November 26, 2022

Relevant but how effective

Many years ago, as a member of a youth state council, I visited Washington D.C. and New York City. The purpose of our trip was to learn how our national government works and to study the United Nations.

The impression I got at the United Nations then was it would guarantee peace in the world. I put a lot of faith in this organization of the world’s nations, certain they would establish peace-keeping operations, enact international sanctions and authorize military actions only when needed.

The difference between what I thought the U.N. mission would be, and the reality, has been disappointing. Originally, I would have believed the United Nations, with a membership of 193 nations, could prevent such tragedies as is happening in Ukraine, but obviously, it never was a real possibility.

It does not make sense the world has to stand by helplessly and watch Russia pummeling Ukraine. How is it possible in this modern world that a big bully nation is allowed to harm a small, independent country? Russia is killing Ukrainian people, destroying its infrastructure and inflicting massive suffering on citizens left with no lights, no heat and no water as winter approaches.

Granted, NATO countries provide them with billions of dollars in artillery, and more billions in humanitarian aid, but we can’t prevent their suffering or join in the fighting. Many Americans would like to fight Russia but we understand it is not possible. It would give most of us great satisfaction to drive Russian forces out of Ukraine, and to punish them for their transgressions.

So where is the United Nations in all this? Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unequivocally violates international law, but other than establishing a commission of inquiry into Russia’s aggression, little else is expected of them.

It’s not that the UN never acts in the pursuit of peace. The U.N. Security Council has deployed peace-keeping operations in at least 30 conflicts between 2000 and 2020. There are thousands currently deployed in minor conflicts around the world, wearing their individual national uniforms and the United Nations blue helmets.

The UN, however, cannot specifically engage in conflicts involving the five nations that make up the UN Security Council. Those nations are the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom and Russia. Any one of these five nations can veto any measure the council would take up, no matter h.ow critical the issue. Even as critical as Putin’s attack on the Ukrainian people. This agreement seriously limits the U.N.’s ability to intervene.

The truth is, the illegal war in Ukraine won’t benefit from peacekeeping intervention by the United Nations. Russia would certainly veto any attempt to have the Security Council involved. This seems outrageous, but the same was true when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. U.S. actions actually violated the peacekeeping charter of the United Nations, and the Secretary General, Kofi Annon, declared explicitly the U.S.-led war in Iraq was illegal.

In addition to the U.N.’s inability to stop major wars, they have been criticized for lacking leadership and the efficiency needed to help with other conflicts. They failed to prevent thousands of lives lost in Rwanda in 1994, and in Bosnia in 1995. These were conflicts where innocent people were caught in the crosshairs of warring factions resulting in the slaughter, rape and brutal abuse of civilians. The world’s nations, including the United States, mostly stood by and allowed it to happen.

Too often, military action occurs in residential areas among civilians. They become the principal targets of war - exactly what is happening in Ukraine today. There is data showing 90% of fatalities in war zones are civilian, 70% women and children. In Ukraine, Russia has been generally incompetent in their ground war, so they try to win by targeting civilians.

The UN is successful in settling minor conflicts and maintaining international relationships. Because of their efforts, there are fewer people dying of starvation from severe famine, even though threatened by climate change. Unfortunately, the devastation of Ukraine’s agriculture by the war is now threatening wheat supplies, which is of special concern to third-world countries.

The most important achievement of the U.N. is their influence on several smaller nations through the years to give up their nuclear weapons. Ukraine was one of them.