Romanticizing the Security Council

Last week, Human Rights Watch's Philippe Bolopion published a devastating indictment of the Rwandan government for its support of brutal rebels in eastern Congo. For Bolopion, the fact that Rwanda has just assumed a seat on the UN Security Council, engaged in "lifesaving work", makes its activity particularly noxious:

Few countries dare challenge the Security Council the way Rwanda does; even fewer get away with it. Yet on Tuesday, despite backing an abusive rebel group that has attacked U.N. peacekeepers in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda will take a two-year seat on the council. At the famous horseshoe table, Rwanda will get to make life-and-death decisions on the future of countries in crisis, including the very neighbor it is accused of destabilizing. 

Bolopion is right to call out Rwanda and to note the incongruity of a country engaged in nefarious behavior serving on the body charged with maintaining international peace and security. But flouting Security Council resolutions is an activity hardly unique to Rwanda. And the problem of suspect Council membership is much more widespread than Bolopion implies. This month's Council president is Pakistan, which is almost certainly supporting elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan and is likely in violation of Council resolutions on countering terrorist activity. Plenty of other recent Council members have been conflict-ridden, including Lebanon and Nigeria. Gaddafi's Libya was a Council member in 2008-2009. Bosnia took a turn on the Council recently even though it lacks a functioning central government.

Rwanda's election to the Council is a symptom of a much broader problem with the UN's regional rotation and election system. The dominant view is that serving on elite UN bodies is a matter of right, not something that countries earn. It's a view that runs deep and is only beginning to yield. 

The Multilateralist

A grand bargain on Palestinian multilateralism?

The Arab League's top official has suggested that the Palestinians will seek to push for UN Security Council involvement in the peace process:

“We cannot continue with the same process of the last 20 years,” Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said in Ramallah after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “This is just a waste of time.”

He said the Palestinians will seek the help of the Security Council in resolving their conflict with Israel, though not without first consulting with governments of influence such as the Obama administration.

“We need a new approach that aims to end the conflict, not to manage it,” he said on his first visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Meanwhile, other commentators are urging the Palestinians to advance their cause at the International Criminal Court. The UN General Assembly vote last month according Palestine observer state status may have cleared the way for the ICC to consider crimes committed on Palestinian territory (the ICC had refused to open an investigation previously because of uncertainty about whether Palestine was a state).  Commentator Sharif Nashashibi wrote recently in Al Arabiya, "the time for ICC application and legal action is now." 

A trade-off might be in order. Always outnumbered and often isolated on Israel-Palestine issues, the United States has for several decades managed to keep the Security Council to a marginal role on the peace process. But Washington and Jerusalem are deeply concerned about ICC involvement in Palestine, which raises the prospect of Israel's settlement policy being deemed criminal. I suspect that concern runs deep enough that they might even be willing to consider a greater form of Security Council involvement in exchange for a  Palestinian agreement to shelve their ICC petition.

Allowing the Security Council back into the Middle East peace process in a sustained way  would be a bitter pill. But for Washington, the Council may be much safer than the court.