The UAE's call for reforms in the international order is a bid for justice

Veto powers of permanent members at the UN Security Council need to be checked

Members of the UN Security Council hold sideline meetings last December in New York City. Getty Images via AFP
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The UAE is increasingly concerned about growing cracks and weaknesses in the international order, which the country witnessed in part during its time as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council from 2022 to 2023. That experience provided a detailed, in-depth and realistic perspective of the international landscape, its complications and the engagement of great powers within this order.

The UAE has called for reforms to the Security Council and its voting mechanisms after noticing that the veto power of permanent members is often used in an unacceptable manner. This veto frequently prolongs crises, perpetuates conflicts and obstructs justice, driven by narrow political pretexts and interests that are often at odds with the desires and positions of most other countries.

During the UAE’s tenure at the Security Council, the veto was used 10 times – the highest number within such a period since 1989. This frequent use of the veto highlights international divisions over issues such as the wars in Gaza and Ukraine, deliberations at the International Court of Justice regarding claims of genocide and the recognition of the Palestinian state by several countries along with the controversy surrounding it.

Increased co-operation between the US, Europe and China would benefit all

These divisions underscore that the international consensus on the values and principles on which the UN and other international organisations were founded is currently lacking. Rather, the global landscape is marked by double standards, politicisation, polarisation and squabbling.

All these issues highlight the need to preserve the Council’s legitimacy by enhancing its effectiveness. Achieving this requires reform and adjustments to redefine the “international community” as a true representative of the positions of most countries, rather than being the voice of particular great powers only.

The rules-based order that the international community envisioned decades ago was meant to be a voice of justice and equality and the guardian of security, peace, prosperity and co-existence. But with the onset of the 21st century, the ability of this framework to perform efficiently has been eroded significantly. Meanwhile, crises around the world are increasing while solutions are diminishing.

There is a global consensus that this institutional framework, represented by UN bodies and other international organisations, is one of the best tools created to prevent wars, spread peace and demonstrate international solidarity in the face of threats and risks. It is designed to fulfil aspirations, protect human rights, aid the weak and oppressed and deter aggressors and oppressors. There is an urgent need to reform the world order and restore confidence in its mechanisms and tools. There is no other option because the alternative is the law of the jungle, where the strong annihilates the weak.

The UAE’s perspective on reforming the world order, notably the Security Council, is informed by its participation in recent intergovernmental negotiations on this issue in the UN General Assembly.

A number of suggestions have been put on the table, such as intensifying efforts to regulate the use of the veto. Deep divisions within the Security Council, often due to conflicting geopolitical interests, undermine efforts by the international community to reach a political consensus.

Even without the use of the veto, decisions often lack unanimity, limiting their impact. Hence, there is a need to establish clear and specific criteria for its use, in accordance with international law, the will of the vast majority of member states and the impartial opinion of the UN Secretariat.

The UAE has affirmed its support for calls to limit its use in cases involving mass atrocity crimes, a stance supported by more than a hundred member states. Last month, the UAE emphasised that the veto should not impede efforts to prevent atrocities against unarmed civilians.

It has also advocated for greater geographical representation when expanding the membership in the Security Council to include Arab countries, as well as greater fairness in the representation of Africa and the Asia-Pacific region in both permanent and non-permanent categories.

Other discussion points included the need for smoother and more focused texts for Security Council resolutions, as well as continued information sharing and transparency between the Security Council and General Assembly.

The UAE, like other GCC countries, has benefited from globalisation, the market economy, free trade and the free movement of investments. But it remains concerned about the cracks in the world order.

Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to President Sheikh Mohamed, has criticised any restrictions that hinder the efficient functioning of this system, describing the current world order as “outdated”. He said: “We are already living through the pain of an international system ... If you look at the veto that was applied to the Gaza issue, and the veto that was applied to the Ukrainian crisis, you will find that there is a problem with consensus.”

Dr Gargash added that he does not foresee “another San Francisco meeting”, referring to the 1945 talks that led to the creation of the UN. “We have to understand that, in fact, the system is eroding and the ability to deliver something new is really diminishing,” he added. “So we have to think seriously about how to deal with that.”

Like other small and medium-sized countries, the UAE feels caught in the middle of this increasingly eroding international reality, “between what represents the current order or the old order that was created after World War II, and [the challenges of] the diminishing ability of that order to regulate security, to regulate the economy”, as Dr Gargash put it.

On this basis, the UAE views with concern the divisions in Europe regarding questions of self-image and identity, the rise of the far right and populism, and the decline of consensus around the continental project. It also worries about the potential for increased confrontations between the US and China, particularly in the context of domestic debates in Washington about its role in the world and, more specifically, its place in the Middle East.

In sum, the UAE calls for a roadmap to reform the fracturing world order. It also believes that the need for a more reliable Arab regional order is especially urgent in light of these changes.

From this standpoint, increased co-operation between the US, Europe and China would benefit all. The greater the level of co-operation in the international system, the better it is for the world.

Published: May 28, 2024, 2:00 PM