The primary responsibility of the Security Council is to maintain international peace and security; however the deadlock at the Security Council results in the broad failure of the United Nations to meet its responsibility. The United Nations General Assembly adopted, in November 1950, the historic resolution 377 A (V), titled “Uniting for Peace”. This was seen to be a means to overcome the deadlock at the Security Council. However, the legality of the resolution was questioned because of the fact that it authorized the General Assembly to act on the failure of the Security Council which was considered to be against the Charter. The argument in this essay revolves around a question whether it is legally valid to use “Uniting for Peace” procedure in times of deadlock or an amendment has to be brought in the UN charter for the same?. The essay will illustrate the issue by giving a focus on the deadlock in Syrian crisis, seeking if the “Uniting for Peace” resolution can be an effective mechanism to break the deadlock.

Power of Veto:

The creators of the United Nations Charter conceived that five countries namely China, France, the USSR, the United Kingdom and the United States, because of their key roles in the establishment of the United Nations, would continue to play important roles in the maintenance of international peace and security. For this purpose the “power of veto” was introduced in Article 27 of the UN Charter by which it was agreed by the drafters that if any one of the five permanent members cast a negative vote in the 15-member Security Council, the resolution would not be approved. All five permanent members have exercised the right of veto at one time or another to support their national interest resulting in deadlock. Over the last 20 years out of a total of 24 vetoes, 15 have been used by the USA to protect Israel[1]. The UK used the veto unilaterally seven times because of Rhodesia later to become Zimbabwe. France subsequently used the threat of a veto to support Morocco’s position in the Western Sahara conflict[2].

Uniting for Peace:

In 1950, the Soviet Union, using its veto power, repeatedly blocked action by the Security Council, thus preventing the Council from taking any measures to protect the Republic of Korea against the aggression launched against it by military forces from North Korea. It was against this backdrop that the United Nations General Assembly adopted a historic resolution, 377 A (V), titled “Uniting for Peace” in November 1950[3]. Resolution 377 (A) read:

“if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to make the appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures, including in the case of a breach of the peace, or act of aggression to use armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security. If not in session at the time, the General Assembly may meet in emergency special session within 24 hours of the request thereof. Such emergency special session shall be called if requested by the Security Council on a vote of any seven (now nine) members, or by a majority of the United Nations.” Therefore, when the permanent members of the Security Council fail to reach unanimity on a matter that appears to be a threat to international peace and security, this resolution authorizes the General Assembly to immediately consider that matter and issue its own “appropriate recommendations” to the Member States “for collective measures”. Those collective measures can include “the use of armed force when necessary”

Arguments against the uniting for peace resolution:

Soviet Union and its allies objected strongly to the resolution. They argued that Articles 10 to 14 of the UN Charter indicate that the Security Council and the General Assembly ‘cannot be substituted for one another, they merely complement each other[4]’. Article 11(2) does not allow the General Assembly to take coercive action, as this action falls solely within the ambit of the Security Council[5]. They also argued that the resolution was contrary to Art. 12 (1) UN Charter, stipulating that the General Assembly should not make any recommendation with regard to a dispute or situation in respect of which the Security Council was exercising its functions. Furthermore, they relied on Art. 24 UN Charter and stressed the Security Council’s sole competence to act for the maintenance of international peace and security. Also the provision in the resolution authorizing the Security Council to call an emergency special session without the concurrence of all permanent members violated Arts 20 and 27 UN Charter since this would be a substantive question and subject to the veto.[6] According to the resolution’s opponents if the veto was objectionable then an amendment of the UN Charter in accordance with its Arts 108 and 109 has to be made and it is legally invalid to substitute the power to the General Assembly.

Uniting for peace is a legally valid alternative:

The resolution is valid because, in the Certain Expenses case, the International Court of Justice stated that the role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security is primary, but not exclusive[7] leaving room for the General Assembly to play a significant role. Also the purposes and principles of the UN Charter is the maintenance of international peace and security. Article 1(1) of the UN Charter stipulates this as the highest goal of the United Nations. It is therefore argued that a legal instrument such as the UN Charter has to be interpreted in a way as to allow an effective achievement of its aims irrespective of its internal power change. Therefore the resolution is an authentic interpretation of the UN Charter and Articles 10, 11, and 14 UN Charter as well as the implied powers doctrine are its legal basis. The major point to be noted is that when an act of aggression appears to have occurred, collective measures can be recommended by the Assembly if a veto has blocked Council action. But what is recommended is not enforcement or coercive action as such; it is collective self-defense under Article 51 of the Charter, which any State or States can exercise in case of armed attack. Therefore the resolution is not in violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter[8].

The Syrian issue:

The image of Aleppo kid, bloodied and covered with dust, sitting silently in an ambulance awaiting help as another stark reminder of the toll of the war in Syria has not vanished from our minds. The UN Security Council has failed to bring peace in Syria. In almost six years of conflict, close to half a million people have been killed and eleven million have been forced to leave their homes. Most recently, the Syrian and Russian governments and their allies have carried out unlawful attacks on eastern Aleppo with scant regard for some 250,000 civilians trapped there. On April 18, 2016, Mr. Monzer Makhous, member of the Syrian National Council and High Negotiations Committee (HNC) spokesperson told Asharq Al-Awsat that “current events confirm that the ‘uniting for peace’ resolution is the most effective solution for a serious settlement for the Syria crisis. Mr. Makhous added that the world will not stand idle before Russia’s continuous exploitation of its right to veto.[1]

The “Uniting for Peace” procedure would allow the Assembly to recommend a range of other coercive measures, including sanctions. Beyond enforcing the ban on the use of chemical weapons, this would empower the General Assembly to back up its numerous calls for a political solution to the conflict and for better humanitarian access with more tangible and enforceable measures. Although these measures would remain nonbinding, and their implementation depend on the good will of member states, it would equip them with the legality and international legitimacy that is lacking absent a strong resolution by the Security Council.

[1]Fatah Al-Rahman Youssef,  Syria’s HNC to Resort to U.N. Resolution ‘Uniting for Peace’, 16 October (2016)

[1] Sahar Okhovat, The United Nations Security Council: Its Veto Power and Its Reform, December (2011)

[2] Aleksandra Czajka, The analysis of the Veto Power in the United Nations Security Council, Pompeu Fabra University Barcelona, November, (2011)

[3] Aaron Jacob, Unilateral Declaration Of An Independent Palestinian State And The Procedure Of ‘Uniting For Peace’, September (2011)

[4] GA 299 plen. mtg, 5 UN GAOR 305 (1950), Poland.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Stein, Eric/Morrissey, Richard C., Uniting for Peace Resolution, in: 380 Encyclopedia of Public International Law IV (2000), S. 1232-1235.

[7]Certain Expenses Case,  ICJ Reports (1961) at 166.

[8] Larry D. Johnson, “Uniting for Peace”: Does It Still Serve Any Useful Purpose?, AJIL Unbound, (2014)

By Miracline Paul Susi, IV year, B.A. LL.B(Hons), School of Law, SASTRA University

Posted in LEGAL-ED and tagged , , , , , .

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