The Conflict between Russia and the Ukraine

The Secretary-General must act!

In this conflict it will be ultimately determined who will shape global politics and by which means and for what purpose. Will authoritarian, nationalistic policies win or those political forces which want international relations to be governed by international law? The outcome of this dispute is as yet open. That is why the secretary-general has to step in and offer his organisation’s services, since he is the custodian of the international order as it is envisioned by the UN charter, to which all member states have subscribed, namely to adhere to the principles and provisions of the UN charter, irrespective to which political “camp” they belong to.

One such provision is that the security council shall seek a solution to conflicts which endanger international peace and security (Art. 33 – 38) by reverting to support peaceful means by the parties themselves or other, regional agencies and arrangements. On the initiative of the Ukraine and France a debate in the security council was held, which was chaired by Russia against established procedures. No decision was taken, because Russia vetoed it. Seen from today, it is surprising that the authors of the UN charter did not anticipate the case where a permanent member of the security council could be in violation of the international peace, and disregards the established order of business. Gaps that need to be closed urgently.

We need to find a collective solution, which will lead to a binding decision

The secretary general should in close collaboration with the member states which are not immediately involved, request that the council establishes a committee which shall investigate the causes of this conflict in order to map where and how solutions can be found.

Identified measures, which are deemed to lay the ground for a settlement of the dispute, and which would take the interests of both sides into consideration, could first be considered by the heads of states, before they are being decided by the security council, and become part of international law. Similarly, a path to a de-escalation by both sides needs to be identified urgently in order to safeguard the lives of the civilian population.

I can hear the skeptics, which say that the security council will not be able to settle this conflict. And, of course, in light of past experience this is fully understandable. In this connection it is to be welcomed that the general assembly has dealt with the situation, after the security council failed to come to a decision. But the general assembly cannot approve binding decisions. Maybe the time has come to change this provision, too. The resolution of 2 March was passed with 141 votes. With 4 additional votes, a 2/3 majority would have been reached. In order to overcome the paralysis of the council and still have the UN act decisively, it would be advisable to change the UN charter and give votes by 2/3 of the member states binding force, when a matter is referred to the general assembly by the security council majority.

The US and Russia are key to a fundamental change

But in the end all changes will only work, if the permanent members of the security council change dramatically their positions. They were given a special mandate and with this the responsibility to guarantee international peace and stability. Russia and the US are still caught in  backward-looking great power politics. Here the UN organs have to facilitate such a political change.

Any political crisis in the 21st century will only find a lasting solution if it is collectively supported, not only in the Ukraine. In the interest of the well-being of the people in other crisis areas such as Syria, Yemen, Mali, Ethiopia, Myanmar a collective solution in the Russia – Ukraine conflict can then also serve as a positive example.

The Secretary General must raise his voice and participate pro-actively in the peace-seeking process  

Antonio Guterres must step up his involvement. He can expect a lot of resistance, but also support. If he succeeds, he will set the stage that all member states address other global challenges, such as climate change; and maybe he can even muster sufficient support for a general conference according to art. 109 of the UN charter, which was never held, but which is needed to make the UN fit for the 21st century.

Autor: Kerstin Leitner

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