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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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With the collapse of the existing world order, international organizations are losing their viability

Photo: Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres in Kyiv
Source: Office of the President of Ukraine

Russia's war against Ukraine leads to a crisis of global governance and sharply raises the question of the role of UN in international relations. Ever since the San Francisco Conference, which resulted in the creation of the United Nations, humanity has so far been able, with varying degrees of success, to uphold the fundamental purposes and principles of the organisation. International institutions played an important role in managing emerging crises, complementing the unshakable concept of the balance of power. Until February 24, 2022, there was only one precedent in the world for the armed occupation of an independent country. The annexation of Kuwait launched on August 2, 1990 by Saddam Hussein's Iraq received a powerful response. On the day of the invasion, the UN Security Council unanimously condemned the intervention and demanded the immediate withdrawal of troops from Kuwait. On August 6 a world embargo on trade with Iraq was introduced, and on November 29, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution allowing the use of military force against Iraq if Iraqi troops are not withdrawn by January 1991. On January 16, Operation Desert Storm began with the participation of 700,000 troops of the anti-Iraq coalition, which eventually led to the liberation of Kuwait. Back then all 5 permanent members of the Security Council were united in their positions. However, in 1990, no member of the Security Council was an aggressor or acted as a revisionist state.

The attempt to occupy Ukraine is a precedent that put the UN in a difficult position and once again reminded the international community of the weaknesses of this institution. Ukraine since 2014 is actually in a state of war with the Russian Federation. But, if earlier the international community perceived this as one more conflict that did not fundamentally change the world order, and therefore Russian aggression did not meet the necessary international resistance, a full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation aimed at changing existing borders, the destruction of the sovereignty of an independent state and Ukrainians as a separate people, leaves no right to the international society to continue to ignore the need to reform the United Nations.

This was the focus of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's speech at the meeting of the UN Security Council on April 5, 2022. “Are you ready for the dissolving of the UN? Do you think that the time of international law has passed? If your answer is no, you need to act now, act immediately. The power of the UN Charter must be restored immediately. The UN system must be reformed immediately so that the right of veto is not a right to kill. So that there is a fair representation of all regions of the world in the Security Council. The aggressor must be forced to peace immediately. Determination is needed. The chain of mass killings from Syria to Somalia, from Afghanistan to Yemen and Libya should have been stopped a long time ago to be honest”, the President of Ukraine said. Ukraine once again raises the question of reforming the UN, this time - point-blank. The presence of Russia in the Security Council with its veto power complicates this task.

The General Assembly may take action if the Security Council is unable to act because of the lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members or in the event of threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression. It allows nine of the 15 members of the Security Council to bypass the veto and submit any issue to the UN General Assembly for a general vote. For its approval, two-thirds of the votes of the General Assembly will be needed. However, collecting such a large number of votes is not an easy task. The UN is, first of all, 193 separate countries, on the position of which the solution of certain issues depends. It would be natural if conflicts-affected states were in the forefront among those who opposed the Russian occupation of Ukraine and supported the country within the framework of international organizations. This would speed up the start of the UN reform process. In addition, developing countries have the opportunity to oppose a system in which 5 countries have more weight over others which corresponds to conditions that have developed after the Second World War and do not correspond to modern realities.

However, as we have witnessed, unlike the developed democratic states of the world, the vast majority of countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America have taken a conditionally neutral position, shifting all responsibility for unleashing the war to Ukraine, the US and the EU. Every week we hear more and more news about the negative consequences that countries on all continents will face, in particular, the food crisis. 35 African countries are dependent on food imported from the Black Sea region. However, these same African countries avoid supporting Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. Ukrainians have proven that they are part of Europe, and European countries, in turn, support the Ukrainian economy. Great Britain, the European Union and Canada have already cancelled the import duty on Ukrainian goods, therefore, these states will most likely be able to avoid food supply problems. The same cannot be applied to the countries in Africa that could be hit by food riots. The governments of these states will sooner or later realize their mistake and they will not be able to keep shifting responsibility to the EU and the US for a long time. The European Union and the United States can use their influence on the African continent and push African countries to change their position in favour of Ukraine as soon as possible. The role of Ukraine as an agricultural superpower, as defined in the Strategic Partnership Agreement between Ukraine and the UK, as a part of united Europe, also becomes a weighty argument in this regard, while the prioritization of agricultural exports becomes a political tool.

It is clear that the use of levers of influence by such European partner states of African countries as France, Spain and Italy at the current stage is important both for Ukraine and the EU, as well as for Africa. The countries of the Euro-Atlantic space are making great efforts to end the war in Ukraine, which is possible only after the victory of Ukraine, the de-occupation of the entire territory and the de-blockade of Ukrainian ports.

Developing countries instead are looking for workarounds. For example, a number of countries have tried to buy stolen Ukrainian grain from Russia. Thanks to the awareness of Ukraine, partner countries and the efforts of Ukrainian diplomats, Egypt and Lebanon refused to buy stolen goods. The stolen grain was eventually transported to Syria. The longer members of the international community avoid their contribution to the process of isolating and weakening Russia, the longer they delay the end of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Therefore, a rapid change in the position of such states is in the interests of Ukraine and the EU, as well as the African states themselves, the communities living there and their governments.

We see that informal institutions during the Russian-Ukrainian war are more effective than institutionalized organizations. The G7 countries are making quick decisions on imposing sanctions on Russia or providing financial assistance to Ukraine. At the same time, International Ukraine Defense Consultative Workshop, which also includes Jordan, Kenya, Tunisia, Liberia and Morocco is coordinating arms supplies to Ukraine.

A possible step for the EU, the US and Ukraine could be to organize a joint summit with developing countries to agree on ways to overcome a possible food crisis, discuss ways of diplomatic opposition to the Russian Federation and a joint vision of UN reform. These can be separate formats "West" - Africa, "West" - LATAM, or a conference with the participation of the main partners of the US and the EU on the African continent and South America, with the prospect of further joining by other countries. If these countries are determined to uphold the principles of the UN Charter, they must support Ukraine. This will be a step not only in support of Ukraine, but also in defence of a world order based on rules. The efforts of the institutionalists were aimed at reducing the degree of anarchism in international relations, increasing their predictability and ensuring peace. Today, the Ukrainian leadership is the largest institutionalist, looking for ways to create a fair system of international relations for all states. 

Existing institutions: the UN, the OSCE, even NATO as an organization have not managed to influence the course of Russian aggression. All efforts now take place either at the bilateral level, or within flexible alliances, or informal institutions. The conclusions of international organizations most often cause outrage because of vague, cautious or contradictory wording. For example, the OSCE statement in April concluded: “Although Belarus allows its territory to be used to launch Russian attacks on Ukraine, the Mission considers that as of 1 April it is not a party to the IAC, as long as it does not itself commit acts of violence or other acts that would constitute direct participation in the hostilities by persons attributable to Belarus”.

Although international law clearly defines as an act of aggression the action of a State in allowing its territory, which it has placed at the disposal of another State, to be used by that other State for perpetrating an act of aggression against a third State. The creation of green corridors has become an extremely difficult task for the OSCE and the UN, which cannot influence the fact of the murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war by Russian soldiers. Currently, negotiations on the evacuation of military personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine from the Mariupol Azovstal are held by Israel, Turkey and Switzerland. International organizations have largely failed in this process. If the soldiers from Azovstal lay down their arms, the Russians will kill them. Such a violation of the norm of humanitarian law is commonplace for Russia, for Ukraine and the civilized world it is a tragedy. This is a tragedy for the entire international society, which is unable to save human life.

Therefore, the shortcomings of existing international organizations can no longer be ignored. Today, global issues are most effectively resolved at the bilateral level, within the framework of alliances and informal institutions. However, in the future, clear mechanisms are required to regulate relations between states. The creation of a fair system of international relations is the responsibility not only of developed democratic states, but also of developing countries. 

Today, countries cannot remain "neutral" while buying stolen Ukrainian grain. Therefore, such countries should decide on their position. European states: France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain and the USA can have a decisive influence on the countries of Africa and Latin America. Ultimately, a possible step to determine the position of states could be holding a summit with the participation of Ukraine, the EU, the United States and developing countries to agree on ways to overcome a possible food crisis, discuss ways of diplomatic opposition to the Russian Federation and a joint vision of UN reform.

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2. Країни Заходу обговорили можливість подолання вето РФ в Радбезі ООН - ЗМІ, 24.04.2022,
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