The United Nations, What It Tries to Do and How It Pertains to the Ukraine Invasion
On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine by launching a series of attacks and military advances. Ashley Martinez and Kaeli Britt report on new questions this has brought about over the role of the United Nations and the international rule of law.
Initially established in 1945, the United Nations serves to aid the problem-solving process of conflicts and global matters through five main bodies: the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Trusteeship Council, International Court of Justice, and UN Secretariat. The organization was created after a similar attempt the League of Nations failed to stop major wars.
The Chief Administrative Officer, often referred to as the Secretary-General, is currently Antonio Guterres. The Secretary-General position is elected for a five-year term following a recommendation by the Security Council and vote by the General Assembly. The organization currently is comprised of 193 member states including the United States, Russia, France, China, and the United Kingdom, all nuclear powers and permanent members of the Security Council with veto abilities for any “substantive” resolution.
New member states may be admitted through recommendations from the Security Council and a vote by the General Assembly. Crucial documents include the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN Charter serves as a founding document to establish the vision for the international organization. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is often referenced as an established standard and protection for people across cultures and territories.
Today, the United Nations mission is carried out through initiatives and agencies under each of the five main bodies. Most recently, the United Nations has set a sustainable development initiative to mobilize its member states to a high degree of sustainable development by 2030.
As member states are encouraged to join on resolutions supporting international efforts, several countries make it clear to note their exemption. For instance, the United States has participated in several agreements including the aforementioned Declaration of Human Rights. Despite this, countries are not obligated to strictly adhere to international agreements. In the case of the United States, the member state refuses to ratify international agreements for the sake of sovereignty. The United States references the supremacy clause in Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution stating it to be the “supreme law of the land.” The clause is used to assert exemption from international treaties and resolutions which may hold member states to a higher degree of global accountability. The United States is not the only member state to find an exception to international rules. The debate remains on the impact these actions have on the international rule of law.
Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, the United Nations has convened to condemn Russia’s actions. The organization has pointed out that the invasion violates Article 2 of the UN Charter to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. The consequences for violating the UN Charter to the scale which Russia has is yet to be determined by the organization.
On March 2, 2022 the United Nations voted to condemn Russia’s attacks on Ukraine. In a resolution presented before the General Assembly and according to NBC News, they “voted 141–5, with 35 countries abstaining, for the draft resolution, Aggression against Ukraine, which was co-sponsored by 94 countries. Only five nations voted against the measure: Russia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea.”
On March 4, 2022, the United Nations’ Security Council discussed the threat to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) after Russian forces had moved into the NPP area. Ukrainian civilians opposed them, but they were combated with a projectile missile that ended up hitting a building near nuclear reactors, which set a fire that has since been extinguished.
“By the grace of God, the world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night,” the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the Security Council. “Russia’s attack last night put Europe’s largest nuclear power plant at grave risk…it was incredibly reckless and dangerous and threatened the safety of civilians across Russia, Ukraine, and Europe. Nuclear facilities cannot become part of this conflict.”
Two days later, the United Nations’ Secretary-General stated in a tweet that a pause in violence is necessary in order for people to safely evacuate citizens from all zones of conflict, as well as to be able to provide and ensure life-saving humanitarian aid for those in need and for the people who choose to remain where they are.
The Ukraine ambassador to the U.N. Sergiy Kyslytsya has called for all Russian forces to be withdrawn from the nuclear plant and a no-fly zone over the country to protect the civilian population from air attacks. With Russia having veto power though, U.N. bodies work more as a diplomatic venue for statements to be heard, rather than having direct effect on stopping current conflicts.