Saudi Arabia stunned the world this month when it refused the coveted two-year seat on the United Nations Security Council it was elected to. Although the General Assembly of the UN has 193 nations as its members, the real power lies with the 15-country membership of the UN Security Council.
The Security Council has all authority over international peace and security. Only it has the power to launch peacekeeping operations, to establish international sanctions and to authorize military action anywhere in the world. The key victors of World War II—the United States, France, England, Russia and China—are the only permanent members of the Security Council, and each has complete veto-wielding ability. The other 10 members are temporary and are elected to serve only two-year terms.
It was the first time Saudi Arabia had been elected to the Security Council and also the first time a country had rejected the position. Saudi Arabia cited two reasons for its unprecedented action. First, it argued that the power in the Security Council is undiplomatic, unrepresentative and, simply, unfair: Permanently providing each of five countries with complete veto action is not representative of the basis for a “United Nations.” Second, Saudi Arabia is protesting the delay and lack of decisive action regarding conflicts in the troubled Middle East, specifically in Syria and Egypt and between Israel and Palestine.
Perhaps the Saudis are right here. Maybe it is time for United Nations reform.