How the United Nations Regained Its CentralityTHE DECISIVE ROLE OF THE UN IN THE PROCESS OF ACCESSION OF NEW STATES EXPLAINED BY ROGER O'KEFEE
The fall of the Berlin Wall triggered a chain reaction on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain. With the proliferation of new states, from Estonia to Macedonia, and of entities claiming to be states, the international community was called on to consider their possible membership of the United Nations (UN).
One of the criteria to be met was the exercise of control by their government over most of their territory. Georgia, Moldova, and Bosnia-Herzegovina did not appear to meet this requirement, yet they were promptly admitted to the UN. According to many observers, the timing was premature. Conversely, Macedonia seemed to satisfy all the criteria, yet its admission was delayed for a year. Was a double standard applied by the UN?
“The use of the name ‘Macedonia’ and of a flag bearing a symbol said to be linked to Alexander the Great were vigorously objected to by the Greeks, who hinted at war”, says Roger O’Keefe, Professor of International Law. “So the admission of what came to be referred to instead as the ‘former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ (FYROM) – now ‘northern Macedonia’ – was put on hold. It looked like a case of sordid politics that had nothing to do with the law. In reality, the law of the Charter of United Nations was central to the decision”.
The most important step in becoming a member state of the UN is the approval of the UN Security Council, which simultaneously has “primary responsibility” under the Charter for the maintenance of international peace and security. “Both the premature and delayed admissions reflect the exercise of this responsibility”, Professor O’Keefe observes. Given that outside states were already occupying parts of Moldova, Georgia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, not admitting them would have invited their complete carve-up through all-out war. Their prompt admission secured their legal protection by the UN Charter.
In the case of Macedonia, its admission was delayed because, given the position of Greece, it would have threatened international peace and security. The UN Security Council put it on ice and engaged in negotiations to resolve the situation peacefully. Macedonia was eventually admitted, under a different name, once the diplomatic temperature had cooled. “When we look at the decisions of the Security Council, it is easy to claim that they were nothing more than power politics. But while they indeed reflected power politics, it was power politics framed and restrained by law”. “The bottom line”, Professor O’Keefe concludes, “is that the fall of the Berlin Wall put the Security Council and the law of the UN Charter back at the center of world affairs, for the first time since the aftermath of World War II”.
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