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On February 25th 2022, the day after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, the United States submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council in an attempt to end the conflict. Even though 11 of the 15 members supported the resolution, Russia is one of 5 nations with the power to veto. Even now, over 6 weeks into the conflict the most powerful body of securing international peace and sovereignty have failed to pass any resolution and can merely shout at Russia to stop. How does the global organization founded on peace and diplomacy stop a conflict initiated by a nation that will not listen?
In theory, the United Nations should be a universal arbitrator in all global disputes. Realistically, all they can really do is recommend or suggest action that should be taken. In times of crisis, such as the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the UN Security Council is the main body used to attempt and resolve the conflict. The Security Council does hold power that the rest of the UN does not; they can impose sanctions, authorize military action, and are the only body in the UN whose resolutions become binding international law. This gives an appearance that the Security Council can and should be able to stop international conflict, but there is a major weakness that hinders their peacekeeping ability.
The UN Security Council is made up of 15 member states: 5 are permanent and 10 serve two-year terms. The 5 permanent members are the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China. All 5 of these members have veto power, meaning even if 14 other members want a resolution passed only one of these nations would have to vote against it and it cannot be passed. These nations have had this power since the UN was founded in 1945 and it severely hinders the organization’s ability to keep international peace. This becomes especially problematic when one of these nations is involved in the conflict.
The UN was founded in 1945 in the aftermath of World War II to ensure that another conflict like that would never happen again. Since then the UN has failed to stop numerous international conflicts such as the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. So why is this conflict more of a failure for the UN than the previous conflicts post-WWII? This is not a conflict over ideology, it is a war of colonialism. Russia is attempting to recolonize a globally recognized nation and all the principal body for ensuring peace and sovereignty can do is politely ask them to stop. The way the United Nations was set up is allowing Russia to attempt to colonize a free and independent state and their efforts eerily reek of the battle cries of Hitler in WWII. This is the epitome of failure and it only took 75 years for the UN to allow armed conflict in Europe to happen again. Is there anything that the UN can do to attempt to fix this?
The Security Council will continue to offer resolutions that will inevitably be vetoed, and the UN General Assembly will continue to “recommend” and “suggest” solutions that they don’t have the power to implement. Thinking optimistically, the UN needs to be reformed, especially the Security Council. A potential solution would be to get rid of the veto. The power should have never existed in the first place and is a source of global inequality. The preamble to the UN Charter states “the equal rights of men and women, and nations of large and small.” If all nations are equal in the UN, why do 5 nations have a power that the rest do not? Of course it would be next to impossible to remove the veto. The 5 permanent members of the Security Council would never willingly give up their power. In the current state of the conflict in Ukraine and whatever the outcome may be, it should be a wake up call to all members of the United Nations to change how its most powerful body is run.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has highlighted the failures of the UN to do the one job it was designed to do. The Secretariat of the UN should be looking into how to fix these issues and make sure that it doesn’t happen again. The League of Nations was formed after WWI to prevent another global conflict, yet WWII happened. The United Nations was formed after WWII to yet again prevent another global conflict. If it can’t even handle localized regional conflicts, how can it be trusted to prevent, God forbid, another globally destructive conflict?