In December 1934, Arthur Henderson, a leader of the British Labour Party, declared in his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize that the immense human suffering caused by World War I “led to the very clear realization that international anarchy must be abandoned if civilization was to survive.”
Unfortunately, that realization did not go very far or very deep. Although, since that time, international law has been refined, nations remain far from adhering to its provisions or accepting its enforcement by the United Nations.
The Arab-Israeli Conflict
The lengthy, bloody conflict between the Israelis and their Arab neighbors provides a dramatic illustration of this point.
On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted a plan to replace the British Mandate in Palestine with a partition of that land between a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. The UN decision was fiercely resented by the surrounding Arab nations, which launched a war against the new Jewish state, Israel—a war from which Israel emerged victorious in 1948.
This victory did not end the violence, however, or the violations of international law. Having fled abroad from the fighting in 1948, over 700,000 Palestinians, in contravention of international law, were denied the right to return to their homes in Israel. Egypt, which, in 1956, had agreed under UN pressure to the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula, expelled UN observers in 1967, massed its troops on Israel’s border, and together with Jordan, readied itself to invade Israel. In turn, Israel launched devastating attacks on Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian, and Iraqi military forces. Victorious in this Six-Day War, Israel gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.
Over the ensuing decades, numerous violent clashes followed, with Israel, now the dominant military power in the region, defeating Arab and Palestinian resistance. Meanwhile, Israel defied international law by continuing to occupy the territory conquered in 1967, colonizing it with Jewish settlements, and violating the human rights of its Palestinian residents. For their part, Hamas terrorists, dedicated to unremitting war against Israel, committed horrendous war crimes against noncombatants in clear violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. When the Israeli government deprived Gaza’s civilian population of food, water, and other essentials of survival, it, too, defied international law.
The Russia-Ukraine War
The Russian invasion of Ukraine provides another clear example of flouting international law. Article 2, Section 4 of the UN Charter prohibits the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” Ukraine had been an independent, sovereign nation since 1991, when the Soviet Union authorized a referendum on whether it wanted to become part of the new Russian Federation or to become independent. In the balloting, 90 percent voted for independence, which was formally accepted. Three years later, in the Budapest Memorandum, the Russian government pledged to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and to “refrain from the threat or use of force” against that nation.
Nevertheless, in 2014 the Putin regime drew upon Russian military power to seize and annex Crimea in southern Ukraine and to arm pro-Russian separatists and unleash its own thinly-disguised military forces in eastern Ukraine. In February 2022, the Russian government, determined to seize full control of Ukraine, launched a massive military invasion. Although fierce resistance by the Ukrainians prevented a complete Russian takeover, that September Putin announced the annexation of four additional regions of Ukraine, declaring that Russia would never surrender them.
Most of the world’s nations assailed this behavior as a flagrant violation of international law. In March 2014, after a Russian veto blocked a UN Security Council rebuke, the UN General Assembly voted by an overwhelming margin to condemn the Russian action that year. In March 2022, amid a new Russian veto of UN Security Council action, the UN General Assembly roundly condemned the full-scale Russian invasion by a vote of 141 to 5 (with 35 abstentions), while the International Court of Justice, the world’s highest judicial authority, voted by 13 to 2 (with Russia’s judge casting one of the negative votes) that Russia should “immediately suspend” its invasion. That October, the UN General Assembly, by a vote of 143 nations to 5 (with 35 abstentions), called on all nations to refuse recognition of Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of Ukrainian territory.
The Renewed Nuclear Arms Race
Perhaps the most chilling manifestation of international anarchy is the renewed nuclear arms race. Recognizing the potential for worldwide destruction in a nuclear war and pressed for action by an uneasy public, the nations of the world did, eventually, sign nuclear arms control treaties. Among these agreements was the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, in which non-nuclear nations pledged to forgo building nuclear weapons, while the nuclear nations agreed to divest themselves of their nuclear arsenals. Nevertheless, in recent decades, additional nations have become nuclear powers, while existing nuclear powers have scrapped previous nuclear disarmament agreements. Symptomatically, the nuclear powers oppose the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which became international law in 2021.
Indeed, all the nuclear nations are currently engaged in nuclear weapons buildups―planning and developing new, more efficient weapons of mass destruction. Some government officials, among them Vladimir Putin, publicly threaten to launch nuclear war against nations opposing their international policies.
The planet faces a perilous future, indeed, particularly when one considers that, as of early 2023, it was undergoing the largest number of violent conflicts since World War II.
Against this backdrop, it’s tempting to conclude that, thanks to the apparently ungovernable nature of the world, the annihilation of civilization is inevitable. But is the world ungovernable―or merely lacking an effective government?
Given the fact that the United Nations was created to guarantee international security, a logical solution to the problem of effective governance is to strengthen the ability of the world organization to enforce international law. By curbing international anarchy, this action would prevent marauding nations and armed bands alike from indulging their worst impulses. It would also significantly enhance the prospects for peace, justice, and human survival.
Håkan Dahlström from Malmö, Sweden, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Addressing the UN Security Council on September 20, 2023, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a heartfelt plea “to update the existing security architecture in the world, in particular, to restore the real power of the UN Charter.”
This call for strengthening international security under the aegis of the United Nations makes sense not only for Ukraine―a country suffering from brutal military invasion, occupation, and annexation by its much larger, more powerful neighbor, the Russian Federation―but for the nations of the world.
The Rise of the United Nations
For thousands of years, competing territories, nations, and empires have spilled rivers of blood and laid waste to much of the world through wars and plunder. Hundreds of millions of people have died, while many more have been horribly injured or forced to flee their shattered homelands in a desperate search for safety. World Wars I and II, capped off by the use of nuclear weapons to annihilate the populations of entire cities, brought massive suffering to people around the globe.
In 1945, this mad slaughter and devastation convinced far-sighted thinkers, as well as many government leaders, that human survival was dependent upon developing a framework for international security: the United Nations. The UN Charter, adopted in a conference in the spring of that year in San Francisco by 50 Allied nations, declared that a key purpose of the new organization was “to maintain international peace and security.”
The UN Charter, which constitutes international law, included provisions detailing how nations were to treat one another in the battered world emerging from the Second World War. Among its major provisions was Article 2, Section 4, which declared that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” Furthermore, Article 51 declared that “nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations.”
The Role of the Security Council
Although the UN Charter provided for a General Assembly in which all member nations were represented, action to maintain international peace and security was delegated primarily to a UN Security Council with fifteen members, five of whom (the United States, the Soviet Union, China, Britain, and France) were to be permanent members with the right to veto Security Council resolutions or action.
Not surprisingly, the right of any of these five nations to block Security Council peace efforts, a right they had insisted upon as the price of their participation in the United Nations, hamstrung the world organization from enforcing peace and international security on numerous occasions. The most recent instance has occurred in the case of the Ukraine War, a conflict in which, as Zelensky lamented, “all [Security Council] efforts are vetoed by the aggressor.” As a result, the United Nations has all too often lacked the power to enforce the principles of international law confirmed by its members and enshrined in its Charter.
Some people are perfectly content with the weakness of the United Nations. Fierce nationalists, including some Right-Wing actors, are contemptuous of this or any international security organization, and many would prefer its abolition. Others have little use for the United Nations but, instead, place their hopes for the maintenance of international peace and stability upon public and governmental acceptance of great power spheres of influence. Meanwhile, a segment of the international Left ignores the United Nations and insists that world peace will only be secured by smashing “U.S. imperialism.”
Sadly, those forces opposing international organization and action fail to recognize that their proposals represent not only a return to thousands of years of international strife and mass slaughter among nations, but, in today’s world, an open door to a nuclear holocaust that will end virtually all life on earth.
Proposals to Strengthen the United Nations
Compared to this descent into international chaos and destruction, proposals to strengthen the United Nations are remarkably practical and potentially effective. Zelensky has suggested empowering the UN General Assembly to overcome a Security Council veto by a vote of two-thirds or more of the Assembly’s nations. In addition, he has proposed expanding the representation of nations in the Security Council, temporarily suspending membership of a Security Council member when it “resorts to aggression against another nation in violation of the UN Charter,” and creating a deterrent to international aggression by agreeing on the response to it before it occurs.
Of course, there are numerous other ways to strengthen the United Nations as a force for peace and to help ensure that it works as an effective international agency for battling the onrushing climate catastrophe, combating disease pandemics, and cracking down on the exploitative practices of multinational corporations. Its member nations could also rally behind the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (still unsigned by the nuclear powers), agree on a UN program to handle the burgeoning international refugee crisis, and provide the world organization with substantially greater financial resources to reduce global poverty and mass misery than it currently receives.
Indeed, the horrific Ukraine War is but the latest canary in the coal mine―the danger signal that people of all nations should recognize as indicating the necessity for moving beyond national isolation and beginning a new era of global responsibility, cooperation, and unity.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
This September is the sixtieth anniversary of U.S. and Soviet ratification of the world’s first significant nuclear arms control agreement, the Partial Test Ban Treaty. Thus, it’s an appropriate time to examine that treaty, as well as to consider what might be done to end the danger of nuclear annihilation.
The Rise of Public Pressure
Although the use, in 1945, of atomic bombs to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki unleashed a wave of public concern about human survival in the nuclear age, it declined with the emergence of the Cold War. But another, even larger wave developed during the 1950s and early 1960s as the nuclear arms race surged forward. At the time, the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain engaged in testing a new nuclear device, the H-bomb, with a thousand times the power of the atomic bomb.
Many people found this situation alarming. Not only did the advent of H-bombs point toward universal doom in a future war, but the testing of the weapons sent vast clouds of radioactive “fallout” into the atmosphere, where it drifted around the planet until it descended upon the populace below. In 1957, Professor Linus Pauling, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, predicted that, thanks to the nuclear tests already conducted, a million people would die early, and 200,000 children would be born with serious mental deficiency or physical defects.
In reaction to this growing menace, millions of people around the world began to resist nuclear weapons. They formed new, activist organizations, including the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (better known as SANE) and Women Strike for Peace (in the United States), the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (in Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), the Japan Council Against A & H Bombs and the Japan Congress Against A & H Bombs (in Japan), and the Struggle Against Atomic Death (in West Germany). Even in the Soviet bloc, concerned scientists pressed for an end to the nuclear arms race.
Governments Reluctantly Begin to Alter Public Policy
Government officials in nuclear-armed nations, troubled by the rising agitation, as well as by opinion polls showing widespread popular distaste for nuclear testing, nuclear weapons, and nuclear war, gradually began to adapt their policies to the demands of the public. Meeting with top scientists in the U.S. nuclear weapons program, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower told them that the U.S. government was “up against an extremely difficult world opinion situation” and that the country “could not permit itself to be ‘crucified on a cross of atoms.’” If U.S. nuclear testing continued, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles warned the president, “the slight military gains” would be “outweighed by the political losses.”
Accordingly, in 1958, the Soviet, American, and British governments halted nuclear testing while beginning negotiations for a test ban treaty. Failing to secure an agreement, they resumed nuclear tests in 1961, which led to nuclear testing remaining a very hot political issue for people and governments alike.
Into this controversy stepped Norman Cousins, the editor of a widely-read public affairs magazine, the Saturday Review and, also, ardent world federalist and founder and co-chair of SANE. During a lengthy meeting at the White House with President John F. Kennedy in November 1962, Cousins inquired if the president would like him to meet with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to try to smooth the diplomatic path toward a nuclear test ban treaty. Kennedy responded affirmatively and, in the following months, Cousins shuttled back and forth between the two world leaders. Ultimately, Cousins overcame Khrushchev’s suspicions of Kennedy and, then, convinced Kennedy to deliver a major speech with “a breathtaking new approach” to Soviet-American relations.
This American University address, partially written by Cousins, proved an immediate success with Khrushchev. Test ban negotiations commenced in Moscow during July 1963, resulting in the Partial Test Ban Treaty―banning nuclear testing in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water.
The Significance of the Treaty and Its Successors
From the standpoint of ending the nuclear arms race, the treaty had its limitations. Because the treaty left unaddressed the issue of nuclear testing underground, the nuclear powers and aspiring nuclear powers simply shifted nuclear tests to this new locale. Furthermore, with nuclear fallout no longer a major public concern, popular pressure to halt nuclear testing―and, thereby, choke off the arms race―declined.
Nevertheless, the Partial Test Ban Treaty proved a turning point in world history. Together with the nuclear disarmament campaign that produced the treaty, it reduced Cold War hostility and ushered in a period of détente between the U.S. and Soviet governments. Furthermore, widespread nuclear proliferation, which seemed imminent at the time, failed to materialize. Even today, sixty years later, there are only nine nuclear powers.
Most important, the treaty demonstrated that nuclear arms control and disarmament were feasible. And so a host of treaties followed that substantially reduced nuclear dangers. These included the Nonproliferation Treaty, Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Through these treaties, as well as through unilateral action―both spurred on by popular pressure―the number of nuclear weapons in the world dropped sharply, from 70,000 to roughly 12,500. Meanwhile, nuclear war became increasingly unthinkable.
Nuclear Revival and Resistance
Of course, in recent years, with the decline of popular pressure against nuclear weapons, the prospect of nuclear annihilation has revived. Disarmament treaties have been scrapped, a new nuclear arms race has begun, and reckless leaders of nuclear nations have publicly threatened nuclear war. Although a UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force in 2021, the nine nuclear powers have resisted signing it.
Even so, it remains possible to get nations back on track toward international security. Citizens for Global Solutions has signed on to a joint statement for the forthcoming Nonproliferation Treaty conference that calls for a Common Security framework approach as an alternative to nuclear deterrence. The statement was presented at the recent NPT preparatory conference by the chair of the World Federalist Movement and has been endorsed by 170 organizations. In a few weeks, CGS will also co-host a parliamentary delegation from Japan and the Republic of Korea that will be welcomed by U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), one of the staunchest congressional advocates of nuclear disarmament.
Furthermore, the treaty process provides a useful route toward a nuclear-free world. As the Partial Test Ban Treaty and its successors show us, arms control and disarmament treaties have helped to curb the nuclear arms race and prevent nuclear war. The revived march toward nuclear catastrophe can be halted and reversed by a treaty finally banning nuclear weapons―if people will demand it.
The July 21, 2023 theatrical release of the film Oppenheimer, focused on the life of a prominent American nuclear physicist, should help to remind us of how badly the development of modern weapons has played out for individuals and for all of humanity.
Oppenheimer’s Rise and Fall
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, American Prometheus, written by Kai Bird and the late Martin Sherwin, the film tells the story of the rise and fall of young J. Robert Oppenheimer, recruited by the U.S. government during World War II to direct the construction and testing of the world’s first atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico. His success in these ventures was followed shortly thereafter by President Truman’s ordering the use of nuclear weapons to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
During the immediate postwar years, Oppenheimer, widely lauded as “the father of the atomic bomb,” attained extraordinary power for a scientist within U.S. government ranks, including as chair of the General Advisory Committee of the new Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).
But his influence ebbed as his ambivalence about nuclear weapons grew. In the fall of 1945, during a meeting at the White House with Truman, Oppenheimer said: “Mr. President, I feel I have blood on my hands.” Incensed, Truman later told Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson that Oppenheimer had become “a crybaby” and that he didn’t want “to see that son of a bitch in this office ever again.”
Oppenheimer was also disturbed by the emerging nuclear arms race and, like many atomic scientists, championed the international control of atomic energy. Indeed, in late 1949, the entire General Advisory Committee of the AEC came out in opposition to the U.S. development of the H-bomb―although the president, ignoring this recommendation, approved developing the new weapon and adding it to the rapidly growing U.S. nuclear arsenal.
In these circumstances, figures with considerably less ambivalence about nuclear weapons took action to purge Oppenheimer from power. In December 1953, shortly after becoming chair of the AEC, Lewis Strauss, a fervent champion of a U.S. nuclear buildup, ordered Oppenheimer’s security clearance suspended. Anxious to counter implications of disloyalty, Oppenheimer appealed the decision and, in subsequent hearings before the AEC’s Personnel Security Board, faced grueling questioning not only about his criticism of nuclear weapons, but about his relationships decades before with individuals who had been Communist Party members.
Ultimately, the AEC ruled that Oppenheimer was a security risk, an official determination that added to his public humiliation, completed his removal from government service, and delivered a shattering blow to his meteoric career.
The Threat to Human Survival
Of course, the development of nuclear weapons had far broader consequences than the downfall of J. Robert Oppenheimer. In addition to killing more than 200,000 people and injuring many more in Japan, the advent of nuclear weaponry led nations around the world to enter a fierce nuclear arms race. By the 1980s, spurred on by conflicts among the major powers, 70,000 nuclear weapons had come into existence, with the potential to destroy virtually all life on earth.
Fortunately, a massive grassroots citizens campaign emerged to counter this drive toward a nuclear apocalypse. And it succeeded in pressuring reluctant governments into an array of nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties, as well as unilateral actions, to reduce nuclear dangers. As a result, by 2023 the number of nuclear weapons had declined to roughly 12,500.
Nevertheless, in recent years, thanks to a sharp decrease in citizen activism and increase in international conflict, the potential for nuclear war has dramatically revived. All nine nuclear powers (Russia, the United States, China, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea) are currently engaged in upgrading their nuclear arsenals with new production facilities and new, improved nuclear weapons. During 2022, these governments poured nearly $83 billion into this nuclear buildup. Public threats to initiate nuclear war, including those by Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un, and Vladimir Putin, have become more common. The hands of the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, established in 1946, now stand at 90 seconds to midnight―the most dangerous setting in its history.
Not surprisingly, the nuclear powers display little interest in further action for nuclear arms control and disarmament. The two nations possessing some 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons―Russia (with the most) and the United States (not far behind)―have pulled out of nearly all such agreements with one another. Although the U.S. government has proposed extending the New Start Treaty (which limits the number of strategic nuclear weapons) with Russia, Putin reportedly responded this June that Russia would not engage in any nuclear disarmament talks with the West, commenting: “We possess more weaponry of such sort than the NATO countries. They know that and are always trying to persuade us to start negotiations on reduction. Nuts to them . . . as our people say.” The Chinese government―whose nuclear arsenal, while growing substantially, still ranks a distant third in numbers―has stated that it sees no reason for China to engage in any nuclear arms control talks.
The Demand for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World
To head off a looming nuclear catastrophe, non-nuclear nations have been championing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Adopted by an overwhelming vote of nations at a UN conference in July 2017, the TPNW bans developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, and threatening to use nuclear weapons. The treaty went into force in January 2021 and―though opposed by all the nuclear powers―it has thus far been signed by 92 nations and ratified by 68 of them. Brazil and Indonesia are likely to ratify it in the near future. Polls have found that the TPNW has substantial support in numerous countries, including the United States and other NATO nations.
Numerous organizations are working to create a nuclear weapons-free world, including Citizens for Global Solutions, Peace Action, and Physicians for Social Responsibility in the United States and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the International Peace Bureau, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND), and Parliamentarians for Global Action on the international level.
There does remain some hope, then, that the nuclear tragedy that engulfed J. Robert Oppenheimer and has long threatened the survival of world civilization can still be averted.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the immensely destructive Ukraine War lies in the fact that it could have been averted.
The most obvious way was for the Russian government to abandon its plan for the military conquest of Ukraine.
The Problem of Russian Policy
The problem on this score, though, was that Vladimir Putin was determined to revive Russia’s “great power” status. Although his predecessors had signed the UN Charter (which prohibits the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”), as well as the Budapest Memorandum and the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership (both of which specifically committed the Russian government to respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity), Putin was an ambitious ruler, determined to restore what he considered Russia’s imperial grandeur.
This approach led not only to Russian military intervention in Middle Eastern and African nations, but to retaking control of nations previously dominated by Russia. These nations included Ukraine, which Putin regarded, contrary to history and international agreements, as “Russian land.”
As a result, what began in 2014 as the Russian military seizure of Crimea and the arming of a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine gradually evolved into the full-scale invasion of February 2022―the largest, most devastating military operation in Europe since World War II, with the potential for the catastrophic explosion of the giant Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and even the outbreak of nuclear war.
The official justifications for these acts of aggression, trumpeted by the Kremlin and its apologists, were quite flimsy. Prominent among them was the claim that Ukraine’s accession to NATO posed an existential danger to Russia. In fact, though, in 2014―or even in 2022―Ukraine was unlikely to join NATO because key NATO members opposed its admission. Also, NATO, founded in 1949, had never started a war with Russia and had never shown any intention of doing so.
The reality was that, like the U.S. invasion of Iraq nearly two decades before, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was out of line with both international law and the imperatives of national security. It was a war of choice organized by a power-hungry ruler.
The Problem of UN Weakness
On a deeper level, the war was avoidable because the United Nations, established to guarantee peace and international security, did not take the action necessary to stop the war from occurring or to end it.
Admittedly, the United Nations did repeatedly condemn the Russian invasion, occupation, and annexation of Ukraine. On March 27, 2014, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution by a vote of 100 nations to 11 (with 58 abstentions), denouncing the Russian military seizure and annexation of Crimea. On March 2, 2022, by a vote of 141 nations to 5 (with 35 abstentions), it called for the immediate and complete withdrawal of Russian military forces from Ukraine. In a ruling on the legality of the Russian invasion, the International Court of Justice, by a vote of 13 to 2, proclaimed that Russia should immediately suspend its invasion of Ukraine. That fall, when Russia began annexing the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia, the UN Secretary-General denounced that action as flouting “the purposes and principles of the United Nations,” while the UN General Assembly, by a vote of 143 nations to 5 (with 35 abstentions), called on all countries to refuse to recognize Russia’s “illegal annexation” of Ukrainian land.
Tragically, this principled defense of international law was not accompanied by measures to enforce it. At meetings of the UN Security Council, the UN entity tasked with maintaining peace, the Russian government simply vetoed UN action. Nor did the UN General Assembly circumvent the Security Council’s paralysis by acting on its own. Instead, the United Nations showed itself well-meaning but ineffectual.
This weakness on matters of international security was not accidental. Nations―and particularly powerful nations―had long preferred to keep international organizations weak, for the creation of stronger international institutions would curb their own influence. Naturally, then, they saw to it that the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, could act on international security issues only by a unanimous vote of its membership. And even this constricted authority proved too much for the U.S. government, which refused to join the League. Similarly, when the United Nations was formed, the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council were given to five great powers, each of which could, and often did, veto its resolutions.
During the Ukraine War, Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky publicly lamented this inability of the United Nations to enforce its mandate. “The wars of the past have prompted our predecessors to create institutions that should protect us from war,” he remarked in March 2022, “but they unfortunately don’t work.” In this context, he called for the creation of “a union of responsible countries . . . to stop conflicts” and to “keep the peace.”
What Still Might Be Done
The need to strengthen the United Nations and, thereby, enable it to keep the peace, has been widely recognized. To secure this goal, proposals have been made over the years to emphasize UN preventive diplomacy and to reform the UN Security Council. More recently, UN reformers have championed deploying UN staff (including senior mediators) rapidly to conflict zones, expanding the Security Council, and drawing upon the General Assembly for action when the Security Council fails to act. These and other reform measures could be addressed by the world organization’s Summit for the Future, planned for 2024.
In the meantime, it remains possible that the Ukraine War might come to an end through related action. One possibility is that the Russian government will conclude that its military conquest of Ukraine has become too costly in terms of lives, resources, and internal stability to continue. Another is that the countries of the world, fed up with disastrous wars, will finally empower the United Nations to safeguard international peace and security. Either or both would be welcomed by people in Ukraine and around the globe.