(Video AJE reports on the most recent `Non-Aligned Movement' summit in 2009, Sharm el-Sheikh/Egypt)
By Colum Lynch
They are called the S-5, or the "Small Five", a group of small and middling UN member states that have been informally meeting since 2005 to try and chip away at the unchecked powers of the P-5, the UN's dominant, permanent five members of the Security Council.
And they are heading for a confrontation next week with the five big powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- over an initiative in the General Assembly aimed at pressing the P-5 to voluntarily cede some of their powers.
On May 16, the S-5 will press for a vote on a resolution before the UN General Assembly that calls on the veto wielding powers to refrain "from using a veto to block council action aimed at preventing or ending genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity." It also requests that in cases where a permanent member ignored the General Assembly's advice and exercises its veto, it should at least explain why it did so.
The push for a vote comes at a time when the UN Security Council has faced criticism for acting too slowly to contain the escalating violence, and in the wake of two key powers, Russia and China, having cast vetoes twice to block an Arab League initiative aimed at ending the violence in Syria and that would force President Bashar al-Assad from power. Russia, which has argued that its diplomatic strategy stands a better chance of lessening the violence, has been among the sharpest critics of the S-5 initiative, characterizing it as an affront to Moscow, according to a senior diplomat involved in the negotiations.
The veto power has long been a source of resentment among the UN's broader membership, who believe that it places the big powers above the law, shielding them and their friends from the edicts they routinely enforce on the rest of the world.
But for the United States, Russia, and other big powers, the veto represents the most important check on international intrusion into their spheres of influence by a sometimes unsympathetic majority. The United States, for instance, has routinely used its veto power to shield Israel from Security Council measures demanding it show greater restraint in its dealings with the Palestinians.
A number of economic heavyweights and emerging powers, including Brazil, Germany, Japan, India, Nigeria, and South Africa, have been clamoring for a greater say in the council's deliberations, leading to several proposals that would expand the 15-nation Security Council and grant a number of rising powers a permanent seat.
The S-5 -- Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore, and Switzerland -- realize that they have no hope of ever becoming big powers with permanent seats on the council. So they have devoted their efforts to pushing for reforms in the way the 15-nation council does business.