Russia’s unprovoked, barbaric war on Ukraine has forced the world to confront many unsettling questions. One of the most important is: Where is multilateral diplomacy when you need it?
What is the purpose of having an array of rather costly international organizations and fora when they do not fulfill their two key tasks — preventing wars and stopping them once they erupt? It’s not the first time the world is asking these questions.
Can the rule-based world survive if a country occupying a seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (i.e. one of the five countries tasked with protecting the world) tramples upon it in the most demonstrative, outrageous manner?
Over the past year, Russia has invaded a neighboring country, attempted to annex its territory, systematically shelled residential areas, obliterated entire cities and villages, raped, looted, committed genocide and implemented probably the largest campaign of forcible transfer of children in modern history.
Russia didn’t just breach peace — it tore it to shreds.
Now, let us take a step back. In 1945, when most of Europe and many other parts of the world laid in ruins, humankind came together to create the United Nations, an organization whose mission includes protecting common rules that ensure that bigger and stronger countries do not invade smaller ones, do not annex their territory and do not carve them up.
The rule of law was supposed to replace the principle of “might makes right.” For that to happen, the nations of the world agreed to give five powerful nations a special responsibility to uphold international peace and security. Those five were the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France and China.
They became, so to speak, “the judges of the world” that had the solemn responsibility to ensure peace and cooperation. With Russia’s war on Ukraine, we see that one of the judges has gone rogue. Instead of safeguarding international peace, Russia is challenging the world’s very existence. Instead of being a protector, it has become an aggressor. Instead of being a cure, it became a disease.
This is not an isolated instance. Russia put itself above and beyond rules a long time ago — by attacking Georgia in 2008, by threatening Moldova, by illegally annexing Ukrainian Crimea in 2014, by meddling in U.S. domestic politics, by weaponizing energy and information, by inculcating its own population with the ideology of militarism and imperialism, by systematically using illegal drugs in international sports, by sending its Wagner mercenaries to destabilize and exploit Africa.
Does the world need a “judge” like that? The scope of Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine, its cruelty and disregard for humanity, make this one of the most pressing questions facing humankind. Remember, Russia did not just invade its neighbor in a manner that brought back memories of World War II. It tried to freeze to death the entire Ukrainian nation by attacking its power and heat generation during the winter of 2022-23. Moreover, it threatens to use nuclear weapons, and its state-owned media preaches genocide of the Ukrainian people.
We arrived at this dark point because Russia was allowed to believe it had total impunity. This started with Russian representatives illegally usurping the USSR’s seat at the United Nations Security Council in December 1991. Not a single legal procedure defined by the UN Charter was upheld.
The simple change of the Soviet name plate to the Russian one was the largest diplomatic fraud of the 20th century. Let me reiterate what I said at the United Nations Security Council in February: Russia has turned the seat of a permanent member into a throne of impunity. We are now dealing with the consequences of the breach of rules that happened 32 years ago.
Today, Russia is neither a judge nor a solution to any of the world’s problems. Russia’s war must end with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s clear defeat. But it must also bring about a fundamental rethinking of the global security system and a reform of the international bodies tasked with upholding and restoring peace.
Russia never legally acquired its status as a permanent UN Security Council member and must lose its seat in this esteemed chamber. Until that happens, the criminal in a judge’s seat will continue to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the whole United Nations system.