To place violent criminals alongside police officers on a council tasked with upholding the law would be contrary to justice and good sense alike. To grant both the officers and the criminals the ability to veto one another’s proposals would only be worse, as only the criminals could benefit from such a system. The officers would find themselves restrained by the institution and the criminals would never be bound by it in the first place. To count the most heinous violators of individual rights among the defenders of said rights can only lead to the continuation and exacerbation of existing abuses, or to the development of new ones. Such is the nature of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which recently experienced an unprecedented setback to its own credibility – a UN member state, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has declined membership after having been awarded a seat.
Granted: Saudi Arabia can hardly be considered an advocate for individual rights. Since Eisenhower reached out to the Arab monarchy in the early stages of the Cold War, Saudi Arabia has proven a dubious partner to the West in its dealings the Arab-speaking world. At best, the Saudi kingdom’s relationship with the West has been an alliance of convenience, both sides coordinating with one another to stave off Soviet influence in the region and, in the post-Cold-War era, to check the maneuvers of an increasingly aggressive and nationalistic Islamic Republic of Iran.
Thus, the motivations behind the decision by Saudi officials to turn down its two-year seat on the UNSC have been generally accepted as questionable. In a public statement explaining the unexpected move, Saudi officials stressed their displeasure at the international community for not taking stronger action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Their additional grievance, that the UNSC has failed to “subdue the nuclear programs of all countries in the region, without exception,” is a not-so-subtle jab at Israel, which is widely alleged to have its own nuclear arsenal.
What is perhaps most remarkable about the Saudis’ condemnation of the UNSC is that, motives aside, their indictment of the UNSC as an ineffective force for peacekeeping and individual rights is strikingly accurate.
In an official statement on the matter, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia asserted that “the manner, mechanisms of action and double standards existing within the Security Council prevent it from performing its duties and assuming its responsibilities.” The result of this, the statement went on, is “the continued disruption of peace and security, the expansion of the injustices against the peoples, the violation of rights and the spread of conflicts and wars around the world.”
Though the Saudis’ sincerity in this statement can reasonably be placed under doubt in light of their own human rights legacy, the principles they cite are entirely in accordance with what critics of the United Nations have been saying for nearly seventy years.
Woven into the very fabric of the United Nations, and especially the Security Council, are obstacles to the international promotion of individual rights, let alone the maintenance of international security and peace. The UN allows into its ranks nations diametrically opposed to its charter, and into its highest enforcement mechanism some of the greatest enemies of liberty and peace the world has ever known.
It has tied the hands of relatively freer nations by requiring they get permission from the likes of Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), the People’s Republic of China, and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, just to list current Security Council members. The first two retain a permanent veto power on all UNSC actions. The United Kingdom and the United States possess the same power, as does socialist France, though it is patently ridiculous that these states should have to obtain permission from rights-violating regimes to take action against other (or even the same) violators.
In her 1964 interview with Playboy, Ayn Rand summed up the matter succinctly: “The notion of protecting rights, with Soviet Russia among the protectors, is an insult to the concept of rights and to the intelligence of any man who is asked to endorse or sanction such an organization.”
In recent years, the United Nations has repeatedly demonstrated its inability to address the issues of the twenty-first century, particularly in relation to political Islam and the Middle East in general. Thus, is it any surprise that faith in such a system is dwindling? The UNSC is but a microcosmic continuation of the institutional errors that brought down the League of Nations, meaning the desire for unanimity (or at least, lack of objection) for action to take place. But what unanimity can there be on a council where the members have entirely different goals in mind?
On one side, freer nations presumably desire the maintenance of their national security through an international forum for the redressal of grievances and the protection of their citizens’ rights and well-being. Meanwhile, statist nations seek to use the same bureaucratic apparatus to protect themselves and their contemptible allies from retribution on the part of freer nations. The institution is thus undermined by the amoral, indiscriminate acceptance of free and unfree, aggressor and aggressed alike.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is, admittedly, no free nation. Their uneasy relationship with the West was, in Eisenhower’s day, premised upon a desire to secure US support for its own regional hegemony in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and continues today as a marriage of convenience. Nevertheless, the Saudis cannot be faulted in their decision to renounce their seat on the Security Council. It is an alleged honor with no real authority to effect positive change. Whether the United Nations and its internal bodies will continue long into the future without facing significant change remains to be seen. But for the time being, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia should be commended for denying its sanction to the UNSC by refusing to participate in the farce. Perhaps it is time that free nations consider doing the same.