UNITED NATIONS – The 15-member Security Council, the only UN body wielding power to impose mandatory sanctions on the organization’s 192 member states, is unable to help contain two ongoing crises primarily because of threatened vetoes by China and the United States.
The two draft resolutions currently before the Security Council one to punish North Korea for last week’s missile tests and the other to condemn Israel for its military incursion into Gaza last month are virtually in limbo.
The deadlock has been aggravated further by Wednesday’s invasion of southern Lebanon by Israeli military forces in retaliation for the kidnapping of two soldiers by Hezbollah, an Islamic militant group influential in Lebanese politics.
The United States, which seeks to penalize the North Koreans for defying Washington, is frustrated because China has publicly announced its decision to veto any resolution that imposes sanctions on Pyongyang.
"What goes around, comes around," says an Asian diplomat, who points out that the United States has exercised its veto over 35 times to protect Israel from Security Council condemnation.
"North Korea is perceived as China’s Israel," he said. "So the U.S. is getting a bitter dose of its own medicine."
A draft resolution, which the United States threatens to veto, calls upon Israel, "the occupying power," to halt its military operations and its disproportionate use of force that endanger the Palestinian civilian population in the occupied territories.
The resolution also asks Israel to cease the practice of extrajudicial executions, which contradict international law, and to withdraw its forces to their original positions outside the Gaza Strip. The crisis was triggered by the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants in Gaza on June 25.
Asked whether the United States will veto the resolution, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told reporters Wednesday: "Like any prudent ambassador in New York, I have requested for instructions from Washington."
"When I receive those instructions, I will implement them. But it certainly remains our position that there is no need for this resolution," he added.
Not surprisingly, the Chinese have expressed similar sentiments on a proposed resolution to impose sanctions on North Korea. "China is opposed to the draft resolution because it is an overreaction," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jian Yi told reporters in Beijing.
"We think the response should not be an overreaction that would further intensify the problem. We think all measures should be conducive to resolution of the situation through dialogue," she added.
Mouin Rabbani, contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East Report, says he is not familiar with North Korea’s infringements (if any) of international law nor with China’s motives for shielding it from censure or worse.
"I would however note that Washington’s itchy trigger-finger when it comes to wielding the veto on behalf of Israel has served to regularize and normalize what was intended as an exceptional measure," Rabbani told IPS.
"It therefore stands to reason that China, and for that matter Russia, will resort to the veto on behalf of their own interests and allies more readily than would otherwise have been the case," he added.
An additional factor in this respect is quite clearly China’s increasing assertiveness on the international stage, he said.
"But it also seems apparent that they are keen to send a message to Washington, namely that they are capable of wielding the veto in unexceptional circumstances too," Rabbani argued.
Nadia Hijab, senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies, told IPS that the main point of comparison between Israel’s attacks on Gaza and North Korea’s nuclear program is that "negotiations on how to implement international conventions are the only way out of the crisis."
"The ostensible cause of the Gaza crisis the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants is just a symptom of the problem which has its root cause in Israel’s 39-year occupation and annexation of Palestinian territories, and the unresolved refugee problem," she pointed out.
In the case of North Korea as well as Iran and other states aspiring to nuclear weapons the most effective approach would be the application of the nonproliferation treaty, and fulfillment by the United States and European powers of their pledge to gradually do away with their nuclear weapons, making sure more recent nuclear powers such as Israel, India, and Pakistan do so too.
Otherwise, she said, the Council will remain "seized" on these matters for decades to come.
Rabbani said that for all the rhetoric about the United Nations being "a bastion of anti-Israel decision-making," the reality is quite alarming, namely that in stark contrast to other states perpetrating systematic discrimination and widespread violence on an ethnic or religious basis Israel enjoys total impunity when it comes to observing the UN charter or indeed any other component of international law.
"The primary reason for this is the insurance policy provided by the U.S. ‘nyet’ in the UN Security Council," he added.
The reality of the matter, which is easily demonstrated and verified by an examination of Security Council voting rolls, is that since 1945 no country has been shielded from scrutiny, censure, or consequences like Israel.
"It is without peer when it comes to benefiting from the Security Council veto, and this is primarily thanks to the United States wielding of this veto (occasionally but with increasing frequency joined by Britain)."
The situation has in fact consistently deteriorated over the years, so that today even rhetorical condemnation of Israel by the Security Council has become a thing of the past and largely unthinkable, Rabbani added.
"Given that power within the UN system has increasingly gravitated towards the United States and the Security Council since the end of the Cold War, it is hardly surprising that Washington has become increasingly effective in shielding Israel from the consequences of its actions when it comes to the United Nations," he added.
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