27 December 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
On 26 December, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on the illegitimacy of the Russian Federation being on the UN Security Council and in the United Nations as a whole. This attempt to revive a corpse by cutting off its most diseased parts is understandable but unlikely to succeed.
Builders know that sometimes it’s simpler to build a new house than to rebuild an old one. And hardly anyone doubts the fact that the UN, as European Council President Charles Michel said, is in need of “profound reform.” Eighty years since its actual birth is too long a term for this kind of organization. One could, of course, attempt to patch procedural holes in approximately the same way Russia repairs its roads, but riding over ruts like that is going to get harder and harder every year.
This summer, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested expelling Russia from the UN Security Council. “It is possible, it is essential, and it is just,” the Ukrainian president noted at the time. The US representative to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, was less radical and suggested stripping Russia of its veto on the Security Council. One can agree with President Zelenskyy on everything except that “it is possible.” Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible. The entire architecture for international security built after World War II was founded on the victorious states’ indisputable right to dictate their will to the rest of the world. This was their bonus for victory.
They used this bonus in various ways. As they do today as well. China and Russia, as usual, are in the leading ranks as crushers of freedom and democracy. Without their consent, not a single UN Security Council resolution can pass, thanks to which the UN has become not an instrument for resolving international problems but a screen for the impunity of despotisms and a tribune for the propaganda of antidemocratic forces. Who needs this cumbersome and useless structure and to what end?
It is impossible to take Russia off the Security Council or strip it of its veto because for this to happen all the Security Council members have to vote for it, including Russia. Such is the UN Charter, and it cannot be amended by legal methods. The sole legal pretext, which the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s 26 December statement points out, is the weakness of the grounds on which the Russian Federation inherited the Soviet Union’s UN Security Council seat in 1991. Indeed, there was no legitimate procedure that allowed the Russian Federation to take the Soviet Union’s seat. This seat could have been occupied equally well by UN cofounders Ukraine and Belarus. But 30 years ago, political expedience prevailed over law. Now the time may have come to revise decisions taken in haste.
At the same time, it would be proper to restore the UN Security Council seat to Taiwan, a seat the UN General Assembly handed over to Communist China in 1971. The UN Charter does not provide for this procedure for forming the Security Council, but if it was possible to bring the PRC onto the Security Council at that time, circumventing the charter, then why not take Russia off it in the same manner? A mirror procedure! There’s a certain logic to this based on precedent rather than law. Will the “reformers” want to ignore the law yet again, though, this time for the sake of justice? And what consequences will that have?
The problem is that none of these measures solves the UN’s cardinal problem, which consists first and foremost in the fact that not only representatives of regimes democratically elected but also officials of authoritarian regimes meet there as equals. The latter represent only a narrow circle of people close to the top of the authoritarian regime. Their representation in international forums is tacitly illegitimate. Their efforts most often are directed against peace and security. Their confidence in their own impunity is a challenge to law and justice.
How does the equal participation in the UN of the aggressor and the aggressor’s victim, democracy and tyranny, law and lawlessness follow the UN Charter? The present-day situation in the UN is, put mildly, a stalemate, and, put bluntly, outrageous and intolerable.
The present war in Europe has exposed extremely painful problems in international relations. Their resolution should be the concern of a new international organization come to take the UN’s place. The political standards of the middle of the last century have receded into the past. Today they are untenable. The new era demands new solutions. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed in 1948 was a UN policy document but remained a declaration.
The new international forum must make the Declaration operative; it must become the instrument for resolving political problems. Let the UN live out its final days, gradually losing influence, financing, and countries’ participation. A new edifice should be built on a new platform, not on the rotten foundation in which democracy and despotism are closely intermingled but on a clear and firm foundation of respect for human rights and civil liberties.
Translated by Marian Schwartz