Why is Saudi Arabia refusing a seat at the UN Security Council?

Organisations like the UN are suffering from a crisis of legitimacy.

Saudi Arabia has rejected its seat on the UN Security Council, as a way of expressing its anger at the international community’s failure to take action in Syria.

The fifteen-seat Security Council includes five permanent members with veto power, the US, UK, France, China and Russia, and ten rotating members who hold the seat for two years. The Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement that “work mechanisms and double-standards on the Security Council prevent it from carrying out its duties,” adding that it “has no other option” but to turn down its seat until the Council reforms.

While I wouldn’t usually hold Saudi Arabia up as a model for promoting successful multilateralism, the foreign ministry has a point. The veto powers given to permanent members paralyses the Security Council as an executive body. On top of this, the Security Council’s permanent membership, drawn up in the aftermath of World War II, excludes some of the most populous countries, and some with the greatest economic and political power.

You could expand permanent membership, to include countries like Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa or Brazil, but this would still exclude large parts of the world, and it wouldn’t make it any easier for the Security Council to reach decisions on complex international issues, like Syria’s civil war. The other alternative would be to abolish permanent members’ vetoes and/or abolish permanent membership so that Security Council decisions are decided by majority vote – but I can’t imagine any of the permanent Security Council members agreeing to this, and they would have to.

Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented stand is unlikely to foment any change in the short-term, but it is representative of the declining legitimacy of multilateral institutions, which are increasingly seen as tools used by Western powers against the rest. The International Criminal Court, for instance, is increasingly coming under fire from bodies like the African Union, who object to the fact that only African leaders have been tried.

For those who believe that these multilateral institutions are key, whether they help promote international peace, co-operation on shared problems like climate change or justice for citizens of despotic regimes, this is a serious problem.

One suggested solution, mooted by the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations in a report released this week called “Now for the Long Term”, is that public institutions contain sunset clauses, forcing a regular review of their mandates to ensure they remain fit for purpose. But this, too, will require serious international political will, commitment and co-operation, and the world lacks all three.

 

The UN Security Council. Photo:Getty.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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Emmanuel Macron's "moralisation of politics" comes at a heavy price for his allies

"Fake" jobs in French politics, season 3 episode 1.

Something is rotten in the state of France. No political party – at least none that existed before 2016 – seems immune to the spread of investigations into “fake” or shady parliamentary jobs. The accusations sank centre-right candidate François Fillon’s presidential campaign, and led to Marine Le Pen losing her parliamentary immunity in the European parliament (and proxy wars within her party, the National Front). Both deny the allegations. Now the investigations have made their way to the French government, led by Edouard Philippe, Emmanuel Macron’s Prime Minister.

On Wednesday morning, justice minister François Bayrou and secretary of state for European affairs Marielle de Sarnez announced their resignation from Philippe’s cabinet. They followed defence minister Sylvie Goulard’s resignation the previous day. The three politicians belonged not to Macron's party, En Marche!, but the centrist MoDem party. Bayrou, the leader, had thrown his weight behind Macron after dropping his own presidential bid in April.

The disappearance of three ministers leaves Emmanuel Macron’s cross-party government, which includes politicians from centre left and centre right parties, without a centrist helm. (Bayrou, who has run several times for the French presidency and lost, is the original “neither left nor right” politician – just with a less disruptive attitude, and a lot less luck). “I have decided not to be part of the next government,” he told the AFP.

Rumours had been spreading for weeks. Bayrou, who was last part of a French government as education minister from 1993 to 1997, had been under pressure since 9 June, when he was included in a preliminary investigation into “embezzlement”. The case revolves around whether the parliamentary assistants of MoDem's MEPs, paid for by the European Parliament, were actually working full or part-time for the party. The other two MoDem ministers who resigned, along with Bayrou, also have assistants under investigation.

Bayrou has denied the allegations. He has declared that there “never was” any case of “fake” jobs within his party and that it would be “easy to prove”. All the same, by the time he resigned, his position as justice minister has become untenable, not least because he was tasked by Macron with developing key legislation on the “moralisation of politics”, one of the new President’s campaign pledges. On 1 June, Bayrou unveiled the new law, which plans a 10-year ban from public life for any politician convicted of a crime or offence regarding honesty and transparency in their work.

Bayrou described his decision to resign as a sacrifice. “My name was never pronounced, but I was the target to hit to attack the government’s credibility,” he said, declaring he would rather “protect this law” by stepping down. The other two ministers also refuted the allegations, and gave similar reasons for resigning. 

Macron’s movement-turned-unstoppable-machine, En Marche!, remains untainted from accusations of the sort. Their 350 new MPs are younger, more diverse than is usual in France – but they are newcomers in politics. Which is exactly why Macron had sought an alliance with experienced Bayrou in the first place.

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