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Why Russia's Seat On The U.N. Security Council Is Not Easily Revokable

Zelensky's Cries For Russia's Removal From Yet Another United Nations Council Are Falling On Deaf Ears, And Here's Why.

Article Written by Jett James Pruitt

The political fallout from the Russo-Ukrainian War is unrelenting.

On Thursday, April 7, 2022 the United Nations General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council. With 93 countries voting in favor, 24 voting against, and 58 abstaining, Moscow became the first permanent member of the Security Council to be barred from any U.N. body.

Several days earlier, Russia was accused of committing war crimes against Ukrainian civilians in the city of Bucha. Speaking to the U.N. Security Council on April 5, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the massacre as “genocide” and urged for the creation of a Nuremberg-style tribunal to prosecute Russian officials:

“The Russian military and those who gave them orders must be brought to justice immediately for war crimes in Ukraine . . . the massacre in our city of Bucha is only one, unfortunately, only one of many examples of what the occupiers have been doing on our land for the past 41 days,” he said in a 20-minute address.

“Anyone who has given criminal orders and carried them out by killing our people will be brought before the tribunal which should be similar to the Nuremberg tribunals.”

Shortly thereafter, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield introduced a resolution to revoke Russia’s membership from the Human Rights Council. In short, the Council is tasked with promoting human rights around the world, investigating allegations of human rights abuses in all 193 member states.

Vote to Remove Russia From The U.N. Human Rights Council

Libya was suspended from the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011 due to violence inflicted against protesters by Muammar Gaddafi’s government. Aside from this, suspensions from the UNHCR are extremely rare.

United Nations General Assembly suspension from the Human Rights Council requires a 2/3 supermajority, with abstentions not counted.

As such, Russia’s expulsion from the Human Rights Council begs an essential question:

Can Russia even be expelled from the U.N. Security Council?

Russian UN Ambassador, Vasily Nebenzia

Given its alleged war crimes and misinformation campaigns, can it be banned from one of the U.N.’s most powerful organs?

For context, the U.N. Security Council is composed of five permanent members: Russia, China, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Also called the P5, these nations serve alongside ten rotating members (R10) to manage international conflicts. Among other things, the Security Council has the power to commission peacekeeping operations (PKOs), enact economic sanctions, and authorize military action.

Every P5 wields tremendous influence in the council, possessing the ability to veto any substantive resolution. For example, if 14 out of 15 Security Council members vote for a resolution condemning Russia for invading Ukraine, the proposal can be annulled if Russia votes against it (as what happened earlier this year). However, if 14 out of 15 Security Council members vote for a resolution admonishing Ireland, the resolution will still pass if all P5 nations approved it.

While a super-majority of countries (9 of 15) is needed to pass a resolution, Russia indubitably has much more power than Ireland in this scenario.

The UK, Ukraine, and USA Discuss the Future of Russia

Security Council resolutions are considered legally binding for all 193 member states (a.k.a. countries). According to Article 25 of the UN Charter, all nations must “agree to carry out and accept the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.” Meanwhile, resolutions accepted by the General Assembly are deemed non-binding.

Naturally, the P5 is a controversial element of the Security Council, with some arguing it concentrates too much political power in the hands of only a few nations.

Recently, calls for Russia to be barred from the Security Council has intensified following its offensive against Ukraine. In his Tuesday speech, President Zelensky urged the Security Council to remove Russia or “dissolve yourself altogether” if they couldn’t.

Following Zelensky’s impassioned plea, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted the challenges associated with removing Russia from the Council:

“I think [Zelensky] is certainly referring to his frustration, which we share, that Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, but we don’t see that changing,” she said to reporters.

At this point, one may wonder “Can the General Assembly just remove Russia from the Security Council like it did with the Human Rights Council?”

The answer is not so simple.

According to U.N. bylaws, Russia would have to remove itself from the entire organization. Specifically, Russia has to authorize a resolution calling for its removal from the General Assembly.

According to Article 6 of the U.N. Charter, “a Member of the United Nations . . . may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.” Considering Russia can easily veto a resolution calling for its expulsion, this scenario seems unlikely.

To further complicate matters, the U.N. Charter never specified how to remove a P5 from the Security Council.

Therefore, even if Russia is expelled from the General Assembly, one can argue that member states would have to amend the Charter to officially bar the country from the Council.

Domestic legislation would also be ineffective in altering the Security Council.

On the same day President Zelensky delivered his address, nine U.S. Republican Senators drafted a resolution urging the U.N. to amend Article 23 of their Charter to remove Russia as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

The U.S. Senators who drafted the resolution include: Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.).

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) Leads the American Movement to Remove Russia From the U.N. Security Council

Even if the resolution passes the U.S. Senate, it will have little or no impact on the U.N.'s decision to amend its own rules, let alone Article 23.

The current U.N. Charter was codified in October 1945, following the conclusion of World War II. The 51 founding members of the United Nations selected the P5 based on their leadership and geopolitical importance during the war (every P5 was a member of the Allied Powers).

Although Russia is currently engaging in horrific war activities, the country will inevitably play an important role in geopolitical issues in the future. Therefore, the complete and permanent removal of the Russian Federation from the United Nations now will only stall peace negotiations and could potentially have consequences far beyond this current decade.

It will be interesting to see whether future generations are willing to either reform or abolish this structure following Russia’s recent actions.

What are your thoughts? Please share your comments with this article.


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