Lieutenant / Dr. Ahmad El Shahat
The United Nations, which includes 193 member states, had formed the political and security framework for the international system. The establishment of the organisation came to form the core of the international system, predominantly shaped by the victors of World War II, as is well known. Thus, the United Nations was intended to be a political project, based on the Security Council responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, as stated in Article 39 of the Charter of the United Nations.
It is the Security Council which has identified numerous international issues that depend on the permanent members, and the centrepiece of the international system (the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France). However, with the “Right to Veto” remaining in the hands of the dominant major powers, the United Nations had lost its value and democracy.
Despite the establishment of the Security Council with the aim of consolidating the concepts of international peace and security, the logic of conflict and the law of the jungle is what truly governs the world under the veto. Perhaps the worst examples of the use of the veto by the United States dozens of times without any moral and legal basis against the right of the Palestinian people to freedom and independence.
In recent decades, a number of conflicts have revealed that the concept of ‘Second World War Victors’ remains dominant in this international organisation, and more recently, this was evident throughout the discussion of the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations on the Russian-Ukrainian war.
The Security Council has turned into a sharp political struggle over all the drafted resolutions submitted by Western countries and those submitted by the Russian Federation. Additionally, voting in the United Nations’ General Assembly has witnessed widespread pressure on developing countries with the aim of attracting their votes, despite the resolutions of the General Assembly remaining non-binding and symbolic, merely becoming similar to the media highlighting issues through those political positions, which are soon forgotten after the end of war or conflict, and the archives of the United Nations are full of these symbolic resolutions, bearing witness to this.
The Russian-Ukrainian War: a recent evidence of an in-capable United Nations
The on-going war had shown a clear imbalance in the current international system, and it has become necessary for global peace and security to change this system. It became clear that the United Nations was unable to find solutions to many crises, including the current Ukrainian crisis, which threatens an escalation between countries to the level of a third world war.
In addition to The Palestinian issue which has been simmering for 74 years, creating and complicating a myriad of problems in the Middle East and the world, and through the wars and massacres committed in Africa (Rwanda), and the Balkan countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo), which were only resolved with a military intervention from the United States.
The current war in Ukraine also reflects an international conflict of an unusual type. It is not a war between two countries, although Russia and Ukraine are its direct parties, nor is it a war between two different ideological camps, despite the involvement of NATO as a direct party in it, but rather a war between major powers competing for the leadership of the international system; while participating in it, both directly or indirectly, while other countries are linked to it, due to the overlapping and intertwining of mutual interests among them.
It is noted here that this war did not erupt due to a conflict over resources and assets, nor over land and borders, but rather because of the inconsistency of the rules and institutions responsible for managing the current international system and the desire of the rising powers to change them. It is also noted that it is not done with the use of force alone, but through soft and cleaver use of power. Still, it is possible that it will tend to cause great destruction to the entire world, without anyone being able to guarantee that it will necessarily lead to the establishment of a more balanced world order capable of achieving justice for humanity as a whole.
The outbreak of this war, with its aforementioned dimensions, is in itself evidence of the weakness of the institutions of the current international system and the collapse of its bases. The United States and its allies believe that Russia’s use of armed force against Ukraine is a serious violation of the most important rules contained in the Charter of the United Nations, which prohibit the use of force in international relations or even the mere threat of its use. Thus, all states are obligated to resort to peaceful means in the settlement of disputes between them.
There is also the considering that the aforementioned powers are legally, politically and morally obliged to provide every possible assistance to enable Ukraine to withstand the aggression that has occurred against it, and that this assistance falls within the framework of the right of legitimate self-defence, individual and collective, as stipulated in Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.
Russia, on the other hand, believes that the expansionist policy of NATO, with its insistence on inciting Ukraine to join this alliance and at the same time encouraging it to abandon its obligations under the Minsk Agreement, is seen as the main reason for the outbreak of the current crisis. Thus, the inability of international institutions to compel Ukraine to implement its commitments is what prompted it to use military force to confront what it considers an existential threat.
Russia also views the use of its military force against Ukraine not as a violation of international law or the Charter of the United Nations, but rather a realisation of the right of legitimate self-defence. This means that we are facing a situation in which all parties to the conflict claim that they base their allegations on the same legal references.
The entity entrusted with determining the aggressor and the offended party, is the Security Council in this case, and yet it cannot play its desired role. This is because one of the parties to the conflict has the right of veto that guarantees it the ability to paralyse the council’s movement, which led to the failure of the collective security system contained in the Charter of the United Nations rendering completely obsolete.
The Ukrainian crisis and the chaos ensued, means the collapse of rules and institutions of the collective security system established by the United Nations, a system that developed in the shadow of a cold war and that spanned four consecutive decades, before returning to a complete freeze after the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
The war also shows the international community’s need for new collective security rules and institutions that take into consideration all the developments that have taken place in an international system that has become increasingly globalised and interconnected.
The on-going war has also showed that the current international system has become unrealistic in light of the current polarisation, especially in the United Nations and specifically in the Security Council. In recent years, calls have risen for the need to reform the structures of the United Nations and find a political approach that does not depend on the control of World War II victors and China, with their hegemony and division, which threatens security and peace in the world. This can be evidently seen in the Ukrainian Crisis, where weeks into the conflict, the world had witnessed a nuclear standoff and the threat of their use between the United States and the Russian Federation, with the US President, Joe Biden hinting about the danger of the outbreak of World War III.
In light of this, the Ukrainian crisis and its accompanying war, polarisation, alliances, and economic sanctions, are the harshest in modern history that call for an objective review of the international system.
Hence, creating a new system or reforming the United Nations and the inclusion of rising political forces in the five continents is one of the logical matters, to find a balance between the different forces in the world and to give an opportunity to reform the Security Council.
Also, to find fundamental amendments to the Charter, which no longer meets the developments of the sensitive stage that the world is going through, in both east and west.
What happened in the debate and polarisation in the Security Council between the Russian Federation and Western countries about the war in Ukraine gives an indication of political chaos and sharp polarization, as the halls of the United Nations held political infighting, evident by the intensity of statements and the language of power and the decline of political discourse between the world powers that are supposed to be keen on maintaining security and stability and find consensual solutions during the outbreak of crises and wars. Hence, the United Nations has become a victim of these international powers, its credibility is at stake, and it has lost much of its status in recent decades.
Duality in the International Scene
In reality, Russia, the permanent member of the Security Council, was not the only country that resorted to the use of armed force as a means of settling its dispute with another country, thus violating the rules of international law and the Charter of the United Nations.
Countries had often violated such rules on many different occasions (France and Britain during the tripartite aggression against Egypt in 1956, and the United States during its invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, to name a few), hence none of the major competing powers on the international scene have the right to claim infallibility or moral superiority in this respect.
The United States and its allies took advantage of the Ukrainian Crisis to impose comprehensive sanctions on Russia, also in violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations. Sanctions are an integral part of the collective security system, and therefore they should not be imposed except through the body responsible for implementing this system, which is the Security Council. Therefore, it can be argued that the war in Ukraine is the first crisis in the history of the United Nations to witness a simultaneous use by its parties of both military force and economic sanctions outside the scope of the Security Council, and therefore outside the scope of international legitimacy.
If this indicates anything, it indicates that the major powers are no longer collectively and deliberately keen to respect the rules of international law, and are behaving as if the United Nations no longer exists. This may usher the international system into a new phase characterised by total chaos, which is a retreat and a major setback.
Stills, does this mean the return of the international community to the stage before the international organisation?
Context of the current state of the international system
The United States remain the biggest player and beneficiary by virtue of its position in the international system, as the United Nations and the Security Council have turned from a tool for maintaining peace and security of countries into an American stick of terror and punishment.
After it became clear that it runs the world according to its interests, given that it pays the largest amount of financial contributions, and military support to gain international legitimacy, while using democracy and human rights as a cover for its interests.
For example, the United States used the ‘veto’ about 45 times to block the issue of
Security Council resolutions condemning the Israeli violations against the Palestinian people.
The United States has worked to provide support to the United Nations and to promote it as an effective player in the international scene, and in turn to ensure that the organisation is used as an effective means for its global diplomacy on the one hand, and aligned behind the American strategy and its objectives on the other hand, thus giving American behaviour international legitimacy, thus consolidating its hegemony in the international arena.
Additionally, the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in elevating the position of the United States at the top of the capitalist system, with its military, economic, technological and political capabilities, declaring a victory for the American capitalist model, which led to its monopoly on the tools of power and influence and the means of extending influence.
Thus, singling out the United States at the international level, where it is not expected to play according to the rules of the game, but according to its tendencies that serve the continuation of its international position and the strength of its influence. It is this global hegemony, which allowed it to arrange and secure its global interests.
In the face of these changes and developments, the United States has worked to achieve its cosmic project linked to the Americanization of the world, as the United States’ singularity in the international arena. It has enabled it to interfere in the affairs of other countries, controlling their destiny, with the United Nations as a tool implementing its aspirations to control the course of events in various regions of the world under the slogan of the new international order.
Thus, the United States sought to make its political discourse on international legitimacy one of the most important means of preaching for a new international order that would lead and direct its paths, despite the fact that its actual policies and international behaviour contradict the real content of this legitimacy. Perhaps this fact is indicated by the political exploitation of the United Nations, especially the Security Council, in an effort to protect its interests and achieve its goals.
Hence, the United States has focused on achieving its goals and protecting its interests by harnessing international legitimacy based on the principle of (exploiting membership in the Security Council). A vital outlet for the major powers to issue international decisions that they want, in a manner that is compatible with the nature of their interests and future goals.
As the main focus became on the Security Council being the most important executive body, talk began about a new role for the United Nations, and the formulation of new security-strategic concepts, especially the reconfirmation of previous concepts of peace, the concept of sovereignty, and the internal authority of states, so the organisation turned into a tool to provide a legitimate cover for American interventions in the post-Cold War era.
The United States has sought to employ the United Nations, especially the Security Council, to impose evasive international standards such as human rights and the fight against terrorism, in a manner that allows them to be adapted according to the American interest in each individual case. This enables the application of these rules at times or avoiding their application at other times, which Later sparked the debates about “double standards” when dealing with some international problems. An example of this is the intense US employment of the Security Council in Iraq in the early 90s, offset by its failure to use it in the Arab-Israeli settlement negotiations.
Thus, the policy of double standards has become a feature of the United Nations, because the Security Council does not perform a task unless it aligns with American interests.
As for Russia, it still sees itself as a superpower and an equal to the United States and China, although its international importance has greatly diminished after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Additionally, its economy has become 65% dependent on revenues from oil and gas trade. Still, it inherited from the former Soviet Union the membership of the Security Council, the arsenal of nuclear weapons, and the arms industry, the largest in the world, which still constitutes a financial resource for it, as well as extensive international relations, especially economic and trade ones.
Russia uses its membership in the Security Council to emphasise its international importance and serve its geopolitical interests. For example, it finds in the hostility of other countries to the West, such as Iran, Cuba and Venezuela as an interest and seeks to inflame such hostility, and even impede the improvement of those countries’ relations with the United States and the West in general. The issue of the Iranian nuclear program is one clear example, while Russia fears a nuclear Iran, at the same time it fears the prospect of improved relation between Iran and the West, which may create a distance from Russia.
China and Russia have used their ‘veto’ in the UN Security Council to block numerous decisions that are closely related to their common interests and plans, often in support of their allies, especially in relation to the Syrian crisis, the Iranian nuclear file, and the North Korean nuclear file.
Over the past decades, the world has grown accustomed to Beijing’s bystander position, often choosing to abstain from voting if the matter directly affects its basic interests. China remains distinguished as the permanent member of the Security Council who used the ‘veto’ right the least, in the four decades since its admission into the UN Security Council in 1971, it used the ‘veto’ a handful of times, half of which were doubled with the Soviet Union, and the Russian Federation after.
China has also broken its usual silence and joined Russia by using a double veto on Syria several times in the Security Council, and there is almost unanimity among observers that China did not do this for the sake of the regime in Syria, where it has no fundamental interests there based on the following considerations including:
1 – Standing by Russia in the Syrian issue, in return for Moscow’s standing in the near future by Beijing in other matters that are not only limited to the Iranian issue.
2- A Chinese attempt to formulate a new equation in its relationship with the major powers, and to establish a different stage of China’s political and diplomatic behaviour. Of course, the Middle East, with its strategic importance for the major powers, had to be the region from which the Chinese began to highlight their presence, strength, interests and presence.
The ‘Veto’ Tool
The right of ‘veto’ means having the power to abort decisions and proposed legislation. This right is used by the permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom. Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, there are some statistics that estimate that the number of times the ‘veto’ used has reached 293 times. The Soviet Union and its successor the Russian Federation used it 143 times, the United States 83 times, Britain 32 times, France 18 times, while China used it 16 times.
Still, the ‘veto’ has often been criticise for its undemocratic nature. One country can prevent the majority of Security Council members from taking any action. For example, the United States routinely unilaterally vetoes resolutions critical of Israel. Permanent members also veto decisions that criticise their actions. In 2014, Russia vetoed a resolution condemning its annexation of Crimea. Amnesty International asserts that the five permanent members used their veto “to promote their personal political or geopolitical interests above the interests of the protection of civilians”.
Some believe that the issuance of resolutions in the Security Council under the shadow of the ‘veto’ weakens the integrity and objectivity of those resolutions and the United Nations in general. Thus, preventing it from resolving the most important international disputes. Others point out that the global system does not currently tolerate a democratic system in which the three powers are separated into a global legislature, an executive body, and a judicial body, because of International political and military considerations outside the scope of ideal theoretical thinking.
The Russian special military operation in Ukraine has revived the long-standing idea of getting the permanent members of the Security Council to ease the use of the ‘veto’. Recently, for example, Moscow’s ‘veto’ allowed it to paralyse any move in the Security Council, which is supposed to intervene in this type of conflict as a guarantor of world peace, based on the United Nations Charter.
It is worth noting that we recall what happened on the eve of the US war on Iraq in 2003, when Germany (chair to the Security Council at the time) and the permanent members; Russia, France and China refused launching the war, as opposed to the insistence of the United States and Britain on immediate war. However, none of the Security Council states resorted to a ‘veto’ against the war resolution, and were satisfied with “concern and unease” about the large-scale US-British military invasion of Iraq.
In most cases where the drums of war are beating, the ‘veto’ is not effective on the part of countries calling for solving complex security problems through diplomatic means, and we have before us what happened in Iraq and Syria and what is happening in Ukraine.
Returning to the common expression ‘veto’ it did not appear in the Charter of the United Nations, but rather the term “right to object,” and this objection that no one in the Security Council or the General Assembly can reject, means that it is impossible to overturn it, even if the rest of the Security Council members wanted to do so. Therefore, this ‘veto’ will remain a subject of permanent controversy, because in fact it prevents any actual action by the General Assembly, which some of its members see as “supportive of international stability”, while others, who are the majority, see the ‘veto’ as “the most undemocratic element.” at the United Nations, because it prevents any political action against the five countries.
The Sanctions Policy
One of the evidences of American control of the United Nations is that the criterion in imposing sanctions is based on the extent of that country’s relationship with the United States and its proportionality with it, not on the extent of the country’s violation of the Charter of the United Nations or its violation of international peace and security.
Most of the sanctions imposed on countries were not for violating the rules of international law; rather, due to its poor relations with permanent countries in the Security Council, and in most of the decisions that include sanctions on countries, pressure is used on members of the Security Council, especially the permanent members, not to use the veto. Additionally, negotiations are often conducted with the major countries in the Security Council to ensure their acceptance of imposing Sanctions on a particular country, and all of this is done through bargains and agreements between the United States and members of the Security Council before discussing the issue in the Security Council chamber.
The Security Council had often resorted to economic sanctions that affect people more than governments. And while the United Nations Charter provided for economic sanctions its main objective is the state’s compliance with Security Council resolutions. Also, economic sanctions would be a stage among other modes of punishment that await states for violating the Charter of the United Nations. Thus, economic sanctions are a means of coercion and not a penalty in itself. The contemporary world has witnessed a wave of economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council on many countries of the world, which sometimes took a comprehensive and long-term form, as was the case for Iraq and Libya in the 90s.
Accordingly, this policy has been reflected in the United Nations, as it has made it subject to the interests of the major countries. Other times, especially in cases that do not involve the interest of these countries, the opposite is true, and the intervention of the United Nations in Somalia in 1992 is one example that confirms this, as this experience of intervention confirmed many of the shortcomings of the United Nations peacekeeping policy.
There have been many calls for developing and amending the United Nations, to serve the people of the world as a whole, and among the new proposals is not to limit the permanent membership of the Security Council to the current five countries; in addition to, limiting the use of ‘veto’ by each country during specific years.
Additionally, in recent years, voices have been raised about the need to for structural reforms in the United Nations, a clear indication of the growing imbalance and the multiplicity of concerns. It is known that Japan, Germany, India, Brazil, South Africa and Egypt are among the forces that demand a balance in the Security Council system and the expansion of the Security Council to give balance to the five continents, especially the African continent and South America, in addition to the rise of the old international powers, especially Germany, Japan and India.
The effectiveness of the United Nations and its ability to achieve its goals has remained weak in practice since its founding. The organisation was not based on any form of real power that qualifies it to be able to influence the course of events in the world, as it remains subject to the will of the major countries and the will of the stronger party. Still, despite the organisation’s several attempts to confront issues and maintain peace, it failed to maintain international security, and thus many requests emerged in the corridors of the United Nations calling for its reform.
Hence, the exploitation of the major countries of the United Nations and using it to enforce their strategies under the guise of a legal international force, and as decisions formed by a legitimate and binding organisation. This is also used as a tool to deter potential enemies. Accordingly, the United States singled out a role for the Security Council to confront cases of threats to or breach of world peace under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, in order to give legal legitimacy to its political, economic, and military actions in the Americanization of the world.
Additionally, the United States has sought to employ the United Nations as a tool means to legitimise its behaviour with parties that do not agree with it, and as a pressure tool of another kind based on refraining from providing aid to international parties that fall outside the framework of American political philosophy under the pretext of not helping those who are unable to help themselves to strengthen and establish democratic and human rights systems.
The decline of the rules-based international order, where the deliberate weakening of the role of the United Nations has contributed significantly to the creation of a more chaotic world and the violation by major countries of the sovereignty rights of another country without deterrence from the international organisation. Additionally, it has been difficult for the United Nations to impose rules on Russia, that the United States are constantly violating in an open threat to international peace and security. Thus, the United States had opted to ignore international laws and resolutions, instead of reinforcing commitments to the rules-based international system and the empowerment of the United Nations; which made it easier for other powers to exploit the system and disregard international laws and norms as well.
For more than 75 years, the United Nations member states have adhered to the minimum limits of the work of the charter of the world organisation. Also, despite the many failures at the level of implementation of the resolutions issued by the Security Council, the mechanisms concerning global issues such as combating terrorism, climate change, and have demonstrated that the international teamwork is one of the most important gains in the post-World War II world.
For example, in the case of the war on terrorism, the monitoring and control systems for the activities of terrorist organisations and groups sponsored by the international organisation constitute a paramount importance that cannot be lost, as these international mechanisms perform vital tasks, and their absence will reveal deep gaps in efforts to confront terrorist organisations.
The last four decades have witnessed a number of wars and conflicts, especially in the Arab region, and perhaps the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the most prominent of these conflicts because it is related to the occupation of the land of Palestine and the displacement of its people. in addition to a number of regional crises.
Additionally, the United Nations failed to leave its mark and devise solutions, instead its role was limited to the human side. It can be said that the continuation of this approach will eventually turn it into a political forum, but with this political scene in the organisation, where the multiplicity of projects in the Security Council and the multiplicity of voting in the General Assembly of the United Nations has created a negative and tense atmosphere and made many countries of the world face political pressures, especially from United States specifically to ensure votes and record positions.
Finally, the establishment of the international organisation in the aftermath of World War II was to maintain global peace and resolve problems between countries through dialogue and the application of the Charter, without distinction between countries. As for the issue of hegemony by the major powers, it created a confusing situation for the United Nations, and if the situation continues with the outbreak of every war and crisis, would meet a fateful end. Alternatively, it continues to exist with the hidden conviction of the major powers, that the United Nations to remain as a political dialogue forum, with the Security Council remaining as a symbol of power and dominance and the ‘veto’ of the five powers.
In light of these developments and the desire of major countries to reform the international system and address its issues according to their whims and plans without considering the repercussions of these moves on other countries. Especially developing countries which pay a high bill in the end at the expense of the stability and prosperity of their people. As for the medium-power countries which are characterised by having regional influence at various levels, they possess the possibility of forming parallel entities within the framework of strong alliances, through which their role and influence emerges so that such countries become an important figure in the international equation to be relied upon in any future decisions that contribute directly to shaping the international system.