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Rethinking the United Nations

Last Saturday, Russian troops marched into the Crimea, a Russian-speaking region of the now-unstable Ukraine, and it looks unlikely that they will stop there. Odessa is another Russian-speaking part of Ukraine that Vladimir Putin has his eye on, and Putin has done very little to disguise his ambition for empire. The unapologetic and belligerent nature of this invasion has inspired an emergency convening of the United Nations Security Council, at which member nations will discuss possible recourse. But it is my view that the time has come for the Security Council to be revolutionized.

It is not hard to imagine a new era in international relations: Cold War II. Our recent skirmishes in the desert and the guerilla armies of our opposition would be reduced to historical memory. The rise of a new despot in Russia, the emergence of China as an economic power and the old alliance of those nations left over from the Soviet Era could mean a powerful new international enemy for the United States and her allies. These two nations — the most likely future violators of international law — are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and each holds an unimpeachable veto for any and all internationally sanctioned military action.

Moreover, when I write “international law,” I use a resoundingly regrettable term. There is no international law. The United States is often accused of being the “world police,” or of waging “unlawful, unilateral military campaigns,” but these unfortunate arrangements are de facto requirements of the U.N. The Security Council was originally made to be slow to action; fresh from the wounds of WWII, we wanted a system wherein only the most resolutely justified military actions are sanctified by international agreement. Accordingly, Russia, China, France, the U.K. and the U.S. were all given absolute veto power on any matters involving the use of force. But the problem is this: Russia and China see the West as their arrogant competitors for dignity. They oppose the Western position almost 100 percent of the time, even on matters where they have no apparent stake in the outcome (in Syria, for instance). This means that international law has no enforcement mechanism, because every time the Security Council brings forward a vote, there will be at least two nations willing to veto. The only possible enforcement left for crises are unilateral actions, particularly on the part of the United States, whose military is strong enough to act alone. And so, while the well-intentioned diplomats of the postwar period were wise to want a system slow to action, they were foolish to create a system that never moves to action at all.

It seems to me that a fix could be relatively simple. Others who have recognized this problem have gone mad in their theories of reform (postulating ideas like instating an “international army”), but a much more modest proposal seems obvious, at least to me. Let’s forget veto power — it has left international law completely impotent. I think the Security Council would still be slow to action in the case of a majority vote, but not completely abstinent in all international crises, as it is now.

When the Security Council meets this week, lots of strong words will be thrown out by the Western members: France, the U.S. and the U.K. They will threaten sanctions against Russian officials, economic freezes and the like. But I have a horrible feeling that the strong actions will come from the East: the promise to veto any Western encroachment, the promise to remain mobilized in Crimea and the promise to keep eyes on the Ukraine and beyond.

Ben Moss thinks they could have come up with a better title than “Cold War II” … Real original.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 3, 2014 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are primarily submitted by students.
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5 Responses to Rethinking the United Nations

  1. Hans Castorp Reply

    March 5, 2014 at 8:29 am


    Hope you enjoy it when the nuclear missles start flying.

  2. Arafat Reply

    March 4, 2014 at 8:43 am


    America is far from perfect but it’s doing its best to emulate you. (Just kidding)

    America is a flawed country it is a democracy with widely changing worldviews as well as domestic concerns. This is what democracies are like and have always been like.

    We are very imperfect, but I challenge you to name a more perfect Union. A Union that fro three centuries people have lined up and begged to emigrate to.

    I love haters of America like you. You like to compare us to European countries – countries that helped Nazis wipe out the Jews, countries that have been white and Christian for far longer than America. Countries that (uo until recently) had immigration policies that refused blacks or browns from entering their pristine, socialist enclaves.

    You, Anon, are a typical liberal with both your feet firmly planted in the air. Your grasp of the real world is about as tight as Stalin’s grip was on the true meaning of socialism.

  3. anon Reply

    March 3, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    I hope you read this Mr. Moss because I think that your views on this particular subject need a bit reeducating (although I appreciate many of your other pieces). The fundamental flaw with your argument is that it is a completely Americanized view of the world. You place America on a pedestal- she can do no wrong, everything she does is in defense of democracy and liberty. You seem to overlook all the messed up things that our country does on a daily basis. You talk of the cold war- well ask any South American what the US did to their countries during that period and you will get naught but disgust in their eyes (Pinochet and Allende in Chile for ex). Look to China- do you know why Mao was able to take over the vast country? Because the US supported Chiang Kai-Shek, a nationalist who embezzeled millions from public accounts, destroyed historic ruins and brutalized peasants. But all this was overlooked by the Americans because he was an ardent supporter of the US (In fact, when he lost to Mao, he went over to Taiwan and with American “foreign aid” basically enslaved the native people and today his party still controls the tiny island nation).
    There are so many more examples of America’s opportunism and hypocrisy (eg united fruit company) that I simply don’t have time to list them all. Not that I blame your ignorance however, the public schooling system is very inept at teaching us students a global view of the world (If you call someone who knows two languages “bilingual” and someone who knows three languages “trilingual,” what do you call someone who knows only one language? —- An American.) Education in this country is great at instilling patriotism however, which explains our nationwide collective worship of our military institutions- and the fact that our budget is more than the next ten countries combined (including China).
    So your idea that the security council should be comprised of one nation- the United States (because as we’ve seen in the NSA revelations- the other members are mere puppets to the whims of America) and should exclude Russia and China because they are the only countries with enough backbone to oppose the will of the US is very misinformed. What right does the US have to dictate matters in countries on the other side of the world? If anything Russia and China have more legality to contest matters in Ukraine because of their very proximity. You mentioned US as a “global police force”. It is indeed- it meddles in other countries’ affairs (look at the debacle in the middle east) and wonders why the world hates them for it. Why did it invade Iraq when Al-qaeda wasn’t there in the first place? To keep oil prices low…
    My prescription? Take Washington’s advice: mind your own business!! or at the very least stop pretending your actions are to rid of the world of evil but more to serve your own selfish goals. America gives billions to Israel every year to buy weapons and continue its expansion into Palestine, one of the most egregious violations of human rights in the world and absolute violations of international law. But that doesn’t matter apparently- not to the US and not to the UN. How is that democratic? Answer me that. What “sanctions” should we apply to Israel for such horrendous actions (Israel has occupied Palestine for years while Russia has only now entered the Crimean). American foreign policy is a thinly-veiled sham. The United Nations was started by the US to give its own decisions more international legitimacy (has there been any consequences by the UN for America’s surveillance of other countries- tapping Angela Merkel’s phone for instance?? Can you imagine if Russia or China had tapped Obama’s cell? The outrage?) Now your idea to dissolve the security council in essence would almost certainly lead to war because it would make disagreeing with the United States and its “allies” illegal. It’s very scary that the American people- the most free and open-minded in the world could come to such conclusions.

    • Arafat Reply

      March 4, 2014 at 8:37 am


      Your mind has been hijacked by leftist propaganda.

      It is Islam that is violently expanding and colonizing not Israel.

      Israel has removed all settlements from Gaza. Israel returned the entire Sinai Peninsula – a land mass far bigger than Israel. And Israel has offered Arafat and Abbas 97% of the West Bank.

      Meanwhile in the last few decades Muslims have taken over and destroyed the people of Sudan, They have taken over and destroyed the people of Somalia, they are gradually taking over central and southern Nigeria, they are fighting Buddhists in southern Thailand, Chinese in NW China, Russians in southern Russia, Hindus in Kashmir, and they are ethnically cleansing Christians from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.

      You drank the kool-aid, Anon, and obviously cannot tell the difference between reality and fiction now.

  4. Arafat Reply

    March 3, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    For the last hundred years the best and brightest of the civilized world have been engaged in the business of peace. In the days before the Nobel Peace Prize became a joke, it was expected that scientific progress would lead to moral progress. Nations would accept international laws and everyone would get together to replace wars with international conferences.

    Instead technological progress just gave us better ways to kill each other. There have been few innovations in the moral technology of global harmony since Immanuel Kant’s “Perpetual Peace” laid out a plan to grant world citizenship to all refugees and outlaw all armies, invasions and atrocities with the whole shebang would be overseen by a League of Nations.

    That was in 1795 and Kant’s plan was at least more reasonable than anything we have two-hundred years later today because it at least set out to limit membership in this body to free republics. If we had done that with the United Nations, it could conceivably have become something resembling a humane organization. Instead it’s a place where the dictators of the world stop by to give speeches about human rights for a show that’s funnier than anything you could find eight blocks away at the Broadway Comedy Club.

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