In an address to the United Nations Security Council, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the council that they need to punish the Russian Federation for its invasion of Ukraine and subsequent war crimes or it needed to dissolve and create a new governing body.
He’s absolutely right. It will never happen.
The Security Council has always been about politics.
Historically, many people misunderstand that formation of the U.N. Security Council. Most mistakenly believe that the five permanent members of the council were chosen for their roles in World War II.
And that is a very simplistic explanation.
But the reality is that with the exception of France, they were chosen because they were to be the “four policemen” of the world, entrusted with keeping the peace worldwide.
But the problem with that is the same problem that happens with all police: they began to see anyone who was not one of them as the enemy and they got a little drunk with power.
They fought among themselves, often using “proxy wars” in smaller semi-independent nation states to pretend or disguise a conflict between the permanent members, but mostly they used the club to continue their own world domination plans.
Zelenskyy, being either a great political strategist or getting advice from one, has even called for the Russian Federation to be eliminated from the Security Council because the charter membership was for the Soviet Union, not the current Russian government.
But other members of the club aren’t willing to kick out one of their own?
Why? Because it sets a precedence. None of them is willing to risk losing their own spot later on.
And because each permanent member of the Security Council is a nuclear power.
The Nuclear Power Pact
Though the Soviet Union, China, the United Kingdom and France did not have nuclear weapons when the Security Council was formed, all were military powerhouses for different reasons. And within 20 years, all of them had nuclear capabilities.
Despite probably having the most military strength in 1945, the United states understood at the drafting of the United Nations charter that it had to make concessions to these other major powers if we were to avoid another global conflict.
So it gave all the other big boys the right to veto actions of the council.
By pretending everyone was equal, the Security Council attempted to make it true. Though the term wouldn’t be coined until the 1960s, this was the first attempt at mutually assured destruction. The theory was that no one would be crazy enough to escalate a conflict beyond a proxy war because they all knew how grave the consequences would be.
And they still do.
While kicking the Russian Federation out of the Security Council could be argued as logical, it would also likely make Russia feel isolate against the rest of the world, pushing it toward use of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear war trumps war crimes.
The rhetoric of calling Russia acts in Ukraine war crimes is great for rallying economic and “moral” support for Ukraine, but the likelihood that any Russian will ever be prosecuted for those crimes is small.
Despite calls from the Irish Prime Minister and other leaders around the world, an international criminal investigation is only likely if the Russians are soundly defeated. While the International Criminal Court could investigate and place charges against those who committed and those who ordered or allowed such actions, the only persons ever truly convicted of war crimes are those who have suffered a defeat, Nazis at Nuremberg or Slobodan Milošević after the Serbian genocide.
The investigation and conviction for war crimes also often takes decades after the end of the conflict. If anyone is held responsible for the atrocities being committed in Ukraine, it will likely be in 2040 or later.
The Security Council will condemn Russian actions and make a lot of grand speeches, but most everyone agrees that no matter how horrifying the war crimes are, the threat of nuclear attack is worse.
Once the war is over, investigators may compile evidence of the was crimes and ask for permission to prosecute the guilty, but it will be too late to offer any real aid or comfort to those suffering right now.
President Zelenskyy has been thrust into the role of international statesman and is doing an excellent job, but he cannot overcome the politics and fear of nuclear war that rules the Security Council.
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