UNSC – A sisyphean task?
Updated: May 16
Tensions were high and nerves were frayed today in the UNSC, as two working papers emerged - crystalising two blocs. On the one side you have the European bloc, holding the French veto. On the other side you have a strange mixture of interests as the big three couldn’t agree on their own proposal, yet all agreed that the European proposal was unsatisfactory. Meanwhile, African members of the UNSC urged caution and stressed that the stability of the region was at stake.
It was this that characterised an already gridlocked UNSC. Most of the time was devoted to bloc-politics and long winded unmoderated discussion, as the blocs attempted to merge their working documents. The main points of contention which emerged were the levels and applicability of sanctions, ceasefire negotiation, and the jurisdiction and make up of a war crimes court.
In the European bloc there was much dismay with an Estonian official saying that they were left “speechless” at the refusal of parties to see past their positions and work together on a joint position. The Europeans were left with a bitter taste in their mouths as some delegates seemed at a loss over the perceived lack of support by their US allies. With an unnamed Norwegian staffer jested at the fact that this seemed to be “the emergence of a new interventionist world order".
While the two African members of the UNSC shepherded between the blocs attempting to get a satisfying solution, they were however wary and joined Russia and China in reminding the Western countries of the sovereignty of nations under the UN charter. Yet, it was China and Russia who put this concern clearly when asked for statements. With China’s ambassador to the UN stating that “China believes that the Western nations utilize the current situation to prevent the full integrity and independence of Ethiopia from the western world” and slamming the Biden administration and European allies for a “double standard” on international intervention. The ambassador cited current conflict in Israel where the “breaking (of) international law is avoided to be addressed, however, when Ethiopia is in a similar situation countries suddenly become active in the matter“.
This was seconded by Russia. With officials stating that they “believe that any intervention, especially western intervention, will only worsen the situation in Ethiopia” following this up by saying that “most of the draft resolutions that are made by all of the parties in the council are violating the sovereignty of Ethiopia”. When pressed for more details an anonymous russian official confessed that the problem is the P5 countries have different interests and opinions towards the issue especially the sanctions, courts, and UNPKO”.
However, the arrival of the Ethiopian ambassador to the UN may have generated more momentum to combine the two blocs' draft proposals. While calling on the UN to provide strong cooperation and support on the “delivering (of) humanitarian and military help to the legitimate government”. The Ethiopian ambassador also emphasised “that sanctions are a completely unacceptable tool to manage this situation” as it would only “contribute to social degradation and worsen poverty” in the region. This may have strengthened the position of Russia and China in the negotiations.
Light at the end of the tunnel may be flickering. The French ambassador channeled the French absurdist philosopher Albert Camus when describing negotiations as a " sisyphean mission that may or may not have a result in sight". Indeed, with discussions continuing late into the night and a single working document seemingly emerging, the two remaining outcomes are an agreement or a veto. Just as the ambassador foretells, this could have all been for nought.
This account was brought to you by Michael Littoris, EuroMUN 2021 Special Correspondent on the Security Council.