Five to Rule them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World by David L. Bosco
Reviewer: Anne Hoh
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David L. Bosco's work entitled: 'Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World,' has positively contributed to the literature on the United Nations (UN) and international order more broadly, as well as some of the limitations of the UN, through this logical, well-organized and detailed review of the actions and internal structures of the UN. He commences his exploration at the very birth of the UN and explains its behavioral evolution until the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In doing so, Bosco reveals the circumstances that influenced certain resolutions and decisions which include political considerations related to perceived or actual interests, but may also be based on personal sympathy or antipathy between ambassadors to the UN.
The book contains seven substantive chapters and is chronologically organized with the chapters giving a rough overview of, and corresponding to, key phases in international relations. The entire first chapter is dedicated to examining the creation of the council and Bosco describes the specific atmosphere in the aftermath of World War Two. The term ‘United Nations' itself was first used as a wartime alliance against the Axis powers. When the victory of the Allies was foreseeable, the leaders of Russia, the US and UK began discussing the potential for a post-war organization. They were aware that they made up the bulk of military power in the world and especially (then) US President Roosevelt felt responsible for creating a world-wide institution to preserve peace since the US had not been a member of the League of Nations, the UN's predecessor. Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met in August 1944 at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington D.C., and in February 1945 in Yalta to decide on the principles of a postwar organization called United Nations. They did not invite others' direct inputs but instead decided on creating a 'Security Council' consisting of 5 permanent members with veto rights over council decision. These 5 are: the US, China, Russia, the UK and France. In addition, agreement was reached to provide wider representation by way of including 6 rotating, (re: non-permanent) members, with voting rights though lacking veto power. The council should have the responsibility to maintain international peace and security; it should act to negotiate between feuding parties, and reserves the right to intervene with "any measures necessary" to keep or restore peace (S.21). Despite such a normative approach, the wording governing the structure, mandates and limitations of the council was vague. Terms like: "threat to the peace" or "act of aggression" were not specified which resulted in a form of political lethargy since there were no binds that would require council actions.
Since the council prioritised its energies in tackling issues of their collective or individual interests, the UN seemed as though it were going to transform into an elitist political system rather than one representing international interests rather than very narrowly defined self-interests of the 5 permanent members. In order to appease the demands of smaller countries, which rightfully sought to be included the post-WWII security architecture, a General Assembly was designed where all UN members could wield some influence, annunciate their interests and generally participate in international politics.
One of the post-world curiosities related to growing resentment to the UN council was in regard to the selection of council members and Bosco, in great detail, reveals why China and France selected since neither were truly responsible for defeating Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany, they were not seen as superpowers and both of their economic potentials were severely restricted. China and France gained much international political clout as they acquired permanent membership and veto rights and Bosco provides compelling evidence to show how this international pedestal was attained and maintained by both.
Once the council's configuration and the spirit of a General Assembly were agreed on, the structure, objectives, tools and membership issues (who could be accepted as a member and under what conditions) were enshrined in a legally binding Charter (re: UN Charter). The initial draft charter was presented to only 45 states, and after some minor changes, they signed the charter on June 26, 1945. On that date, the League of Nations formally ceased to exist and the modern UN was founded with the 5 permanent UNSC members at its helm.
Considering the structure of the UN, Bosco rightly presents the problematic of how, if at all, the UNSC members balance between their national and more international interests. Bosco goes further to assess the endowment of international decision-making powers in the hands of the 'five' and argues that all Charter signatories essentially provided the legitimate right of the UNSC to impose blockades, economic sanctions and wage wars on their behalf. Bosco notes that only under the particular conditions of post-WWII international flux was it possible for the big powers to corner as much power as they did, and use it to forge an international order that was to benefit them more than others. Despite Bosco's concern over the acute concentration of political power into the hands of ideologically opposed 'great powers' he does stress that it maybe necessary for the great powers to maintain privileged positions as enframed in the UNSC or else they would likely work around, ignore or abandon the UN altogether; the mistake of the League of Nations and one that the UN sought not to repeat.
In addition to providing the history behind the development of the UN's structure, Bosco spends considerable time analyzing some of the more defining armed conflicts that elicited UNSC involvement and the internal procedures - such as the establishment of an informal chamber to provide a venue to diplomats so they may meet outside of the public eye - these conflicts encouraged. In dealing with these issues, Bosco not only contributes through his assessment of late 20th century conflicts and the role of the UNSC (members) in those conflicts, he also offers insider-knowledge of what actually went on in ‘unofficial' negotiations between UNSC members.
The book is mainly concerned with the roles of the five permanent members, especially the US, which is described as the major force within the UNSC. Bosco refers to the unspoken custom of selectivity; of only discussing problems of international gravity among the permanent members, and often only between the Western members (re: the US, UK and France) or between the US and (then) USSR (currently) Russia. Since the 1960s, as the Non-Aligned Movement - to which the majority of states in the General Assembly belonged - developed into a powerful lobby against such selective behavior (re: making non-transparent decisions behind closed doors) there has been mounting pressure to change the structure of the UN's key decision-making body and as a compromise the Council extended its non-permanent seats from 6 to 10 (1965) with the number of votes required to pass a resolution raised to 9, which meant that the permanent members need at least one non-permanent members' vote to pass a resolution.
The composition of the Council does not adequately reflect global conditions; neither in population size, industrial capacities or the distribution of harder forms of power. However, since any change would have to be approved by all permanent UNSC members, due to veto power, the Council's current configuration is likely to be enduring. Even though Bosco argues that the permanent members would face acute pressure if a draft to change the Council is accepted by a two third majority in the General Assembly, it is still unlikely to yield positive results. It is also noteworthy that Bosco considers that most drafts to change the Council includes an expansion of the Council to 25 (+) members, which would complicate the diplomatic capabilities of the UNSC and retard its response times even further.
The UN and the UNSC have existed for more than 60 years and Bosco draws the conclusion that the Security Council has largely failed to fulfill its governance function, which implies maintaining peace and intervening in cases where peace is breached. Indeed, Bosco is skeptical that things will improve in the future but maintains that its secondary function; as an international concert, has, and continue to fare better. Since five of the worlds largest powers are forced to hold regular, even daily, meetings they can effectively deal (when the will is there) with pressing issues in a more concerted way, even if there is great discretion and a lack of public debate. Furthermore, the five are dependent on each other for a variety of resolutions and this created a special and deep relationship between the permanent members.
Although founded in the hope that WWIII could be prevented by the steadfast and cooperative relationship based on mutual support and goodwill, the UNSC was unable to properly emerge as a global governance Council in any sincere manner and since its inauguration the world has witnessed a worrying number of inter- and intrastate conflicts, genocides and asymmetrical wars and the UNSC often sat on the political side-lines, unable or unwilling to prevent humanitarian tragedies and suffering (re: the massacre in Srebrenica and the genocide in Rwanda) however is was able to prevent major armed clashes between nuclear powers and could thus be said to have fulfilled a slight part of its mandate, a point raised by Bosco not so much to excuse the UNSC members, but rather to remind the public that the process of constructing an effective organ of international security is lengthy and full of complexities and that great power peace is a step forward.
Five to Rule Them All is a well researched book that reaches scientific standards but is also accessible and a genuinely interesting read as it is full of many examples and provides an avenue to exploring and understanding the nuances of the UNSC in a way that allows readers to more openly relate to it. In all, this book should be included in the ‘must read' list of anyone concerned with the state of international affairs and the potential of the UN and the UNSC to act in-sync with the demands of the 21st century international citizen.