What's In Blue

Posted Sun 23 Apr 2023

Open Debate on “Effective Multilateralism through the Defense of the Principles of the UN Charter”

Tomorrow morning (24 April), the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on “Effective multilateralism through the defense of the principles of the UN Charter”, under the “Maintenance of international peace and security” agenda item. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to chair the meeting, which is one of the signature events of Russia’s Council presidency. Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to brief.

Russia has circulated a concept note ahead of the meeting outlining its views on the international order and the UN system. It argues that a “deep-reaching systemic transformation” is underway with the “natural and rapid decline of [the] unipolar world and the emergence of a new multipolar system”. In the concept note, Russia states that “some stakeholders [are] undertaking attempts to preserve the unipolar world order, by imposing the ‘might is right’ principle and trying to replace universal norms of international law with a ‘rules-based order’”. In this regard, it criticises selective implementation of international law and “disrespect for or even full defiance of” Security Council resolutions on various country files. Russia argues in the concept note that some states are using the international human rights system for political purposes and that international judicial bodies are being instrumentalised for interests unrelated to the peaceful settlement of disputes. It posits that establishing an effective multilateral system requires that all states “reject all neocolonial manifestations, including unilateral sanctions” and recommit to the principles of the UN Charter.

Among the questions for discussion that Russia poses in the concept note are:

  • How can the UN contribute to a smooth transition to a fair and equitable global order?
  • What can be done to re-establish a culture of dialogue and consensus at the UN, including at the Security Council?
  • What is the best way of demonstrating that a selective approach to the norms and principles of international law, including the Charter, is unacceptable and cannot continue?
  • How can initiatives such as “Our Common Agenda” and the “New Agenda for Peace” lay the groundwork for more effective multilateralism?

Contrasting views of the international system and multilateralism are likely to be on display at tomorrow’s meeting, which may be contentious. China and Russia might reiterate that the multilateral system should be inclusive, and express concerns about international rules being imposed on the world by a minority of states. China and others may underscore the importance of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a means of benefitting developing countries.

Western and other like-minded states are likely to question Russia’s rationale for convening this open debate and argue that the meeting is intended to divert attention from Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Several members may reiterate that Russia’s invasion is a violation of the UN Charter, and in this regard, they might refer to article 2 (3), which states that all members “shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means”, and article 2 (5), which says that all members “shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. Members may note that Ukraine is exhibiting its right to self-defence under article 51 of the Charter, and that in this context, weapons are being supplied to Ukraine to help it exercise this right.

Some members might also refer to the arrest warrants that the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued in March for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, for allegedly committing the war crime of “unlawful deportation” and “unlawful transfer” of children from Ukraine to Russia.

Several members may encourage more frequent use of Chapter VI (Peaceful Settlement of Disputes) and Chapter 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 possible that some participants will argue that the Council does not reflect today’s geopolitical realities and call for the structural reform of the organ. Members may also express concern about the use of the veto. The war in Ukraine has highlighted the significant constraints on Council action when the interests of one of the veto-wielding permanent members is at stake. There may be references to the resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 26 April 2022 (A/RES/76/262), which stipulates that the General Assembly will convene for a meeting within ten days whenever a veto is cast in the Security Council.

During the open debate, there may also be references to the “New Agenda for Peace”. The UN Secretariat has been consulting with member states in developing this initiative, which is expected to consider how to improve such tools as mediation, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding, as well as tackle such non-traditional challenges as cyber threats, climate change, and information warfare.

The Council has discussed the UN Charter and the multilateral system several times in the past few years. The most recent such discussion was held on 14 December 2022, during India’s Security Council presidency, on the topic of “New Orientation for Reformed Multilateralism”. Examples of previous meetings on similar topics include 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 meeting, the Council adopted a presidential statement that “reaffirm[ed] its commitment to multilateralism and the central role of the United Nations” and recognised the importance of the UN Charter to the maintenance of international peace and security and development of international law.

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