By Sergio Duarte
The writer is a former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and current President of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.
NEW YORK, 24 Feb 2023 (IDN) — The states that signed the Charter of the United Nations on June 26 1945, accepted the obligation to act in their relations with one another in accordance with the Principles set in its Article 2, which include refraining from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political Independence of any state and settling their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security are not endangered.
The annexation of territories by force is not acceptable in international relations. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a clear violation of those principles. The war between the two countries has raged for one year since last February 24 without an end in sight.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians, mainly elderly people, women and children have been displaced or were forced to seek refuge in foreign countries. The war is causing widespread destruction in urban and rural areas of the country and up to the moment over 250 thousand individuals between combatants and civilians on both sides have perished. The social and economic consequences of the conflict are felt in many other places, seriously endangerlng international peace and security.
Not only the threat of the use of nuclear weapons has been recklessly brought to the fore by leaders of the major powers involved, but the development of ever more sophisticated weaponry makes this frightening prospect seem more likely as the intensity of the war increases. Unfortunately, such fears are not unknown to humankind.
During the short-lived Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the world came close to a nuclear confrontation for the first time in history. Now the prospect of nuclear annihilation again haunts humankind in spite of the reaffirmation by presidents Biden and Putin on June 2021 of the principle that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”.
Both leaders pledged at the time that their countries would soon engage in a “deliberate and robust” dialogue aimed at setting the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures. Instead, relations between them deteriorated to one of the lowest points ever. The original objective of “eliminating nuclear weapons from national armaments”, unanimously expressed in the very first resolution of the fledging United Nations General Assembly in 1946 seems completely forgotten today while the dialogue between the two major powers all but ceased.
In the Cold War period, politicians and analysts on both sides of the ideological confrontation used to credit the absence of war in Europe to the existence of nuclear weapons. Up to the start of the second decade in the 21st century nuclear deterrence policies were hailed as responsible for the longest stretch of peace in the Old World.
One year ago, however, that belief was shattered, together with peace in the continent, by the Russian decision to invade Ukraine on the grounds that its fundamental security interests were being threatened by the spread of NATO toward the East. For the first time since 1939, war broke out between two European countries.
On one side of the current conflict is a nuclear weapon state recognized as such by the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and on the other, a non-nuclear country backed by a military alliance that is able to use atomic armaments provided by nuclear-weapon states. This situation makes imperative the redoubling of efforts to eliminate such risks and seek lasting peace. However, the issues involved are extremely complex for both adversaries as well as for other parties involved.
Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council has the authority to determine the existence of any threat to peace, breach of peace or act of aggression as well as to make recommendations on or decide measures to be taken to restore peace and security. Such measures may include military and other operations by forces provided by member states of the United Nations. All members of the world organization are bound to carry out the decisions of the Council.
Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities the use of the right of veto by Russia prevented the Council to take action on the question of its invasion of Ukraine. The veto power has been used on different occasions by other permanent members in disputes involving their direct interests. It is extremely unlikely that the Council would be able to exercise the coercive powers entrusted to it against any of the five permanent members.
In 1950 it was decided that in certain circumstances, the General Assembly could carry out the functions of the Security Council. The Assembly has since convened eleven such Special Emergency Sessions (ES) on threats to international peace and security. On February 23 2023, the eve of the first anniversary of the invasion, a resolution adopted by ES-11 called for the first time for the cessation of hostilities. The Assembly remains seized with this matter.
Wars usually end either by the defeat of one of the contenders or by mutual agreement. In the current circumstances, the war of attrition between Russia and Ukraine may go on for a long period. Barring a military solution, the only other way to end the hostilities is for both belligerents to enter into negotiations for a peaceful agreement. To achieve this objective clearsighted diplomatic action by directly interested states as well as by others distanced from the conflict is necessary. Such an endeavour’s possible and realistic terms are still to be elaborated. Nevertheless, some elements of a settlement can already be envisaged.
Negotiations are only possible if there is political will. Any peace agreement hinges on compromises that are often difficult to formulate and accept. One important enticement for Russia and Ukraine to come to the negotiation table is for both to see more benefits than losses in an eventual agreement.
A cease-fire could open the way to such negotiations. It will certainly be hard to reach a workable understanding of the status of contested areas in the east of Ukraine, but it is equally clear that the freely stated will of the populations in those regions must be fairly taken into account. That should also include Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.
In any peace agreement, Ukraine would require solid guarantees of its existence as an independent state as well as of the inviolability of its borders. While no rewards should result from the invasion, it is also essential to recognize the legitimate security interests of all parties, particularly those of Russia itself and to make sure that the final outcome of the war is not seen in that country as a humiliation inflicted by the West.
One might consider assurances to be given by NATO and other parties about Ukrainian membership in the Atlantic pact. In this later context, it should be recalled that at the start of the conflict, the president of Ukraine dismissed the possibility of his country seeking to join the Western military alliance. A future agreement will imply difficult choices for all parties involved, especially those that regard the conflict as an epic struggle between good and evil.
Since the time of the decolonization process, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s but also as recently as in the case of the independence of Timor Leste, the United Nations has acquired a long experience in the temporary administration of non-self-governing territories as well as in peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations in previous war-torn areas.
In some cases, demilitarized zones have been established between states engaged in a prior conflagration. The financial resources needed for such missions are certainly much below the costs of war. Together with such operations, it is necessary to establish effective measures of relief for affected populations and for the strengthening of confidence between the former adversaries, including the reduction of nuclear and other military risks in Europe by means of direct discussions between Russia and NATO. Finally, it will be necessary to organize and fund a program of reconstruction in all areas affected by the war, including assistance for the return and resettlement of refugees.
Even if at this stage it is not yet possible to begin actual negotiations to bring the war to an end, the current state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue for much longer. It is important to keep in mind that future agreements must not erode the international security system built seventy-seven years ago on the lofty objectives enshrined in the Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations. A well-structured and lasting arrangement may even contribute to the improvement of the current model of peaceful coexistence and interaction among nations and help in the construction of a more inclusive and non-discriminatory gobal security paradigm. [IDN-InDepthNews]
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