One of the most important international events ever that the world commemorates this year is the foundation of the United Nations, the core instrument of global political regulation and the only negotiating space uniting most of the existing independent states on the planet. 70 years ago, on June 26, 1945, delegates from 50 nations that were invited to the San Francisco Conference, signed the UN Charter and just four months later, on October 24, when the document came in force, the Organization officially set to work.
Enjoying the universally acknowledged legitimacy, the UN became the keystone of the international security system, while its basic principles, such as supremacy of international law, sovereign equality of states and joint approach to the settlement of international problems, remain the unchanged benchmarks of Russian foreign policy throughout decades.
Today not a single crucial international issue is brought to a decision, whatever it is, arms reduction or atomic energy control, whilst diversity and complexity of global and regional crises require the main UN body Security Council to immediately and comprehensively settle them in a political and diplomatic way.
Bipolar and confrontational nature of the system of international relations that emerged after the Second World War as well as the absence of official framework agreements fixed in a written form determined the specifics of the UN activity for almost half a century. Subject to the UN Charter the maintenance of international peace and security is the main aim of the Organization. However political and ideological standoff between the USSR and the USA eventually resulted in the fact that in practice the UN became an instrument preventing potential armed conflict between the leading nuclear powers. Meanwhile the activity of the Organization brought about more modest but nevertheless significant outcomes. The non-exhaustive list of the threats to world peace and security that the UN was focused on in the period of 1945–1991 includes the Korean, the Iran–Iraq and the Indo-Pakistani wars, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Cyprus dispute, the Angolan civil war, the Suez and the Congo crises, Apartheid in South Africa.
During the Cold War the Soviet-American competition on extending geopolitical influence substantively split up the potential areas of cooperation and those where compromise was unreachable. However it took some time to find the common ground. On June 25, 1950 the overall situation on the Korean peninsula briefly deteriorated. The North Korean troops crossed the south border and launched a successful attack. In light of the catastrophic defeats of the South Korean armed forces the US military command considered a possibility of military involvement to support Seoul. Well-informed of that, the Soviet governance planned to engage Washington in burdensome and sanguinary war on foreign territory. With this objective in view the Permanent Representative of the USSR to the United Nations Yakov Malik did not attend the meetings of the Security Council, formally protesting against the Western states’ decision not to grant the SC’s permanent membership to the communist China, since it was officially assigned to the representative of the Kuomintang government sheltered in Taiwan. Hence the decisions were taken without counting the Soviet delegate’s voice and Americans achieved that what eventually made them regret: engagement in the war, which nearly grew out to nuclear clash caused by ill-considered actions of American military command (“the MacArthur’s ultimatum”).
Confrontational nature of bilateral relations between the USSR and the USA did not prevent them from cooperation within the framework of the UN. During the Suez Crisis of 1956-1957, when Egypt became the target of unexpected but well-planned attack of Israel, Great Britain and France, the conflict situation was immediately examined by the UN Security Council. However neither American nor Soviet draft resolutions were adopted, since the US NATO allies exercised veto and blocked every single document that condemned their misconduct. The way out was found in appealing to the UN General Assembly where decisions on the issues of peace and security are taken by the majority of two thirds: from November 1 to 10, 1956 the First Emergency Special Session adopted seven resolutions that expressed grave concern over the intervention, urged the parties to cease fire immediately and withdraw the troops from Egyptian territory.
The Suez Crisis clearly demonstrated the strong and weak spots of the Organization: on the one hand, the UN came up with a joint legal decision that reflected interests of the most states, and on the other - the permanent members of the Security Council failed to reach an agreement and carry out the peacekeeping mission in a timely manner.
Furthermore, the UN did not enjoy the possibility to put military pressure on the parties to the conflict, and the crisis was eventually settled mainly thanks to the efforts exerted by both the USSR and the USA.
Compared to them the UN during the Cold War played supportive even though extremely important role in the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a part of a global rivalry between the West and the Soviet Union, both straining after strengthening and enlargement of their influence in the Middle East. The violent conflicts sweeping one of the most strategically important regions of the planet, the problem of the Arab-Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements, arms control and many other issues were repeatedly discussed in the UN. Notwithstanding extant disagreements between the parties to the conflict, differences in their approaches and the fact that they did not recognize a number of resolutions, the main achievement of the UN became the setting of common ground for a fair settlement consistent with the interests of all engaged parties. As from 2001 the UN acts as a part of the Middle East Quartet, the international-legal mechanism established upon the initiative of Russia and aimed at the comprehensive settlement of the conflict. On November 12, 2012 the General Assembly adopted resolution 67/19 upgrading Palestine to non-member observer state status in the Organization, what became yet another successful step towards the establishment of an independent Arab-Palestine state, as it was envisaged by the very first “Middle Eastern” GA’s resolution 181.
Further to the absence of military power, the UN’s insufficient flexibility is also among the permanent reasons why the Organization comes under criticism. The USSR and the USA at the most tense moments that jeopardized the existence of humankind preferred not to resort to the UN but to reconcile differences in a bilateral way. Moreover, it is the format of bilateral talks that underpins the international treaty as an international-legal act. Nevertheless, during the 1960s the UN became a place where the agreements laid a foundation to the present-day control system over nuclear weapons utilization were drafted and then signed.
Shortly after the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 American politicians realized that the Soviet Union cannot be completely neutralized in case of preventive strike. The nuclear potentials of both states were that tremendous so that no party was in the position to completely destroy missile launchers of the opponent without endangering itself to the counterstrike.
The first attempt to put nuclear potentials of the USSR and the USA in the limits of international-legal relations was given on October 27, 1961 when the General Assembly adopted resolution 1632 that urged to abandon nuclear tests under effective international control. However the talks collapsed and were reopened only after the Cuban developments that induced the parties to look for the compromise in a political diplomatic way. On August 5, 1963, in Moscow the USSR, the USA and Great Britain signed the Treaty banning nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water. At the suggestion of the USSR and the USA on December 13, the UN GA approved the Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer space. Throughout several months the corresponding international treaty was developed in the UN and then signed on January 27, 1967. As from 1965 the draft of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was also discussed in the UN. The final wording was approved by the UN GA with the resolution 2373 and on July 1 signed by the USSR, the USA and Great Britain.
Successful talks on the control over weapons utilization are just one of many spectacular examples of the UN efficiency as a universal negotiation mechanism.
In total 190 declarations and 436 conventions and other agreements were signed within the Organization. The documents tackle such issues as international law, counter-terrorism, distribution of drugs, race discrimination, corruption, money laundering, human trafficking, cultural and research cooperation, unification of health and sanitary standards, intellectual property copyright and lots of other issues international community deals with.
The demise of the Soviet Union became a pivotal point for the further development of the world political system. The second “center of power” ceased to exist, going along with the overall reformatting of the framework of international relations. Under new conditions the assignment of the UN required to be reconsidered and adopted to the new world order.
The former Soviet space was torn apart by the conflicts in Armenia and Azerbaijan, Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Transnistria and Tajikistan. The conflict was still ongoing in Afghanistan. In Europe the collapse of Yugoslavia resulted in emergence of tensions in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania and Serbian Kosovo. Africa mired down in military conflicts in Somalia, Sierra Leone, Ruanda, Zaire and Liberia. The decision of the UN Security Council was exceptionally necessary to organize operational intervention to the regional conflicts and prevent new civilian casualties. However the permanent members rarely agreed, what yielded further coordination of positions and loss of precious time. In the course of destabilization of international relations the UN’s deficiency of its own military forces capable to carry out peacekeeping missions in a precise way and due time became one of its key points of criticism. With ever increasing frequency international community called to reform the Organization, pointing out a crisis in the UN after the confrontation period. Meanwhile the UN remained the most competent international institute.
The Russian Federation in a new quality failed to fill in “the vacuum of power” emerged on the post-Soviet space after the demise of the USSR and enjoyed significantly lesser geopolitical potential.
That is why the United Nations became of greater value for Russia while the veto mechanism in the Security Council under the aggressive intentions of the West to expand influence sacrificing Russian interests became in fact an instrument to advocate national interests of Russia.
In this context the USA’s attempts to decenter global political regulation aside the NATO and G7 seem quite logical. Russia was officially invited to the latter in 2002 and just in March 2014 its membership in G7 was suspended under the veil of illegal annexation of Crimea.
The North Atlantic Alliance’s try to partially deprive the UN powers during the course of the conflicts at the post-Yugoslav space resulted in violence escalation. In 1995 the NATO joint forces in violation of the UN SC resolution 836 from June 4, 1993 mandating the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) to act solely in its own defense, carried out selective regular air strikes against Bosnian Serbs. The NATO actions savagely exceeded the UN peacekeeping mandate and caused both civilian casualties and destruction of cultural heritage. Similar to that, the joint UN-US humanitarian intervention in Somalia suffered complete set-back in 1992.
A year earlier the international coalition leaded by the USA acting in line with the UN mandate under the UN SC resolution 678 from November 29, 1990, carried out a fruitful peace-compelling operation in Iraq after invasion of Saddam Hussein’s troops in Kuwait. US president George H. W. Bush in order not to intervene into intertribal clashes and not make the overall situation in the Middle East even more complicated took a decision to stop the coalition forces before they enter Baghdad. Thus Iraqis were forced to be solely responsible for elimination of the aftermath of the war. Twelve years later his son, George W. Bush made exactly that mistake his father avoided in his day. Moreover, while preparing for the second Iraqi campaign in 2003 the USA brought up the issue in the UN Security Council where France and Russia vetoed it. The same happened when the USA tried to agree the military intervention within the NATO: American initiative was blocked by Germany. Eventually the USA together with Great Britain formed ad hoc coalition, acting with no legal UN mandate in place. Later, in order to mitigate the negative consequences of the intervention, the UN had to grant required permission post factum.
The heavy-handed attempt of humanitarian intervention in Somalia ignoring measures of settlement of that country’s social and economic issues, unsanctioned military actions of the NATO on the former Yugoslav space as well as the second Iraqi campaign of the US and their allies outlined the new trend on passing-by the acknowledged and legitimate international status of the UN and artificial downgrading of its activity by a separate group of states.
According to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Lavrov in the first place the UN efficiency depends on the efficiency of cooperation of its members, while peaceful settlement of conflicts is possible only when international community puts joint efforts proceeding from “the true respect and consideration for all and everybody”.
Like any other international organization, the UN should evolve in order to react upon challenges in the most sufficient way. For the first time ever the idea to reform the UN was voiced by the representatives of the US State Department on January 14, 1949 when they pointed at imperfection of the decision taking system at the UN Security Council and described the USSR as a threat to the security of European countries. Within a short term the draft North Atlantic Treaty was developed and on April 4 the NATO was established. Since that time and especially active starting from the demise of the Soviet Union both developed and developing countries were raising a point of amending the UN Charter. Among those proposals discussed most frequently are enlargement of the number of permanent members at the UN Security Council, adjustments in the voting procedure by cancelling veto right or narrowing the number of issues subject to vetoing.
Russia officially supports the UN reform in case it is based on compromise and consideration for the interests of all UN member-states, stressing the inadmissibility of negotiations on the issue outside of the Organization. Meanwhile, taking into account the relevant geopolitical situation, currently any change of the status quo does not meet Russian national interests. Theoretically, if the number of permanent members is extended from five to ten in the near future based on pretenders’ GDPs, the list will be the following: the USA, China, Japan, Germany, France, Great Britain, Brazil, Russia, Italy and India. Six of them imposed sanctions against Russia and only three states do not support that regime.
On February 23, 2015 Sergey Lavrov at the open debates of the UN Security Council on the issues of the international peacekeeping and security called international community to abandon the double standards in politics and take “urgent measures” “to restore the Security Council’s leading role in coordination of cooperative approaches based on respect of cultural and civilizational diversity of modern world”. In fact during all recent years the USA and their European allies employed a discriminative approach to the assessment of international developments: to the actions of a terrorist group Muslim Brothers in Egypt, civil wars in Libya and Syria, conflict on the east of Ukraine, situation in Yemen.
Oftentimes Russia finds itself in minority when it follows the purposes and principles outlined in the UN Charter and comes from the understanding of interdependence of all parties to the international relations.
However only consistent and unhesitating pursuit of interests will strengthen international position of Russia, protect sovereignty, safeguard and secure Russian citizens. And the United Nations is one of the most both efficient and economical (what is equally important) ways to achieve that.
But while the debate on what candidate’s policies and worldview may be more preferable for Russia continues, the overwhelming majority of the Russian political elite and expert community agree upon two things. First, the relationship in the White House is not one hundred percent defined by the person in the Oval Office. Second, since the current crisis between the two states has more profound roots and a long record of mutual grievances the relationship is unlikely to improve--while there’s plenty of potential for its deterioration.
Many different projects to bring the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict out of deadlock have been proposed over the past two decades, starting from plans for a ‘territorial swap’ between Armenia and Azerbaijan, to a project to establish a ‘common state’ between Nagorno-Karabakh and the Republic of Azerbaijan. To date, the May 1994 Agreement, signed with Russian diplomacy playing the decisive role, remains in fact the only real achievement of the peace process.
Russia can help Congo achieve stability and prosperity. It has a history of engaging with the country during its early days of independence in the 1960s. It also has expertise in extracting the minerals that could make Congo prosperous. And it has a willingness to help Africa’s second-largest country end its civil war.
In his speech, Putin made it clear that this new foreign policy paradigm doesn't need to be confrontational. He's not going to transform Russia into a center of anti-Americanism or a destabilizing force in the world.