There exist an international law that places a general prohibition on the use of force as well as allowing exceptions to the rule, in which some are explicitly written in the UN Charter, meanwhile others remains controversial and open to debate. Firstly, Chapter 1, Article 2(4) of the UN Charter places a broad ban on the use of force. Article 2(4) states that; “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”. However, the prohibition is address to all members of the United Nations and not all countries in the world. So does this mean that other nation states who are not party to the United Nations are allowed to resort to the use of force in their international relations? The answer is NO! This is because Article 2(4) states a rule of customary international law. In support of this, in the Nicaragua vs United States 1986 case, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favour of the Republic of Nicaragua against the United States in regards to customary rule. For example, from the summary of the ruling, one of the judgements spoke of the United Sates breaching of its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another state. Thus, the court ruling was referring to Article 2(4) of the UN Charter at the time.
Nevertheless, there are exceptions to Article 2(4) that allows for the legitimate (legal) “use of force”. Although the prohibition of the use of force in article 2(4) of the UN Charter is stated in broad terms, the United Nations charter also refers to two situations in which states may legally use force in international law. These two situations are: self-defence or collective self-defence (Article 51, U.N. Charter) and collective security (U.N. Charter, Chapter 7; Article 39-42).
The use of force by collective security is covered under Chapter VII, article 39-42 of the UN Charter, as well as the right to self-defence and collective self-defence is also explicitly stated in this chapter (Article 51). However, it is important to highlight that collective security not only involves militaristic application or the use of kinetic military tactics for the purpose of the maintenance of international peace and security. It allows for a combination of militaristic and a repertoire of non-militaristic methods of resolving conflicts, for the maintenance of peace and security in the international family tree.
These non-militaristic methods ranges from diplomatic to economic sanctions. For example, Article 39 states: The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threats to the peace, breach of the peace, or acts of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Article 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.
Similarly, Article 41 speaks of taking measures for the purpose of maintenance of international peace and security, however, these actions must not involve any deployment of armed forces. Instead, these measures may include the use of complete or partial economic sanctions, interruption of communications (rail, sea, land etc.) and severance of diplomatic relations. Conversely, Article 42 speaks of the use of armed forces by land, air or sea in the event that Article 41 is deemed inadequate or proven to be such, then the UN Security council may take measures involving the use of armed forces in order to maintain and restore international peace and security.
The decisions in the UN Security Council are “legally binding”. Meaning, any decisions that the 15 member countries (5 permanent and 10 non-permanent) votes on are irrevocable and permanent and must be carried out. Unlike the other 5 organs of the UN, particularly the General Assembly (the largest organ in terms of member states: 193) whereby decisions made are not legally binding and therefore, resolutions that are voted on in the General Assembly do not have to be executed or adhere too.
On the other hand, the UN Security Council can punish a country or countries that do not adhere to any resolutions passed or voted on. These can range from economic or diplomatic sanctions to military action/intervention (Articles 39-42, U.N. Charter). In the case of the Mali Government, for example, the UN peacekeeping mission was successful in restoring a new Government in Mali through peaceful means in the midst of an already existed military coup (started since early 2012). This highlights how all 15 member states worked collectively in solving the Mali situation peacefully. There exist also certain limitations of the UN Security Council, as a result of Article 2(4) which places a broad ban on the use of force and Article 2(7) which prohibits the interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state. Notwithstanding these limitations, the UN Security Council is endowed the power to authorise “military assistance” in cases where conflicts are within the internal boundaries of a sovereign state, if it deemed the issue to be at the level of “gross violation of human rights” or to borrow a lexicon from Hersch Lauterpacht: shocks the conscience of mankind. This will invoke what is known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P). This is just a summary of how powerful the UN Security Council is and why it is most powerful international seat, as well as the most powerful of the 6 organs of the United Nations.
Thus, it reveals the power and importance of the UN Security Council, as well as the significant role St Vincent and the Grenadines will play on matters of international relations and maintaining international peace and security. This is why St Vincent and the Grenadines election to the UN Security Council was not only a historic moment, but also a considerable feat.
Why is it a big deal for St Vincent and the Grenadines and what are some of the potential benefits?
St Vincent and the Grenadines will be making decisions and voting alongside great powers such as the US, the United Kingdom, China, Russia and France (Permanent 5 or P5). Our blessed Hairouna will now also have the ability to shift the balance of power in the international realm, as a result of our recently appointed prestigious and powerful position as chief [president] of the UN Security Council. Our Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Her Excellency Inga Rhonda King will be responsible for the conduct and running of UN Security Council meetings. In addition, as chief of the UN Security Council, she will have the honour of not only representing the Security Council in relation to the other organs of the United Nations, but also in relation to all 193 member states.
Furthermore, St Vincent and the Grenadines now has the international platform to bring to attention and emphasise the severity of non-traditional security matters: economic security, environmental security (“climate change”), food security, and health security. This is not to say that the UN Security Council did not pay any attention to the multifaceted non-traditional security threats, which has since and continues to bedevil so many sovereign states and regions particularly our contemporary Caribbean society. However, multiplex traditional security matters have been granted far more attention with little focus on the non-traditional security issues that afflict our Caribbean society.
Thus, our ambassador will now have the powers to give far more space to security concerns beyond the traditional security orthodoxy (conventional warfare, armed conflicts, etc.) that are more of a threat and in some instances, existential threat (climate change) to Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
St Vincent and the Grenadines position as both a non-permanent member the UN Security Council & assuming the presidency of the most powerful international body, is indeed a BIG DEAL as it will unequivocally give us more exposure that will be beneficial to our tourism industry. There is also the opportunity to forge new diplomatic and economic relationships with other countries, which will result in more trade and investments, foreign aid, educational and business opportunities. The possibilities are limitless. There is no doubt that the everyday man and woman will reap tremendous benefits, wether from a boost in tourism, business opportunities from forging new diplomatic and economic relationships with other countries, or even aid for local farmers and fisherfolk and so on.
Therefore, St Vincent and the Grenadine non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, as well as assuming the prestigious position of presidency is a big deal!
By Emanuel Quashie