

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