Marking the 70th Anniversary of the Foundation of the United Nations
Essay by representatives of the Working Group "Democratic Structures and Processes"
This year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the United Nations. Initially, the UN was a project of the Second World War allies, who were looking to establish a more just and peaceful international platform for cooperation in the post-war world. Representatives of fifty countries gathered at the founding conference in April 1945 in San Francisco. The first session of the newly formed organisation followed in January 1946 in London.
The United Nations regrouped countries with a democratic and communist background and remained a place of encounter between the two blocks throughout the Cold War. Eventually, it expanded to become today’s universal organisations of 193 member states.
The United Nations includes two main political bodies. The first and the most important one is the General Assembly, having representatives from almost all the countries in the world with equal voting rights, regardless of the size or other distinctions between the states.
The second body is the UN Security Council. It consists of fifteen members – ten non-permanent members elected by the General Assembly for a two-year term and five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US). It is the Security Council that has crucial impact on the decision-making process in the United Nations. The Security Council establishes peacekeeping operations and introduces international sanctions. It authorises military action by adopting Security Council resolutions and is the only body of the United Nations, which holds the authority to issue binding resolutions for member states. The five permanent members have guaranteed seats in the Security Council, which also gives them the right to veto any substantive resolution.
During the Cold War, the veto right became an infamous tool for blocking many peacekeeping resolutions by representatives of either block whose interest could have been impeded by United Nations intervention. However, in the last decade of the 20th century a surge in adopted peacekeeping resolutions signaled a change in the status quo.
Yet, history repeats itself. After the annexation of Crimea by Russia, many observers and experts clearly state that the era of the Cold War between Russia and the West is back on the agenda.
As of today, sixteen UN peacekeeping missions are in progress. Most of them (nine in total), take place in Africa, but missions are also active in Haiti, Kosovo, Syria, Lebanon, the Middle East, and on the Indian-Pakistani border. Another UN mission is located in Cyprus, where peacekeeping forces have been in operation since 1964.
The United Nations is still not present in Ukraine with a peacekeeping mission, which is unlikely to change in the near future. The reason is that Russia is directly, unofficially though, involved in the conflict while holding a permanent seat with right to veto a possible resolution.
Still, the Security Council as well as other bodies of the United Nations could be used for talks with Russian representatives about the crisis. This process will continue within the UN, even if Russia and the West cooperate less within other organisations or platforms, as it has been the case with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and is happening again nowadays with its successor.
The fact that the first peace talks in April 2014 between Russia, Ukraine, the EU, and the US took place in Geneva is also symbolic, as Geneva is one of the four major UN office sites. In the course of the last few years, Geneva has also hosted negotiations on the Iranian Nuclear Program (2013) and the war in Syria (2013, 2014). Currently, similar talks on Libya are taking place there.
With regard to the Ukrainian crisis, the talks in Geneva were the first step. Although different countries and organisations are looking for different formats to facilitate the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, the UN still has to play an important role and remain the final authority in this process, whereas the international community should use the UN instruments to find effective way to deal with the Ukrainian conflict and other volatile situations worldwide.
Łukasz Wenerski, Analyst/Project Coordinator at the Institute of Public Affairs (Warsaw, Poland), Coordinator of the Working Group “Democratic Structures and Processes” of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum
Andreas Speiser, Project Coordinator at the Institute of Public Affairs (Warsaw, Poland)