An old new idea to break P-5 impasse

p5Rather muted in the U.S. press is France’s recent call for “self-restraint” on its part and that of its veto-friendly partners in the P-5.

The P-5, of course, are the 5 countries with permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council. By U.N. Charter mandate, each of the 5 enjoys the right to veto a resolution authorizing intervention – even if the rest of the 15-member Council finds harm to international peace and security. As has been evident in the 2-plus years of Syria’s civil war, by exercising its veto a P-5 member can leave a matter run its course without international intervention no matter what the casualty count.

France has suggested a way out of this predicament. As stated in an op-ed that Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius published October 4 in Le Monde, in French, and in the International Herald-Tribune, in English, here’s the idea:

‘[T]he five permanent members of the Security Council – China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States – themselves could voluntarily regulate their right to exercise their veto. The Charter would not be amended and the change would be implemented through a mutual commitment from the permanent members. In concrete terms, if the Security Council were required to make a decision with regard to a mass crime, the permanent members would agree to suspend their right to veto.’

How to determine when the commitment is in play? It’s “simple,” Fabius wrote:

‘[A]t the request of at least 50 member states, the United Nations secretary general would be called upon to determine the nature of the crime. Once he had delivered his opinion, the code of conduct would immediately apply.’

Fabius recognized “that objections of all kinds can be made,” and sought to deflect some of them with this caveat:

‘[T]his code would exclude cases where the vital national interests of a permanent member of the Council were at stake.’

It is not a new idea. As pointed out in an October 3 lecture at Georgia Law by Lee A. Feinstein, the former U.S. Ambassador to Poland who’s teaching here this semester, a similar idea appeared as Principle 3(D) of The Responsibility to Protect, the 2001 Report of the Independent Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which launched the responsibility to protect concept.

What is new is that the show of support comes from a P-5 state itself. Yet it must be mentioned that France has vetoed far fewer times than most of its peers on the P-5. And those peers likely will be far less enamored of France’s idea, as Mark Goldberg posted at UN Dispatch.

What could draw those peers toward France’s idea? Perhaps an understanding that a P-5 member’s “vital national interests” are “at stake” whenever a resolution implicates the member’s client state. But then adoption would be hollow, for such a proviso would sap the proposal of its strength.

(Cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann. Credit for September 2013 U.N. photo by Mark Garten of, from left, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.)

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