The Russia-Ukraine war, into its sixth week, shows no signs of abating despite attempts made by some countries to intercede and broker peace between them. This conflict once again proves that conventional wars are here to stay, even though the effects of the war reverberate across the world into non-traditional domains. Some images remain etched for posterity and speak a thousand words. Examining these pictures has become an art that continues to get honed over the years.
The image of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking at the United Nations (UN), and the thunderous applause that followed, lingers in the memory of the world, evoking sympathy and admiration for a national leader who has dared to stand up to a marauding army. Crises present challenges and opportunities and depending on the way the leader of the day navigates them, history reserves a place for them in its annals as statesmen, or as dictators.
The temptation to be remembered as heroic must never degenerate into narcissism or into desperation to remain in power, the costs for which would be borne by hapless citizens. The global community stands today at such an inflection point in history, with the debate getting steered toward vested interests, instead of the much-required need for change that would bring about peace, as we look into the future.
Having witnessed widespread death and destruction, following the two World Wars during the last century, the allies came together and agreed to establish a new post-war international organisation whose charter was discussed, debated, and signed by fifty countries, comprising most of the sovereign nations of the time, on 26 Jun 1945 in San Francisco.
The preamble to the UN charter talked about the need to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm faith in the fundamental human rights of all people from nations big and small, to practise tolerance, and live together with one another as good neighbours, and collectively unite strength to maintain international peace and security.
Armed force was not to be used except for common interest, and international machinery was to be employed for the promotion of the economic and social prosperity of all people.
The UN Security Council, having met several times since the Russia-Ukraine conflict began on February 24, has failed to adopt any resolution that is binding on its member-states towards ensuring peace and stability. The nature and composition of its permanent members ensure that there would always be a lack of unanimity, and given veto powers, there is very little that can be done to ensure that the organisation meets its stated goals.
The UN Security Council Resolution 2623, taking into account the lack of unanimity of its permanent members, invoked the provision for calling an emergency special session of the UN General Assembly. The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on March 2, demanding that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.”
A total of 141 countries voted in favour of the resolution, with five against and 35 abstaining. During its 11th Emergency Special Session on March 24, 193 member-states adopted a resolution drafted by Ukraine and 90 co-sponsors, titled Humanitarian Consequences of the Aggression Against Ukraine with 140 votes in favour, five against, and 38 abstaining.
The resolution called for the recognition of humanitarian consequences on a scale that had not been witnessed in Europe since the end of the World Wars, demanding full respect and protection for all people and facilities engaged in providing medical assistance and succour to those affected by the conflict. It has been more than five weeks since the conflict began, and multiple sessions of the UN Security Council, emergency sessions of the UN General Assembly and sanctions by Western nations have all failed to bring to an end the suffering of the people displaced.
More than 12 million people have been displaced including four million that have fled Ukraine, leaving their homes and their livelihoods, thousands of lives lost, and an equally large number of people injured, as the organisation that was framed to prevent conflict and ensure peace watches this travesty of justice and passes resolutions that smack of empty rhetoric.
Attempts made by Turkey and Israel to facilitate dialogue and broker peace between Russia and Ukraine point toward the need for regional cooperation that extends beyond the remit of the UN.
The abject failure of the global institutions to impose themselves calls for dialogue among nations that have the political and economic capital to ensure a rules-based order that would be implementable at least regionally, if not globally. Geopolitical and geoeconomic engagements in the current world order, especially after the Covid pandemic call, for an increased impetus for regional blocs to come together to ensure shared peace and prosperity in their respective groupings and alliances.
The sanctions that have been imposed on Russia, in the short term, may lead to economic woes for Russia and its allies or countries that continue to rely on Russian imports of energy, gas, and arms.
The future trajectory of these events could also lead to new alignments between nation-states that could further exacerbate global peace and security. The mutual distrust, acrimony, and vested interests ensure that the status quo prevails while people suffer.
Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and now Ukraine have all reached this state only because the global institutions created to ensure peace and stability have refused to change with the times. Before we go any further on this path that inevitably leads to more death and destruction, global leaders must seize the opportunity provided to them to bring peace. For it is only statesmen with an unrelenting focus on alleviating suffering who will have their names enshrined in golden letters in the annals of history.
Anil Golani is additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies
The views expressed are personal