Ukraine's key lesson for international order
The United Nations is a broken institution that helps sow chaos, terror and injustice
It’s taken the horrors in Ukraine for people to begin to register that a central pillar of world affairs since the Second World War has crumbled. Even now, though, the full implications aren’t acknowledged.
As evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine has mounted, the UN General Assembly has now voted to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.
But the council has long been a vicious joke. Serial human-rights abusers including such states as China, Cuba, Pakistan, Libya and Venezuela are currently members.
The council regularly ignores appalling human-rights violations by tyrannical member states while singling out for repeated censure Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and a country deeply committed to human rights.
Yet other than the campaign to exclude Russia, there has been no pressure to kick out those member states that are egregious human-rights offenders. If that were done, the council would be reduced to a mere handful of members. And it would also expose the deeper failing in the United Nations itself.
In his emotional address to the UN Security Council this week, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky asked whether the world body was worth a hill of beans.
The UN’s Charter commits it to “maintain international peace and security.” Since this was being violated in Ukraine, said Zelensky, the charter had been shown up as pointless.
Zelensky was, of course, correct. As Ukraine has shown, it is beyond farcical that Russia, a principal destroyer of peace and international security, wields a veto on the UN Security Council.
But the UN’s flaws lie far deeper than Russia’s participation or the manifold grotesqueries of the human-rights council. Not only has the United Nations repeatedly failed in its core mission to promote global peace and justice, but over the years it has actually facilitated injustice, terrorism and murder.
In Rwanda in 1994, around 800,000 Tutsis were murdered in a genocidal campaign after the United Nations insisted that its peacekeeping forces exercise strict impartiality. One year later, UN peacekeepers stood by as more than 7000 Bosnian Muslims, who were taking refuge in a supposed UN “safe haven,” were slaughtered by Serbs.
In 1975, the United Nations passed its “Zionism is racism” resolution (later rescinded), precipitating decades of attacks on the Jewish people for daring to have their own legally, morally and historically justified homeland. And in 2001, it sponsored its infamous world conference against racism in Durban, South Africa, which turned into a horrifying carnival of antisemitism.
The reason for the UN’s endemic moral bankruptcy is that its core premise is flawed.
The United Nations was founded after the World War II from the impulse to prevent such horrors as the Holocaust and world war from happening again. Though the motivation was entirely commendable, the analysis was based on a utopian myth.
For the central premise was that, if countries were allied in the common cause of peace and freedom, such a world body would prevent tyranny and war.
To begin with, the United Nations was confined to a handful of states. But then, in accordance with the idealistic belief in the brotherhood of mankind, many more countries became members.
As Dore Gold wrote in his book Tower of Babble, by 1993 only 75 states out of 184 were democracies. Member states that were tyrannies, kleptocracies or run by rogue terrorist regimes came to dominate the proceedings.
Just as baleful as this imbalance was the UN’s core belief that, as global ringmaster, it had to enforce a doctrine of neutrality.
But remaining neutral in a fight between good and evil means empowering evil. And so it has proved. As Dore Gold wrote, in its pursuit of “impartiality” the United Nations has repeatedly taken the side of the aggressors and helped spread not peace and justice but global chaos.
This has been exacerbated by its admitted difficulty in distinguishing between aggressor and defender. Thus in 1981, two years after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, 93 member states endorsed a resolution in the UN General Assembly accusing America of being a threat to global peace.
This problem of moral inversion has become far worse in our era of “asymmetric warfare,” in which rogue states such as Iran hide behind terrorist proxies — thus focusing criticism on the way their victims, such as Israel, are forced to defend themselves.
So rather than promoting norms to combat terrorism, the United Nations became one of terrorism’s primary indirect promoters.
It has also directly acted against Israel. Having done nothing to halt the build-up of aggressive Arab forces that led to the Arab invasion of Israel in 1967 and the Six-Day War, the United Nations then spent the ensuing decades reinterpreting its own Security Council Resolution 242 that ended the war.
In doing so, it promoted the falsehood that Israel was required to withdraw from all the territories it had conquered as the result of the war — a falsehood underpinning the diplomatic campaign against Israel that continues to this day.
Last year, the United Nations passed no fewer than 14 resolutions singling out Israel for censure but only five about the rest of the world combined.
This institutional distortion has knocked the world off its moral compass.
Tyrannies benefiting from the UN’s amoral approach have increasingly described the world body as the source of international legitimacy, and elevated even its non-binding resolutions to the purported level of international law.
This assumption that the United Nations was the moral and legal conscience of the world spread. By the time of the run-up to the Iraq war, there was widespread acceptance that America didn’t have the right to make its own decisions about its security and that war could only be authorised by the world body.
This doctrine has enabled aggressors to depend upon the United Nations to tie their victims’ hands by refusing to support their attempts to defend themselves.
When the United Nations brazenly discriminates against Israel by singling it out for wildly unjust and false accusations while ignoring or downplaying actual atrocities elsewhere, the west fails even to realise how shocking this is.
Assuming that the United Nations is indeed the guarantor of global conscience, the west uncritically accepts its persecution of Israel as a moral lodestar.
There has been much talk of Ukraine serving as a wake-up call to the west. This is surely wildly overstated.
For despite the murmurs that Russia should be expelled from even the United Nations itself, the west has not yet acknowledged the key point being signalled by the war against Ukraine.
This is that the assumption which has underpinned world affairs since the end of the Second World War is fundamentally mistaken. World institutions cannot police freedom, peace and justice, because the way most of the world is run is inimical to freedom, peace and justice.
These values are produced only by individual nations committed to upholding them.
The United Nations is not the solution. It is the problem. Instead of relying upon trans-national institutions or laws to defend justice and international order, free societies need to build alliances with other states like themselves. Ultimately, a nation’s defence lies in its own hands.
Israel has always understood this. As a result of decades of fighting existential enemies, and with faithless “friends” in the west whose actions so often undermine its defences and empower those enemies, it knows it can only ever rely on itself to survive.
Israel understands that the United Nations is a broken institution that helps sow chaos, terror and injustice. It knows that because it has been so often at the receiving end.
The west, which has not, still hasn’t woken up to the implosion of its grievously defective ideal.
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