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Russia's place on UN Security Council should be revoked

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UN Security Council's Russian ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya (Screenshot via YouTube)

Following its acts of aggression against Ukraine, Russia no longer deserves a seat at the United Nations Security Council, writes Dr Klaas Woldring.

MANY PEOPLE may be wondering why the UN Security Council seems powerless to act on the war in Ukraine. There has been a lot of debate in the General Assembly and many requests by that body for the Russians to ‘immediately leave Ukraine’, without any success.

The Sydney Morning Herald devoted several pages in late September to ‘this year's UN talkfest’, which was not attended by several leading heads of state; four of the permanent members' heads were absent. The U.S. President was an exception. Still, at least 145 heads of state were expected to attend that “talkfest”. The principal benefit is said to be that, as far as the General Assembly is concerned, it provides a neutral arena ‘to rebuild trust and reignite global solidarity’. All this against ongoing wars and political crises in many places — too many to list here. The “lasting peace”, aimed at after WWII, is still a pipe dream.

For at least half a century, plans to reform the UN Security Council have often been discussed, without success. We now still have Russia as one of five permanent members, among a total of 15, who have the right of veto. This is the country that has declared war on Ukraine, damaged that country seriously, caused several NATO countries and Australia to become militarily involved, and has recently blocked the important grain trade to Africa. The spectre of World War III seems nearby.

The veto power for Russia was perhaps logical in 1945 but is now very inappropriate and clearly dangerous. The UN surely needs to be able to act now. Reform is essential. Australia could initiate such action in the UN. Australia had much to do with the inception of the UN. It was the ALP leader, “Doc” Evatt, who played a major role in its formation. Is this not the right time now to initiate such major changes?

Full marks to Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong to bring this up in New York. Assisted by Assistant Climate Change Minister Jenny McAllister, she leads the Australian delegation. She puts the issues squarely on the table, frankly, concisely and effectively. How can Russia as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council initiate war against Ukraine? And not be removed? Wong also strongly reiterated Australia's interest in becoming a member of the Security Council.

Currently, even since 1948, reform of the Security Council would require the agreement of at least two-thirds of UN member states in a vote in the General Assembly and must be ratified by two-thirds of member states. All of the (five) permanent members of the UN Security Council (which have veto rights) must also agree. So, this means that excluding Russia is simply not possible in the current organisation and circumstances.

That would also mean that the current rules of the United Nations Organisation must come to an end and new, more effective rules should be established to secure international peace. Such rules should leave Russia without veto power. That change would be relatively minor but, at the same time, essential and effective. Perhaps veto powers should be abolished altogether.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made his first in-person appearance after a pre-recorded speech in 2022. Not surprisingly, Zelensky suggested that the UN should explain why Russia has a seat at the UN at all. UN members should deal with this issue. Of course, he is perfectly right. The existing rules date back to 1945. Reforms are essential and urgent if the world community wants the UN, the Security Council especially, to be more than a “talkfest”.

More power should be given to member states altogether to secure peace in the world. Given the obvious threat to peace currently, it is obvious that the need for effective re-organisation is urgent indeed. This would include the capacity to generate effective military power to act on behalf of the United Nations. 

How can the Russian self-styled dictator declare war on Ukraine to, in his words, teach the “Nazis" a lesson, but in reality, restore a dream of a Russian Empire? This surely is a grotesque stupidity that cannot be checked effectively by a now essentially powerless UN Security Council.

What we hear coming out of UN meetings and emergency sessions are endless complaints about the numerous debates on Ukraine by the UN’s well-meaning Secretary-General, António Guterres, but no effective military action. Instead, that support comes from the U.S., several European countries and Australia.

The gutsy, determined Ukrainians themselves, led by their impressive leader Volodymyr Zelensky, are holding the invaders at bay, with considerable losses and difficulty. Clearly, this is the very time to reorganise and strengthen the United Nations. Australia did indeed play a major role in its formation period.

The UN’s decision-making system has to be changed, urgently. Australia can play a role in this again. If the Russians don't go along, the UN should leave them out until they come to their senses. The world wants to move global democracy forward. This is the time that this goal can be pursued. It is not to be held up by a dictator wanting to restore old Russia.

Dr Klaas Woldring is a former associate professor at Southern Cross University and former convenor of ABC Friends (Central Coast).

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