Reforming the Security Council through a Code of Conduct: A Sisyphean Task?

| December 2018
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Abstract: The failure of the UN Security Council to adequately and effectively address the Syrian crisis has brought renewed scrutiny to the veto and its capricious use during mass atrocity situations. In response to these concerns, the idea of a code of conduct to regulate the exercise of the veto during humanitarian situations is now being increasingly advanced by several states, including France and the United Kingdom. This paper disputes the utility of such a code and argues that it would not make any significant difference to the way mass atrocity crimes are addressed. I examine three core arguments often extended to justify the merit and the utility of the norm: the circumvention argument, the naming and shaming argument, and the Charter reform argument. I show how each of these arguments is undermined by mistaken notions about the norm’s procedural effectiveness, and the role the veto plays in cases of what Simon Chesterman calls “inhumanitarian noninterventions.” Additionally, drawing on interviews conducted with diplomats at the United Nations in New York, I present evidence that resistance to a code of conduct comes not only from the permanent five members of the Council but also from the nonpermanent members, further imperiling the idea’s capacity to effect change. Ultimately, I contend that the current global effort to curtail the influence of the veto is nothing more than a journey down the rabbit hole: exciting, but ultimately distracting.

Keywords: Security Council, code of conduct, veto, UN reform, Responsibility to Protect

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Category: Article, Global Governance, Issue 32.4

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