Suhaly Bautista Professor Kamal New York University September 21, 2009 NYUUNSBA1
AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED NATIONS CHARTER INTRODUCTION The purpose of this report is to identify and discuss the amendments to the United Nations Charter up to the year 2009. We will then analyze the significance of the amendments within the UN System. FACTS
On June 26th, 1945 at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco, CA, 50 of the 51 original member countries signed the Charter of the United Nations. After being ratified by its five permanent member states (U.S., U.K., China, Russia and France), the UN Charter was officially adopted. Articles 108 and 109 illustrate the conditions under which an amendment may be made to the UN Charter: by twothirds vote of the members of the General Assembly (GA) whereby all permanent members have ratified the amendment.1 Since its establishment in 1945, five amendments have been made to the UN Charter, mainly concerning Articles 23, 27 and 61. The amendment to Article 23 expanded the Security Council from 11 to 15 members. Amended Article 27 changed the necessary votes for the Security Council to take action from 7 to 9, maintaining affirmative votes by the five permanent members and the amendment to Article 61 enlarged the membership of Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) from 18 to 27. A subsequent amendment to Article 61(active in September 1973) further enlarged ECOSOC membership to 54. Article 109 was also amended in December 1965 (adopted June 1968). The amendment suggests that to review the Charter, states may host a General Conference of Member States and the date and place must be decided by a twothirds vote of the GA and by 9 members of the Security Council (including the five permanent states). Paragraph 3 of Article 109, which considers a possible review conference during the tenth regular session of the GA, still reads that to convene the GA must have the “vote, of any seven members of the Security Council", even though this number was changed to 9 in amended Article 23. The GA acted upon Paragraph three in 1955. ANALYSIS The amendments listed in this report represent the adjustments made in the UN Charter to account for the significant increases in UN membership during the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, since 1945, UN membership has increased by four times its original number to now include 192 members. To accommodate the many varying interests of new independent countries being introduced into the UN (from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean), amendments were made in order to be fair to new regions without minimizing the interests of existing member states. However, many discrepancies still exist within the document and one wonders what circumstances are restricting overdue basic and crucial amendments to repair these details. For example, the Charter continues to refer to Russia as the USSR, long after it was dissolved in 1991. Therefore, according to the UN Charter, a country that no longer exists is in fact a current permanent member of the UN and Russia, technically, goes unrecognized. Another longstanding discrepancy with the UN Charter deals with the language and consequently a member state’s respective interpretation of that language, especially as it applies today (and not as it once did in 1945). For example, “The UN Charter, Article 2.4, expressly prohibits member states from using or threatening force against one another…Preventive action in foreign territory is justified only in case of an instant and overwhelming necessity for selfdefense, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation." We may consider the U.S. invasion of Iraq together with Article 2.4 and ask what exactly “instant and overwhelming necessity for selfdefense” entails and whether the U.S. has acted under UN standards. CONCLUSION The necessary requirements to amend the UN Charter are no accident by any means. The five permanent states considered and applied strict requirements be met to adjust the document in order to retain the document in its original state. This strategy would be the most favorable option for the U.S., U.K., China, Russia (technically the USSR) and France, who singlehandedly created the Charter. In particular, the obligation to have all five permanent members agree on an amendment, gives these five members (who make up only 2.6% of the GA) the ultimate power to deny any considerations by other member states to amend the original document. The lack of clarity in having the GA convene to discuss possible changes to the Charter also contributes to the reasons why the Charter is practically unchanged since its birth. Despite the transformations of our world since the establishment of the UN, it seems that everything around us is 1
transforming and the UN, anchored by its Charter, is reluctant to adapt to these changes and reflect the shifts in the international community since 1945. Furthermore, allegiances among member states are now more focused on restricting other nations than they seem to be in defending and updating the Charter that is at the very center of the UN System.