.
R

ussia’s war on Ukraine is getting uglier every day. European leaders, meanwhile, continue to harbor divergent opinions on how they should tackle this unfolding crisis. 

In an unprovoked act of aggression and despite harsh condemnation by other world leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military assault on Ukraine in the early hours of 24 February. President Putin characterized this attack as a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine.  

While much of the world condemned Russia’s aggression, the threat of Russian retaliatory nuclear strikes on any country coming to Ukraine’s aid has divided opinions in Europe on how to confront the escalating conflict. The matter is urgent as the conflict could spill over into the European Union itself. In fact, attacks have occurred only 15 miles away from the border of Poland when Russian rockets bombarded a Ukrainian military facility recently, threatening a wider war.

The war has also shaken globalization to the core, even though globalization has defined the world's development for over 30 years without any fear of another war on the scale of World War II. The world at large is already feeling the effects of this war due to over-reliance on Russia and Ukraine's energy, gas, and grain supplies. These effects are making the question of when and how this war will end an urgent question.

International bodies that have served as global and moral prefects now look overwhelmed by this conflict. This is especially concerning because Putin could look to further expansion, when and if the invasion of Ukraine succeeds. Sanctions have also been of limited use so far. Although the United States and European nations have slapped far-reaching economic sanctions against Russia, it has not yet stopped the aggression and attacks on civilian targets.  

Intense fighting has obstructed efforts to provide relief aid to besieged Ukrainian cities, including the port of Mariupol. In the capital, residential buildings in Kyiv’s Obolon district have been struck by Russian shelling, forcing residents to flee. This is the largest conventional military war since the WW2.

It is disheartening to watch how Ukrainian men are escorting their families to border crossing points, only to then turn around and return to the battlefront to defend their country fully aware they may never see their families again. Over 3 million people, largely women and children, have fled the country since the war began.

The UN’s Inability to Keep the Peace

This tragic situation underscores the key role various UN bodies are intended to play in maintaining peace and rule of law around the world.  In an extraordinary emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) held recently on the Ukraine crisis, US ambassador to the UNGA Linda Thomas-Greenfield had this to say; “Now, more than any other point in recent history, the United Nations is being challenged. If the United Nations has any purpose, it is to prevent war; it is to condemn war, to stop the war.”

During the session, 141 countries voted in favor of a UNGA resolution demanding an immediate end to the Russian offensive in Ukraine. This was, however, a non-binding and largely symbolic move. During the UNGA session, only four countries joined Russia in opposing the resolution. This included Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria. Thirty-five nations abstained. A few days earlier, despite the support of 11 Security Council members, the UNSC failed to adopt a resolution necessitating the immediate cessation and withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine following a single “no” vote from Russia. Meanwhile, China, India, and the United Arab Emirates abstained.

The resolution was written and presented by the United States and dozens of its allies, strongly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calling on Moscow to withdraw its troops immediately and provide safe access for humanitarian relief work.

The UN Charter charges the Security Council with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security by passing wide-ranging resolutions. Their effectiveness largely depended on unanimous support, or abstention in lieu of, from the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UNSC.

Yet the permanent members have frequently wielded their veto power when resolutions were not in their national and foreign policy interests. 

Since 1992, Russia has been the most frequent user of the veto, followed by the United States and China. France and the United Kingdom have not used the veto since 1989. As of February 2022, Russia/USSR had used its veto 120 times, the U.S. 82 times, the UK 29 times, France 16 times, and China 17 times.

The Council has in recent years been caught up in a resurgent Cold War rivalry, with Russia and its sympathizers on one side and NATO and its sympathizers on the other.  China has taken a both-sides approach to the conflict, calling for defusing of tensions and respect for sovereignty but stopping short of condemning Russia.

It is now an open question whether the UN has any relevance to the new international political and economic order. Security Council reform has been on the Assembly’s agenda for more than two decades now without any success.

This latest Russian aggression has renewed the debate on UNSC reform. Some have questioned the legitimacy of Russian succession to the USSR’s UNSC seat. This issue was raised most vocally by the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN recently. Given the gravity of the situation, there have also been demands for Russia’s removal from the UNSC, including in a recent U.S. Congressional resolution. Others have advocated ending the veto power entirely.

It has also been argued that the implementation of the UNSC decisions, and its very legitimacy, could be enhanced if the UNSC was reformed to be more representative, effective, efficient, accountable, and transparent.

About
Raphael Obonyo
:
Raphael Obonyo is a public policy analyst and TEDx speaker. He has served as a consultant with the United Nations and the World Bank.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Russia’s Invasion Demonstrates Time to Reform UNSC is Now

UN Security Council, UN Headquarters, New York, NY. File photo from UN Media.

March 23, 2022

African youth advocate Raphael Obonyo discusses how Russia's invasion of Ukraine demonstrates shortcomings in various UN bodies, particularly the UN Security Council, and how this underscores the need for UNSC reform.

R

ussia’s war on Ukraine is getting uglier every day. European leaders, meanwhile, continue to harbor divergent opinions on how they should tackle this unfolding crisis. 

In an unprovoked act of aggression and despite harsh condemnation by other world leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military assault on Ukraine in the early hours of 24 February. President Putin characterized this attack as a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine.  

While much of the world condemned Russia’s aggression, the threat of Russian retaliatory nuclear strikes on any country coming to Ukraine’s aid has divided opinions in Europe on how to confront the escalating conflict. The matter is urgent as the conflict could spill over into the European Union itself. In fact, attacks have occurred only 15 miles away from the border of Poland when Russian rockets bombarded a Ukrainian military facility recently, threatening a wider war.

The war has also shaken globalization to the core, even though globalization has defined the world's development for over 30 years without any fear of another war on the scale of World War II. The world at large is already feeling the effects of this war due to over-reliance on Russia and Ukraine's energy, gas, and grain supplies. These effects are making the question of when and how this war will end an urgent question.

International bodies that have served as global and moral prefects now look overwhelmed by this conflict. This is especially concerning because Putin could look to further expansion, when and if the invasion of Ukraine succeeds. Sanctions have also been of limited use so far. Although the United States and European nations have slapped far-reaching economic sanctions against Russia, it has not yet stopped the aggression and attacks on civilian targets.  

Intense fighting has obstructed efforts to provide relief aid to besieged Ukrainian cities, including the port of Mariupol. In the capital, residential buildings in Kyiv’s Obolon district have been struck by Russian shelling, forcing residents to flee. This is the largest conventional military war since the WW2.

It is disheartening to watch how Ukrainian men are escorting their families to border crossing points, only to then turn around and return to the battlefront to defend their country fully aware they may never see their families again. Over 3 million people, largely women and children, have fled the country since the war began.

The UN’s Inability to Keep the Peace

This tragic situation underscores the key role various UN bodies are intended to play in maintaining peace and rule of law around the world.  In an extraordinary emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) held recently on the Ukraine crisis, US ambassador to the UNGA Linda Thomas-Greenfield had this to say; “Now, more than any other point in recent history, the United Nations is being challenged. If the United Nations has any purpose, it is to prevent war; it is to condemn war, to stop the war.”

During the session, 141 countries voted in favor of a UNGA resolution demanding an immediate end to the Russian offensive in Ukraine. This was, however, a non-binding and largely symbolic move. During the UNGA session, only four countries joined Russia in opposing the resolution. This included Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria. Thirty-five nations abstained. A few days earlier, despite the support of 11 Security Council members, the UNSC failed to adopt a resolution necessitating the immediate cessation and withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine following a single “no” vote from Russia. Meanwhile, China, India, and the United Arab Emirates abstained.

The resolution was written and presented by the United States and dozens of its allies, strongly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calling on Moscow to withdraw its troops immediately and provide safe access for humanitarian relief work.

The UN Charter charges the Security Council with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security by passing wide-ranging resolutions. Their effectiveness largely depended on unanimous support, or abstention in lieu of, from the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UNSC.

Yet the permanent members have frequently wielded their veto power when resolutions were not in their national and foreign policy interests. 

Since 1992, Russia has been the most frequent user of the veto, followed by the United States and China. France and the United Kingdom have not used the veto since 1989. As of February 2022, Russia/USSR had used its veto 120 times, the U.S. 82 times, the UK 29 times, France 16 times, and China 17 times.

The Council has in recent years been caught up in a resurgent Cold War rivalry, with Russia and its sympathizers on one side and NATO and its sympathizers on the other.  China has taken a both-sides approach to the conflict, calling for defusing of tensions and respect for sovereignty but stopping short of condemning Russia.

It is now an open question whether the UN has any relevance to the new international political and economic order. Security Council reform has been on the Assembly’s agenda for more than two decades now without any success.

This latest Russian aggression has renewed the debate on UNSC reform. Some have questioned the legitimacy of Russian succession to the USSR’s UNSC seat. This issue was raised most vocally by the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN recently. Given the gravity of the situation, there have also been demands for Russia’s removal from the UNSC, including in a recent U.S. Congressional resolution. Others have advocated ending the veto power entirely.

It has also been argued that the implementation of the UNSC decisions, and its very legitimacy, could be enhanced if the UNSC was reformed to be more representative, effective, efficient, accountable, and transparent.

About
Raphael Obonyo
:
Raphael Obonyo is a public policy analyst and TEDx speaker. He has served as a consultant with the United Nations and the World Bank.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.