Effective Multilateralism Through the Defence of the Principles of the UN Charter
Expected Council Action
In April, the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on “Effective multilateralism through the Defense of the Principles of the UN Charter”, one of the signature events of the Russian presidency. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to chair the meeting.
Background and Key Recent Developments
The Council has discussed the UN Charter and the multilateral system several times in the past few years. The most recent such discussion was on 14 December 2022, during India’s Security Council presidency, on the topic of “New Orientation for Reformed Multilateralism”. Previous meetings on similar topics have included an open debate on “Upholding multilateralism and the UN-centred international system”, organised by China on 7 May 2021, and an open debate organised by Viet Nam on 9 January 2020 on “Upholding the UN Charter”. In connection with the latter, the Council adopted a presidential statement that “reaffirm[ed] its commitment to multilateralism and the central role of the United Nations” and “recognised the critical importance of the Charter to the maintenance of international peace and security and development of international law”.
Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China and Russia issued a joint statement on 4 February 2022 emphasising that “the world is going through momentous changes”, including a “transformation of the global governance architecture and world order”. The statement criticised the actions of “some actors representing but the minority on the international scale” for employing unilateral approaches to addressing international issues. It also detailed a vision of effective multilateralism based on consensus rather than through decisions taken “in private by certain nations or blocs of nations”. The two countries argue that while democratic principles based on the sovereign equality of states should be fully implemented at the global level, the attempts by certain states “to impose their own democratic standards on other countries” go against “the spirit and true values of democracy” and “undermine the stability of the world order”.
The war in Ukraine has been widely seen as a global geopolitical turning point. In a 5 December 2022 article, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described the war as bringing in an ”epochal tectonic shift”, or Zeitenwende, in which new and emerging powers such as China compete for influence in a new multipolar world. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was considered by most countries to be a violation of one of the most fundamental tenets of the post-World War II international rules-based order: namely, the commitment to refrain from the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of a member state, enshrined in article 2 (4) of the UN Charter.
Key Issues and Options
An overarching issue is how Council members can find common ground in resolving threats to international peace and security, notwithstanding their different views of the world order and interpretations of the UN Charter.
Another key issue is how to strengthen multilateralism to meet current challenges and threats to international peace and security. An important factor in this respect is how the Council can most effectively cooperate with other UN bodies, member states, and civil society to address global challenges such as terrorism, climate change, cyber security, and transnational organised crime.
More strategic use of certain UN Charter articles could enhance the Council’s ability to address issues of peace and security. For example, urging the Secretary-General to make more frequent and explicit use of his article 99 powers might be a constructive step in the current difficult climate. A deeper and more systematic exploration of the scope of Chapter VIII, on regional arrangements, could also be timely.
In the future, the Council could also consider holding a private meeting with representatives of the General Assembly’s “Special Committee on the Charter of the UN and the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization” to discuss the committee’s activities and to consider potential ideas for strengthening the Council’s work.
Council members are expected to reiterate their commitment to the UN Charter and multilateralism. However, different perspectives on the world order and the UN Charter will be expressed. China and Russia may underscore the view that Western adherence to the Charter has been selective over the years, and that the US is more interested in being a global hegemon than a constructive international actor. Western and other like-minded states may argue that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine represents a gross violation of the UN Charter, and an assault on the rules-based international order.
Some members may encourage more frequent use of Chapter VI (Peaceful Settlement of Disputes) and VIII (Regional Arrangements) tools of the UN Charter, rather than sanctions and other coercive measures outlined in Chapter VII (Action with respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression), which are often more controversial.
It is also possible that some participants will argue that the Council does not reflect today’s geopolitical realities, while calling for the structural reform of the organ. There may also be expressions of concern about the use of the veto.
UN DOCUMENTS ON MULTILATERALISM
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|9 January 2020S/PRST/2020/1||This was a presidential statement adopted during the ministerial-level debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: upholding the UN Charter”.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|14 December 2022S/PV.9220||This was an open debate titled “New Orientation for Reformed Multilateralism” under the agenda item “Maintenance of international peace and security”.|
|11 October 2022S/PV.9149||This was a debate on “Cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations in maintaining international peace and security”.|
|11 May 2021S/2021/456||This letter transmitted the meeting record of the high-level videoconference briefing on “Maintenance of international peace and security: Upholding multilateralism and the United Nations-centred international system”, which was held on 7 May 2021.|
|9 January 2020S/PV.8699||This was a ministerial-level open debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: upholding the UN Charter” where member states reflected on and reaffirmed their commitment to upholding Charter principles, particularly in the context of international peace and security. The list of speakers numbered 111 member states, which led to the open debate continuing over the following two days (Resumptions 1 and 2).|