The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is perhaps the most powerful of the six principal organs of the United Nations and is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions; it is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states.
As we all know the Security Council was created following World War II to address the failings of another international organization, the League of Nations, in maintaining world peace. In its early decades, the body was largely paralyzed by the Cold War division between the US and USSR and their allies, though it authorized interventions in the Korean War and the Congo Crisis and peacekeeping missions in the Suez Crisis, Cyprus, and West New Guinea. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, UN peacekeeping efforts increased dramatically in scale, and the Security Council authorized major military and peacekeeping missions in Kuwait, Namibia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Security Council consists of fifteen members. The great powers that were the victors of World War II – Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, and the United States – serve as the body’s five permanent members. These permanent members can veto any substantive Security Council resolution, including those on the admission of new member states or candidates for Secretary-General. The Security Council also has 10 non-permanent members, elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. The body’s presidency rotates monthly among its members.
Security Council resolutions are typically enforced by UN peacekeepers, military forces voluntarily provided by member states and funded independently of the main UN budget. As of today hundreds of peacekeeping soldiers and other personnel are deployed on 20 plus missions around the world. Evaluations of the Security Council’s effectiveness are mixed, and calls for its reform predate the body’s first meeting; however, little consensus exists on how its structure should be changed.
This year would see ten new members being elected to serve a two year term in the Security Council, Sri Lanka is once again not amongst the ten. Sri Lanka has had only one opportunity to serve in the Security Council and that was way back in 1960-61. The second opportunity came our way in 1995. I was then the Additional Foreign Secretary and was more than disappointed that the then government did a deal with the Republic of Korea and gave our seat to them in return for a promise by them to give employment to a few hundreds of Sri Lankans. I personally thought that it was not a good deal as we were in the throes of the separatist war and the country could have got far more support for the war had we been a member of the Security Council, but my position our not accepted and we lost that opportunity; perhaps the ROK having taken our seat, and been in the Security Council then, may have helped Ban Ki-moon later to secure the position of Secretary General.
Our government also did not, in 1996, support a senior Sri Lankan Diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala, whom the P5 wanted us to nominate to be appointed as head of the IAEA, (he had served as the head of the UN Disarmament Research Institute and also chaired the all important NPT Extension Conference most successfully); it was for these reasons that the P5 wanted him to head the IAEA but our then government did not nominate him, to the utter surprise of the P5; the Directorship of the IAEA went to the Egyptian El Baradi; had our man been head of the IAEA he may perhaps have been the SG of the UN today, for he enjoyed the full support of the P5.
Whereas we have lost for our country such valuable opportunities because of our envy at the success of our fellow citizens, India has been on the Security Council no less than six times and Pakistan four times and even Nepal once; sadly we have passed up the opportunity to represent the region in the UNSC a few times.
What does all this say for us? The tragicomedy that is being enacted now does speak for itself does it not? When will our country win back the dignity and respect we enjoyed in those early years after Independence when we had persons of the caliber of Shirley Amerasinghe, Neville Kanekaratne, Claude Corea, RSS Gunawardena, G.P. Malalasekera and Ben Fonseka representing our country? When we had the Chair of the all important Law of the Sea Conference, of the Indian Ocean Peace Zone Committee, the UN Committee inquiring into Israeli Practices in Occupied Territories and the World Disarmament Conference at the time of Ambassador Ben Fonseka?
This brings to mind the tremendous achievement of Minister Kadirgamar and his team of Foreign Service officers who were able to have the LTTE proscribed in Europe and the US and Canada during the war, countering the efforts of the Tamil Diaspora. The situation today however is to say the least absolutely pathetic. We have now suffered another huge setback. I read the decision of the EU to lift sanctions on the LTTE as a victory for the LTTE diaspora and a supreme defeat for the government and its foreign policy establishment.
Let us hope that the government would put its house into order without further delay. Ending the LTTE insurrection was indeed a truly great victory for which this country and our people will be forever grateful; but let us also reach out to the Tamil people in a way meaningful to them, make them to feel that they are not second class citizens but a part of one nation and have a stake in national decision making; that would put an end to the diaspora menace for all time and also get the interfering Western countries and the UNHCR off our backs.