Does the structure of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) cultivate or help overcome conflict?
In this essay, I will argue that the structure of the United Nations’ General Assembly and Security Council prevents the organisation from overcoming conflict and, in some instances, actually cultivates conflict. For the purpose of this essay, conflict is defined as any argument or disagreement, including acts of war.
The United Nations (UN) was founded in 1945 when its charter was adopted by 50 of the founding member states. Today there are 192 member states in the UN. The United Nations has two main bodies, the General Assembly and the Security Council.
The General Assembly can be described as the closest thing to a world parliament, in which each member state has a vote1. The General Assembly discusses, investigates and makes recommendations on all factors within the scope of the UN Charter; however, none of its decisions are binding.
The Security Council is responsible for maintaining international peace and security. It consists of 15 members, led by five permanent members (the P5): the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Russia, China and France. The 10 non-permanent members are elected for a two-year term. Decisions made by the Security Council are binding to all members of the UN, and may include the mobilisation of military force. It is also important to acknowledge that the P5 have a veto power in the Security Council, meaning they can individually stop any action decided upon by the Council.
One of the most important articles from the United Nations Charter is Article 43, which encompasses the responsibility of every member to contribute to the maintenance of International Peace, however the structure of the Security Council, specifically its desire to create or maintain political alliances, often means help is not provided in an appropriate time, if even at all.
Between 1999 and 2006, the UN ran a series of peace keeping operations in East Timor, and although these are seen as some of the UN’s most successful missions, there are aspects which both failed to help overcome, and played an active role in, the conflict.
East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and the East Timorese suffered heavily at the hands of Indonesia. Reporter for Carnegie Council, Ajiza Magno,2 and Diplomatic Editor for the Age, Daniel Flitton3, argue that the UN and Australia were unwilling to support East Timor for fear of ruining relations with Indonesia. Although Australia had an obligation to provide support to East Timor, who lost both peace and security with the invasion by Indonesia, they supported Indonesia’s reign of terror. Australia was the only country to recognise Indonesia’s control of East Timor in return for access to East Timor’s natural resources4.
In 1999 East Timor held a referendum on their independence, in which a majority voted for self-governance. This caused a massive fluctuation of violence within the country. At this time, the UN Security Council spent three weeks arguing whether or not to send a peacekeeping mission to East Timor5, even though it would be considered well in line with the UN Charter - Article 43.
Towards the end of 1999 the UN Security Council Resolution 1264 of 1999 authorised a ‘multinational force under a unified command structure… to restore peace and security in East Timor’6. However, even this was done with the approval of the Indonesian Government
UN policies resulted in a complete lack of action to prevent or stop conflict in East Timor for 24 years of Indonesian occupation. Under the mandate of the UN Charter the Security Council had an obligation to support East Timor from the moment it was invaded by Indonesia but did not, and so the organization failed to help overcome conflict. The structure of the Security Council also resulted in failure, as it wasted time in dispute over the decision to...
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