13 September 2022
By Aleksandr Podrabinek
Recently, Thomas-Greenfield, the US permanent representative to the UN, stated that due to the invasion of Ukraine, Russia should be stripped of its veto on the Security Council. Many others have long spoken about it being past time to reform the UN. But what can be more frightening for any official than the reform of his department? International officials are no exception.
“We should not defend an unsustainable and outdated status quo,” the American representative to the UN explained. Indeed, current regulations allow any permanent member of the Security Council (who are, I will remind you, the United States, England, France, Russia, and China) to veto the draft of any resolution and in this way paralyze the UN Security Council’s functionality. The veto makes it possible to torpedo such important (and unfortunately few) measures as introducing sanctions against aggressor countries, sending “blue helmets” into a military conflict zone, creating special international tribunals to try war criminals, and helping countries that have suffered from aggression. All it takes is for one of the permanent member-countries of the Security Council to be a side in the conflict or to shield a friendly regime to make the situation hopeless.
IN THAT CASE, WHY DO WE NEED THE UN?
On 1 January 1942, at a conference in Washington, D.C., the Allied countries approved a joint declaration that became the foundation for the future United Nations. At the time, “united nations” was a synonym for the Allies in the anti-Hitler coalition. They had vanquished Nazism, thank god, albeit with difficulty, after which they got to thinking about the future. In June 1945 they founded the UN, whose charter delineates four main goals: rid future generations of the misfortunes of war; assert faith in basic human rights; respect international obligations; and facilitate social progress. Marvelous goals!
However, this initiative exuded hypocrisy from the very beginning. How did the UN plan to assert human rights and the inflexibility of international law in conjunction with the Communist USSR? Even during the war, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed quite cynically his ambivalent position on this issue when he declared that for the sake of fighting Hitler he was prepared to make a pact with the devil himself.
The image of Stalin was part and parcel with the devil. Churchill has long departed for the next world, but his cause is alive and winning: the alliance of dictatorships and democracies has gained full legitimacy inside the UN’s walls. There, everyone is equal, and the totalitarian regimes of USSR and China are even more equal because they hold a veto on the UN Security Council. It’s been that way from the very start. During the first 10 years, from 1946 to 1956, no permanent member of the Security Council other than the USSR ever once exercised its veto, whereas the Soviet Union did so 57 times. Which should have given the international community pause at the time.
Today an authoritarian Russia led by Putin is carrying on with the Soviet cause. They put troops in Syria—and blocked a UN peacekeeping contingent. They knocked down the Malaysian Boeing—and blocked a resolution to investigate that crime. What I say goes! The UN maintains a dejected silence and pretends it’s impossible to do anything.
IS IT REALLY IMPOSSIBLE?
But how did they come to exclude not only from among the Security Council’s permanent members but also from the UN in general one of the organization’s founders, the Republic of China (Taiwan)? It was just as much a founder of the UN as the USSR was. But in 1971 it was replaced by Communist China. Procedure allowed this at the time? Why doesn’t it now? Evidently, it’s a matter of unwillingness, not impossibility.
By the way, unlike Ukraine and Belarus, Russia was not a member of the UN before 1991. Why after the USSR’s collapse was its seat on the UN Security Council transferred to the Russian Federation and not one of the 14 other former Soviet republics? According to the Soviet Constitution (Art. 70 of the 1977 Constitution), all the Union republics enjoyed equal rights. Who made this decision and how legitimate was it? Why not transfer the UN Security Council seat for the next 30 years to, say, Ukraine? And return Communist China’s seat on the Security Council to Taiwan—its legitimate holder. Maybe then the UN would come to life and start to act?
For now the UN’s four statutory goals have become empty words when it comes to Russia, China, and the despotic regimes friendly to them. Who, in this case, needs all this trumpery and high-flown talking-shop? Other than international officials who fear any reforms like fire for they risk losing their long-warmed, comfortable, high-paid seats.
Translated by Marian Schwartz